Israel's Never-ending Holocaust

The issue that should have sparked panic in last week's poll on religion is the total consensus among Israeli Jews that the 'guiding principle' for the country is 'to remember the Holocaust.'

Merav Michaeli
Merav Michaeli
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Merav Michaeli
Merav Michaeli

Haaretz appeared to be gripped by panic after the Guttman Center-Avi Chai Foundation poll on religion came out last week, as could be seen in the frenzied front-page headline in Friday's paper: "Survey finds record number of Israeli Jews believe in God." But the newspaper wasn't panicking about the right thing.

Yes, there has been an increase in Israelis' attachment to Judaism over the past decade, but that means the situation has more or less returned to what it was two decades before that.

This same poll was first conducted in 1991, and its results were similar to those of the latest survey. A second one was done in 1999, after the bulk of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union had arrived in the country, but had yet to completely assimilate; this explained the dip in Israeli Jews' attachment to religion at the time.

A decade later, those immigrants have internalized the cultural codes of Israeli society. Throw in an enlarged Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox population that has counterbalanced the secularism the Russian-speaking immigrants brought with them, and the proportion of Israelis who subscribe to traditional Jewish beliefs remains virtually unchanged over the past 20 years.

The issue that should have sparked panic in the survey is the total consensus among Israeli Jews - regardless of religious, ethnic or political differences - that the "guiding principle" for the country and for Judaism itself is "to remember the Holocaust." Ninety-eight percent of the respondents consider it either fairly important or very important to remember the Holocaust, attributing to it even more weight than to living in Israel, the Sabbath, the Passover seder and the feeling of belonging to the Jewish people.

The Holocaust is the primary way Israel defines itself. And that definition is narrow and ailing in the extreme, because the Holocaust is remembered only in a very specific way, as are its lessons. It has long been used to justify the existence and the necessity of the state, and has been mentioned in the same breath as proof that the state is under a never-ending existential threat.

The Holocaust is the sole prism through which our leadership, followed by society at large, examines every situation. This prism distorts reality and leads inexorably to a forgone conclusion - to the point that former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau announced at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony three years ago that Moses was the first Holocaust survivor. In other words, all our lives are simply one long Shoah.

As a country, as a nation, Israel has never confronted the trauma of the Holocaust. The shock from the terrible tragedy and the guilt feelings of the pre-state Yishuv leadership for not being able to save the Jews of Europe - plus the presence of the men and women who survived and were constant reminders of both traumas - prompted Israel to repress the Holocaust at first, and then to turn it into a placard in the service of the national trauma, to reinforce the constant existential fear and the aggressiveness that comes with it.

The survivors themselves have never been treated right. Just yesterday it was reported, once again, that half of Israel's Holocaust survivors are dependent on welfare stipends and that the government has once again reduced its support of them.

At the same time, the "Hitlers" are always there: Just a week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said for the nth time that there is no shortage of those who want to exterminate us completely. In other words, there is no lack of reasons to continue to reinforce the fear of the Holocaust - which, according to his father, historian Benzion Netanyahu, has never ended.

So it is that we don't have any rivals, adversaries or even enemies. Only Hitlers. This is how the Holocaust is taught in school, this how it is that Israeli students are taken to visit death camps - and how it came to be that, as Haaretz reported on Friday, just 2 percent of Israeli youth feel committed to democratic principles after studying the Holocaust and 2.5 percent identify with the suffering of other persecuted nations, but 12 percent feel committed to "significant" service in the Israel Defense Forces.

That's the way it is with traumas. Because of our human limitations, a trauma that is not dealt with make us constantly see yet another trauma approaching - even when whatever is coming has no connection to the previous trauma and may even be a good thing. Trauma leads to belligerence and a strong tendency to wreak havoc on one's surroundings, but first and foremost on oneself.

What we consider rational is actually a frightened, defensive, aggressive pattern. Our current leaders have made Israeli Judaism just a post-traumatic syndrome, while they lead us to self-destruction.



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