How Do We Mark Yom HaShoah?
Reposted with thanks to JCastNetwork.org
Another Yom HaShoah has come and gone, now 67 years since the end of World War II. Not that in all those years we’ve gotten it just right when it comes to marking these most overwhelming events in all the 4,000 years of the Jewish people. I think about this a lot, as a synagogue rabbi trying to program something moving and intelligent each spring.
How should a synagogue community mark Yom HaShoah?
Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi’s *Zakhor* made us pay attention to the uneasy alignment of Jewish “history” – empirical, critical research into the past – and “memory” – emotionally and culturally laden bonds we share with people who lived long ago, who are dead but never really gone, whose lives we carry forward. Contemporary Jews marking the Shoah almost always stumble as we weave history & memory. Too much historical analysis, and we’re really just examining cadavers. But it is so easy to slide into manipulative sentimentality, and our nostalgic veneration of a supposedly authentic, saintly Eastern Europe. No thank you.
Then there are the problems of theology, politics and ethics. Bringing God into the conversation is totally necessary and totally impossible. As R. Eliezer Berkovits said in *Faith After the Holocaust*, it is blasphemy against the God of Israel to fail to ask where He was while His children were being slaughtered. Yet no religious answer makes more than fragmentary sense of the extreme bestiality of the Nazis and their friends. Certainly no answer can be compelling enough for our communities to davven it together as a faith statement. Politically, too often the Shoah becomes a spade to dig with, merely a pretext to talk about Iran or the Palestinians or Pat Buchanan. On the ethical front, you cannot cede either the Jewish meaning of these events or the universal ones. It is bizarrely deracinated to mark the obliteration of European Jewish civilization by talking about Darfur. Yet it is bizarrely self-assertive to talk about *einsatzgruppen*without considering the moral imperative to fight further mass murders. As Ruth Messinger of AJWS likes to say: “*Never Again* cannot mean *Never again should Germans kill Jews in the 1940s*.” All true. All difficult.