A project all about empathy for Holocaust survivors has a somewhat odd name – Zikaron BaSalon (“Memories in the Living Room”). The name calls to mind a hazy memory of the jocular autograph book inscriptions we exchanged at the end of fourth grade: “By the window I sat, writing a Holocaust memory. Suddenly the pencil fell, and that is all I have to tell.”
You might also want to add a cute illustration in the margin, maybe of a little crematorium, and add a dried flower too for good measure. But far be it from me to doubt the purity of the intentions of the promoters of this project. They surely want only good. And the survivors are certainly happy about it. Of course, they’d be even happier to have available public housing and a living stipend worthy of the name. But the encounters with these good people also does them good.
The problem with Zikaron BaSalon, has to do with how it is completely subsumed in the general “festival” of lamentation that Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) has become, and in all the sorrowful gestures of all those who deal in the work of mourning.
They all focus on one thing and one thing alone: on the murdered, on the victims, on suffering and death. All of these things are horrible and heartbreaking, but their educational value is minimal. It certainly is helpful for the survivors. But for the commemoration and understanding of the Holocaust – not at all.
It’s comparable to what organized empathy for the victims of car accidents would look like. There would be gatherings for survivors, musical tributes in the park, people would listen patiently to their stories. Maybe they’d even give it some cute rhyming name like Ason BaSalon (“Tragedy in the Living Room”) or Teuna BaGina (“Accident in the Garden”). It would certainly be a praiseworthy endeavor. But it would contribute nothing to combating the scourge of car accidents.
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On Yom Hashoah, the focus should actually be on the murderers and not on the victims. People should stop to wonder: How did they become killers? We should learn about what happened in Germany between 1920-1945, and not only what happened during the years of the genocide. We should try to understand the stages by which one nation became a nation of murderers, and other peoples and entire communities – Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals – became beings who were completely stripped of their humanity and targeted for hunting, enslavement and extermination.
But no, Yom Hashoah is only about the victims. It’s hard to believe that this incomplete commemoration is merely a coincidence or the result of folly. There must be a deliberate aspect to it too. First, because victimhood is a lucrative asset, very lucrative. Politically, diplomatically, financially. So it needs to be nurtured and not neglected. Second, too much focus on the early years of Nazism could be very problematic.
Looking at Israel's ethnic marriage law, housing laws based on genetics, despising an entire people for being “backstabbers,” gangs of thugs that enjoy government protection, theft of property that enjoy government protection, theft of property, ghettos – all this could be very embarrassing for those who celebrate our festival of victimhood. We don’t need that kind of trouble. Better to stick with the crying and sighing approach.
As if to confirm my ugly suspicions, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has just unleashed her “(il)literacy reform” freeing Israeli high-school students from the oppressive need to study history, literature, civics and bible by reducing classrooms hours for these subjects from six hours a week to five for each subject.
Who needs all that garbage? It could give rise to heretical thoughts, or even lead students to really ponder the Holocaust. A copied or purchased “research paper” and four units of math are all our kids need. The aforementioned esoteric subjects are all part of the “humanities.”
Nothing could be more apt for Israel of 2022 than a fundamental dehumanization of the education system. Actually, this could have been learned from history, too. Especially on Yom Hashoah.