A recent op-ed in The Beacon, an online magazine created by students of New York City's Yeshiva University, is causing quite a stir in the Jewish community. Entitled "Why It's Time for Jews to Get Over the Holocaust," the article argues that Jews and Judaism would be better off if the memory of the Holocaust was demoted in the religion's collective narrative. Author Binyamin Weinreich writes: "To be sure, the Holocaust is crucially important. But why does it need to be singled out as if it's more special than other historical events, like it's qualitatively different from other historical events, like it's more than a mere historical event?"
Weinreich also contends that Holocaust-denial should not be considered a crime ("Do we arrest flat-earthers? Ancient Astronaut enthusiasts? Believers in ghosts? Why should denial of a historical event be considered a crime, something detrimental to society?"), and that the real lesson of the Holocaust "isn't about Jews and Germans and 1935. It's about the powerful and the weak, the superior and the Other." The article is more juvenile than vile, informed by cheap college-grade postmodernism and poorly argued -- a "shandah" if ever there was one.
And I'm gladWeinreich wrote it.
Not that I agree with him, quite the opposite. But he's not the only one of who feels that way -- there are lots of them out there, and the number is steadily growing. Jews need to have a serious discussion about what the meaning of the Holocaust will be once the survivor generation dies out -- better to get it out in the open sooner rather later.
For younger Jews (let's say, 25 and under) the significance of the Holocaust does not compute the way it did for previous generations. Nearly 70 years of frantic, dogged documentation has produced a Holocaust study body of work that is, quite literally, exhaustive. And yet, the sheer amount of information available has had a curious numbing effect on the children of the children of survivors. They have absorbed in great detail the information -- the whens, wheres, hows and whys -- of the Holocaust, often straight from the mouths of survivors, but exhibit little emotional reaction to, or connection with, it.
There's no need to speculate why this is the case, the answer is obvious: Jews are today in a place of comfort that the religion has not enjoyed since the end of the Davidic dynasty. Anti-Semitism is at an all-time low and its purveyors have been pushed beyond the most extreme margins of society. Young Jews face no social or professional barriers. And while Israel faces a threat from Iran, this generation of Jews has come to understand that the Jewish state always has and always will face some sort of Arab-infused existential threat and simply learned to live with it.
The incontrovertible rejoinder to Weinreich and others like him is that when Jews become complacent, when they get too comfortable -- when they forget their inherent otherness, to borrow a phrase -- bad things happen. This was precisely the narrative in the years before the Second World War and at other historical times when Jews were persecuted and killed. Carrying the backbreaking emotional weight of the Holocaust and six million dead, coreligionists is a defence mechanism -- a constant Shoa consciousness prevents the next Holocaust from happening.
All of this is true, but the argument will fall on deaf ears. It's been so long since the Holocaust happened. The world is different now. Jews are accepted, their enemies are derided. And if most of these young Jews aren't naive enough to think the Holocaust couldn't happen again, they are optimistic it won't.
The Holocaust will not fade away quickly. There will be some young Jews who see the movement away from Holocaust centricity as a call to action to keep the narrative going -- in most cases, as a duty to their parents and grand- and great-grandparents. And they may well find ways to further Holocaust education in new formats more suited to the Internet and social media. But with each passing generation, their ranks will be further depleted, until, at some point, the Holocaust will become what Weinriech envisions, just another historical episode.
If Jews are lucky enough to never experience another genocidal nightmare, they may well look back upon Weinreich as some sort of visionary, the one person who saw that the stultifying ordeal of persecution was truly and finally over. Frankly, I hope he's right -- we all know how the alternative storyline ends.
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