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Yom Hashoah

04/08/2021 04:43:02 PM


Rabbi Hearshen

Jewish humor has always been a dark and sarcastic brand of humor. Only a Jewish audience could truly appreciate the humor behind Mel Brooks: The Producers or the ending of History of the World Part 1 “Hitler on ice,” joke.  We are excellent at self-deprecation and at extreme honesty. One famous joke is the “summary” of all Jewish holidays… They came to kill us… they failed… let’s eat. This joke is obnoxious and ignores the fact that its grossly incorrect. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Tu B’Shvat and Shavuot do not even begin to be covered by that idea. It does accurately sum up Hanukkah, Purim and perhaps Passover, but that’s about it. The reality of this dark joke is that it portrays our beautifully rich tradition as one of victimhood and darkness. It fails to truly show the gifts we have to offer and the gifts we have received from God and our people. This darkness might seem funny, but it points to a much greater issue that has cost the Jewish people over the years.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, which we call Yom HaShoah. It is the day we pause each year to remember the atrocities suffered by our people. Specifically, we pause to recall the murders of 6 million souls, including 1.5 million children. We pause to recall the degradation and abuse of our ancestors at the hands of a supposedly forward-thinking advanced society filled with educated people. We pause to recall how destructive hatred is and how much we must fight to prevent hatred from burning. In 1945, when the world was trying to come to terms with the war that had claimed 54,000,000 lives, our community was trying to digest and cope with the loss of so much of the Jewish world. We were trying to come to terms with the loss of lives and loss of innocence. While we always cite the numbers of dead, we seldom recall that the victims of the Holocaust were not all murdered. There were numerous survivors left to deal with a lifetime of hardship, pain, and unimaginable guilt.

The response of the Jewish community in the years following the Holocaust was an effort to make the remembrance of the atrocities of the Holocaust our central raison d’etre; our entire reason for being. Some proposed that the mission of the Jewish people following the Holocaust was to not allow Hitler to have posthumous victory over our people. Learning about the Holocaust became the central most important educational goal of Jewish schools and of our people. Each year more and more books came out and more and more movies were released.

We began to raise generations of Jews with the following argument: you need to be Jewish because Hitler and the Nazis tried to kill our people. This outlook emphasizes our victimhood and our lowest points and instead of our successes. This outlook instructs us to be Jewish simply because we stubbornly refuse to allow the other side to win. It is reminiscent of the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in his book Anti-Semite and Jew who asserted that Jews need the anti-Semite in order for us to live and the anti-Semite needs the Jew. We do not need someone to hate us in order for us to succeed.

The pernicious nature of this idea that we need to live because they suffered and died sets a bar far below where it needs to be. It projects a belief in surviving. If all we as Jews want to do is merely survive, then we won’t amount to much in the future. Our communities need to move away from our obsession with surviving and double our efforts in thriving. I don’t want the Jewish community to only survive… I want it to thrive. We need to strive for a deeply connected and committed Jewish world. A deeply educated and informed Jewish community. A deeply faithful and caring Jewish community. The lesson of the Holocaust is that survival will never be enough. The lesson of the Holocaust is that our Judaism and our people need to matter more to us than their hatred will mean to them. They can only build so much with hatred, but the sky will always be the limit as to how much we can build with love and commitment.

Wed, May 12 2021 1 Sivan 5781