The Jewish media are very upset this week (Is there like a memo that goes out alerting everyone what to be mad at now? And how come no one let’s me in on it?), on account of the Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, making a statement in honor of Holocaust Memorial Day and not mentioning the Jews even once.
If you ask me, that’s a very good thing. I don’t want the world to commemorate my Holocaust. I don’t want the State of Israel inventing its own Holocaust commemoration day. I don’t want the ashes of my grandparents to be used by any politician, anywhere.
Look at the dates picked for Holocaust Memorial Day and Yom Hashoah. The former, being international and all, picked the Auschwitz day of liberation, because that’s when the allies finally got around to saving the Jews; and the latter, being Israeli, falls on the Warsaw ghetto uprising, meaning, we liberated ourselves, thank you very much. It’s so obviously political in both cases, it’s cynicism incarnate.
I don’t care at all about what the gentiles have to say about my murdered family. And I don’t care at all what President Shimon Peres or any other Israeli politician has to say about my dead zeidi, either. Why should I even consider what these people, most of whom feel and act in ways that are incomprehensible to me, have anything meaningful to say about the core loss of my life?
What does it mean to me when half the Knesset is flying to Auschwitz to walk among the ashes and look sad? I don’t think they know what they’re doing about the living, why should they be expected to do anything meaningful about the dead?
Every Yom Hashoah, the Israeli press catches a Haredi guy who dares to continue walking while the country stands at attention in honor of the siren permeating the April air from Eilat to Metula. And I secretly applaud this guy who is brazen enough to show the world what he thinks about their commemorations. I’m a coward, so I stay at home, in my seat.
I do honor the Israeli Memorial Day, on the eve of Independence Day. It’s a legitimate event. But the Holocaust cannot possibly be a matter of states and organizations. Which is why I applaud the fact that Ashton has done so much to remove the Jewish aspect of her memorial thing.
There are two dates in which I participate in our national commemoration of the killing of my family. One is the Tenth of Tevet, which the Israeli Rabbinate innovated to be the Kaddish day for the Shoah victims whose date of death is unknown. And so I stand up in shul and say Kaddish for my holy grandfather, grandmother, six aunts and uncles and their children. I feel connected to them on that day, and I’m also pretty sure they can hear me. In my head I hug every one of them (we were Ger Chassidim, but we weren’t so makpid on negiah-touching), and tell them how much I miss them, and how sorry I am for the horrors that ended all their lives.
Then, on the Ninth of Av, I spend the entire day screaming at God for allowing my loved ones to be murdered. I tell Him just how angry I am at Him. I even show him my anger by not putting on Talit and Tefillin until Mincha. What were You thinking? I cry at Him. You took the people who loved You so much and just let them be devoured by pigs? How could You?
I also say the Yizkor several times a year, and I meditate over the segment remembering my family members who were killed by the Germans, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, and all the other gentile beasts may their names and memory be erased.
These dates work for me because they’re real, they’re not state-funded, they’re just a bunch of Jews getting up in shul and talking to God. I don’t care what Ashton or Peres, or Netanyahu, or the players and coaches of the Miami Dolphins have to say about my loss. I only care about what God Himself and my holy brothers and sisters in shul have to say. Only they matter in this context.
I know I can’t make these politicians stop their Holocauster rides. It’s what they do. But the fact that Ashton et al are no longer sprinkling my zeidi’s ashes while doing the Holo—that’s gotta’ be a good thing.
I just have to end with an anecdote, because otherwise you’d think I’m way too grim for your Wednesday morning breakfast read. I’ve been told this by a colleague at the CCAR, so I believe it, but you can go check for yourselves:
Every summer, the high school seniors of the Reform movement take a trip to Israel. They see the sites, work on a kibbutz, bathe in the Mediterranean, it’s a fun thing. On their way back to America, they stop in Poland and visit the Auschwitz death camp. It kinda works out nicely from a historic prospective: they experience our renewal and then they can appreciate what it was like before.
In 2000, during the second intifada, many Reform parents were concerned about sending their kids to Israel. The roads weren’t safe, people were getting blown up everywhere, you don’t send your kids into something like that.
So the movement canceled the Israel part of the vacation and they only went to Auschwitz.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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