Monday, April 28, 2014

Remembering the Lives that they Lived

Over the past few years, I've spent time reexamining almost everything I thought I knew and believed, to see whether I could continue to hold onto those ideas. Today, on Yom HaShoah, I begin to reconsider my thoughts on the day of Yom HaShoah itself.

For reasons that I have not yet discovered, for many years I kept an emotional distance from the Holocaust. It was not, God forbid, that I did not care. I simply had a hard time processing it. As I became a member of the subgroup of Modern-Orthodoxy that sat just to the left of the yeshivish world, I had an excuse to ignore the day. With what seems like smugness in retrospect, I refused to observe a day of mourning during the month of Nissan, as if I so deeply felt the emotional joy of the month. I also had Rav Soloveitchik ZT”L to fall back on, as he said we did not have the right to create a new day of mourning. This too, gave me an excuse to not deal with that which I wished to avoid. In returning more to the center, I have, thankfully, run out of excuses, and can use the day for thought and reflection.

As I read through the articles, look at the pictures, blogs and op-eds, there is something that for the most part seems to be missing. While the horrors of camp life are shown, and the brutality of the victim's deaths and suffering are documented, the lives that the survivors and victims lived, are rarely shown or discussed. This is made more striking to me as various organizations try and suggest the lessons that should be learned from the Holocaust. Besides my general discomfort with someone suggesting the lessons that are to be drawn from the brutal murder of six million Jews (and millions of other victims), the victims lives are utilized for some purpose other than memory itself. I do not suggest that there are not lessons to be drawn. I am suggesting that the lives of the victims, and particularly their pre-Holocaust lives , and not merely their suffering and deaths, should be front and center on this day.

One reason that I think this is particularly important, is that it seems to be that much of pre-Holocaust Jewish existence has been whitewashed, romanticized or selectively remembered. Whether it is the claim that most Jews in Europe were religious, or happy with their poverty, or other selective or false memories, these claims cheat the victims out of their memory being of who they were, rather than who we might wish them to have been. Additionally, it goes beyond simply having a more accurate memory of Jews who were somewhat similar to us. For those of us who are Orthodox (for lack of a better word) it is good for us to realize and recognize that all the Jews died al kiddush HaShem, whether from Sarajevo or from Satmar, Pressburg or Paris; Bobovers and Bundists alike. I would like to think that on this day, we can see the humanity and holiness in each person, regardless of belief.

I would humbly suggest that for ourselves and for our children, both as parents and as teachers, that we focus on the lives, beliefs and stories of a few victims and/or survivors, and that we reach beyond our comfort zone to learn about and from the lives which they lived.

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