Yad Vashem hosts a conference on “The Shoah and Jewish Identity”

Holocaust-Consciousness is now Essential to being Jewish

by Hadding Scott

Monday through Thursday this week Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies has been hosting a conference, attended by about 200 Jewish educators, titled: “The Shoah and Jewish Identity: Challenges in Jewish Education.” (J. Sharon, Jerusalem Post, 28 December 2016)

The consensus is that the Holocaust is now an important part of the Jewish identity.

The director of the school, Dr. Eyal Kaminka, noted that, in a recent Pew survey, three-quarters of U.S. Jews and two-thirds of Israeli Jews say that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what it means to be Jewish.

Rabbi Naftali Schiff, executive director of JRoots, likened the Holocaust to ancient Jewish conflicts with the Greeks and Romans, and enslavement in Egypt.

“I don’t want people to be Jewish because Jews died, but the Holocaust is as much a part of Jewish consciousness as is Passover, Purim and Hanukka, and as such needs to be incorporated in Jewish education and identity.”

Kaminka explains:

“When you talk about the Holocaust, you can also take strength from it….”

One attendee at the conference, Dr. Ethan Zaydoff from New Jersey, suggested that it was important to understand “the different ways the Holocaust was experienced by different communities and individuals.”

Rabbi Schiff meanwhile says that the Holocaust should not only be about the genocide of European Jewry.

While non-Jews understand the word Holocaust to mean the alleged murder of 6 million Jews, for the Jews at this conference the Holocaust is something much more nebulous. This corresponds to Sergio DellaPergola’s broad definition of “Holocaust survivor” to mean any Jew who lived for any period of time in any country ruled by National-Socialist Germany or an ally thereof, regardless of whether that person ever saw the inside of a concentration camp. 

Reparations-claims aside, the genocide story seems to be essentially a backdrop for what Rassinier called “the drama of the European Jews.” Accordingly, Kaminka says:

“In our educational approach, we’re trying not focus on the death mechanisms of the Holocaust, but on the living mechanisms, how people chose to live in during this time.”

Kaminka proposes that Holocaust education for Jews should “focus on the achievements of ethical values and decisions during the Shoah.”

While Rabbi Schiff seems to imply that the Holocaust is becoming one more event in the Jewish canon of legends, like “Passover, Purim, and Hanukka,” it is not immediately clear whether this marks an increase or a diminution of status for the Holocaust.

From one perspective, the addition of the Holocaust to the canon of traditional Jewish tales is disturbing and seems to represent an elevation of its importance, because it signals that the Holocaust is to be written in stone as something that Jews will always profess to believe, regardless of evidence.

From another perspective, classing the Holocaust together with stories from the Bible seems an appropriate trivialization of it, because those ancient stories are also highly doubtful. For example, the doubtfulness of the claim that Jews were slaves in ancient Egypt is widely recognized even by Jews. Josh Mintz wrote for Ha’aretz:

“The reality is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt. Yes, there’s the story contained within the bible itself, but that’s not a remotely historically admissible source. I’m talking about real proof; archeological evidence, state records and primary sources. Of these, nothing exists.” (J. Mintz, Ha’aretz, 26 March 2012)

From the non-Jewish perspective, probably nothing is lost by recognizing the essentially religious nature of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is already treated like a sacred religious story, rather than a matter of history that can be questioned. In fact, it is presently treated as more sacred than the Bible, since it was okay for an Israeli newspaper to dismiss the Bible as a source. To place the Holocaust in this canon is to admit what is already evident, that the question of whether the Holocaust is a true or a false story is less important for Jews than the uses that can be made of it.

Source: Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust

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