The American Interest
The Middle East & Beyond
Published on April 19, 2013
Pondering a 70th Anniversary

Yaroslavl and Warsaw 2011 212

Today, April 19, marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. What can one possibly say about this event that has not already been said many times over many years? What is there, if anything, that might be noteworthy about a 70th anniversary?

Maybe there is something to say; hence this post. Forgive me please, dear reader, if you are already familiar with some of the backstory I tell below. As I grow older, I am constantly surprised by what younger people do not know, just as I am constantly surprised by what I am capable of forgetting. So I tell this backstory for more than one reason.

Let me suggest, too, that aside from Jews, and Poles and Germans, others may find this story of some interest, for embedded in the understanding of it may reside lessons that transcend any one time and place. No, no, landsmen, do not worry: I am not about to universalize the Holocaust and banalize it by so doing. But the Holocaust can’t help but universalize itself, at least at the margins, since everyone involved in it, perpetrators and victims alike, were, after all, human beings.

* * *

Back on April 8 many Jews and some others observed what is usually called Yom Ha-Shoah in Hebrew (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה) or Holocaust Remembrance Day. There is an historical connection between what happened on April 19, 1943, in Warsaw and this relatively new marker in the Jewish calendar, and it is a connection about which few seem to be aware.

After the re-born State of Israel came into being in May 1948, a discussion ensued about how to memorialize the Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. As is sometimes (!!!) the case when Jews discuss such things, some disagreement was in evidence. Let us briefly recall its nature.

Many standard-issue Zionists of that time, philosophically muscular to the bone, wanted no part of any memorialization. For them, the entire period of the exile, from the year 135 CE, when the Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome failed, until May 1948, was an ignominious (if also very protracted) era in Jewish history. These self-avowed secular socialists wanted to reconnect Jewish history to its glorious roots and saw the Holocaust as a shameful episode. Like lambs to the slaughter they went, these stalwart new Jews used to say, in private if not in public, and some so-called Jewish communal leaders, they charged, were complicit in the whole horrific episode. They did not fight back, and to the extent their otherworldly and superstition-based piety contributed to their passivity (a lot, most believed), then damn that piety and everything associated with it. Rabbis and anti-Semites caused each other, they believed. Commemorating the Holocaust, they feared, would contribute to the retention of the distorted “exile” values they wished to be rid of for all time.

Many religious Jews (and there were and remain more than one type) also rejected the idea of establishing a new day in the Jewish calendar for this purpose. One major figure, whose nickname was the Hazon Ish, ruled that Jews no longer had the authority to create new calendar entries. Others, the majority to be sure, reasoned that other fast days in the calendar sufficed for the purpose. Some put forth the 10th of the Hebrew month of Tevet, whose origin has to do with the first Babylonian breech of the walls of Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE. Others preferred to stretch still further the contents of the even more solemn fast of the 9th of Av, which marks the destruction of both the first and second Temples, and over the years came as well to mark other catastrophes, like the massive destruction of the First Crusade period.

Between the muscular secularists and the Orthodox, however, others wished to go forward in establishing a special day of commemoration for the victims of the Holocaust. This was eventually accomplished in 1953, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak Ben-Tvi signed the law establishing the day. The key was the testimony and insistence of the few survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that there should be such a day. Their cachet was powerful enough to turn the tide of debate, and it was a testimony of great insight as well as social power.

If I may summarize, the Warsaw Ghetto survivors and those who rallied to their view decried the image of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust as sheep led docilely to their own slaughter. They pointed out that Jewish communities in Europe under Nazi occupation were not organized and were not armed. In every community there were Orthodox and secular and many of in-between views; not in a single national community or even a major city was there an overarching organizational structure that would have been capable of directing resistance to the German army. Jews in the various European countries under the Nazi boot had not even a common language. The further east one went, to but not so much into Russia, the more Yiddish was the language of daily use, but Dutch Jews spoke Dutch, Danish Jews Danish, French Jews French and so on.

In the Warsaw Ghetto, things were different. Jews there lived in close quarters, the population was culturally homogeneous for the most part, and the population was per force organized. They obtained weapons by various means, including from members of the Polish underground. They had heard about the Nazi intention to liquidate the Ghetto finally on the first day of Passover, the holiday that celebrates freedom, redemption and hope. They knew that Himmler had meant the liquidation to be a birthday present to Hitler. They had nothing left to lose. Under these conditions, Jews fought bravely, holding off the Germans for an entire month, and inflicting many casualties.

It was important for this distinction between the various conditions in which Jews found themselves to be made in a young Israeli state, loudly and clearly. And this caucus insisted that the name of the day be Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day—יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה—so that not only those who perished without hope of resisting, but those who fought back and the righteous gentiles who helped Jews, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, would also be included. It is a shame that so few American Jews know the actual full name, and this the nuanced meaning, of the day.

As a result of the Warsaw Ghetto survivors’ testimony, some favored establishing Yom HaShoah v’Hagvurah on the 14th of Nisan, the day just before the first Seder, the day the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began. The Orthodox objected on two grounds, however. First, this was too onerous an obligation on a day that families were preparing diligently for the holiday—and, indeed, there is a lot to do. Second, they said, it was not permissible to establish a fast day, or even a sad or solemn day, in the month of Nisan, when we are commanded to celebrate.

So what happened? The powers-that-were decided to compromise: They established the day of commemoration on the 27th of Nisan. Some argued that this date fell within the seven weeks of the counting of the Omer, which, with the exception of Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer), was a semi-mourning period anyway for traditional Jews. And 27 Nisan was set because it was eight days before Israeli Independence Day. The symbolism is fairly obvious, to some at least: Modern Israel arose from the flames of the Nazi crematoria and, as in the eight days of circumcision, an eight-count later the country re-entered its covenant with history as a free, independent and living nation.

At first at least, this compromise pleased only some. The more left-wing muscular Zionists ignored the day, just as they were left cold by the idea of establishing Yad Vashem. The haredim (ultra-Orthodox) ignored it too, and most of them still do. When the sirens sound nationwide on 27 Nisan, and every other Jew in Israel observes two minutes of silence in place, the haredim go on with their schools and business and so forth, because they do not recognize the authority of the state in such matters. They do not accept the secular-religious synthesis within Zionism brokered largely by former Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook and epitomized by his characterization of the State of Israel as “the beginning of the dawn of our redemption.” This non-acceptance is why, in large part, the majority of Israelis disparages or detests the haredim, and it is why, incidentally, the unusual new Israeli coalition, which has no Orthodox party representation, looks the way it does.

Over time, all Israeli Jews but the haredim have accepted Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. This is because it’s taught in the schools and people become socialized to it that way. Those haredim who do mark the day do so as part of other, long-established fast days—their original point of view. But there are still some ultra-Orthodox who do not mark the day at all, or commemorate the Holocaust as such as a singular event. They have an argument to make on this score, and it is not an argument to be dismissed before it is honestly understood.

This argument, if I may do it justice in a very brief summary, has two main parts.

First, just as we are commanded to “blot out the memory of Amalek; do not forget” (Exodus 17 and Deuteronomy 25), we are, mutatis mutandis, commanded to blot out the memory of Hitler and the Nazis (“y’makh sh’mo”). Now, in the Biblical command there is an oft-noted paradox: Remembering to blot out a memory seems a contradiction in terms, for the act of remembering to blot out presupposes the impossibility of blotting out, doesn’t it?

Second, and you will soon see how this connects back to the first, as horrible as the Holocaust was, there have been other episodes that either seemed at the time, or actually were, just as horrible. I have already alluded to the terrible destruction of the Jewish communities in the Rhineland during the last year of the 11th and the early years of the 12th centuries. The Khmelnitsky massacres of the mid-17th century come also to mind. Back further in time, what the Romans did during and after the Bar Kochba rebellion was no picnic either; some 25-30 percent of the population was slaughtered according to most historical estimates. The point? We should not privilege one horror over others because we lack the perspective and understanding to do so. Doesn’t claiming with certainty that this one is the worst raise the bar—God forbid—for the next one? We don’t know the reasons such things happen, but appointing ourselves judges to establish singular days of commemoration suggests somehow that we do. This, the argument goes, is arrogance.

* * *

So what, then, does the tradition do with such challenges? Let’s go back to 1099 for a moment. Few Jews know this (and that includes haredim, whose approach to Judaism is studiously anti-historical, as well as poorly educated secularized Jews), but the “mourner’s kaddish”—the memorial prayer for the dead—was a post-Crusade innovation. A hasid today may insist that Jacob said mourner’s kaddish for his parents or for his wife, Rachel, but he didn’t. The paragraph in the Passover Hagaddah that is recited during the Seder when the door is opened for Elijah—“Pour out thy wrath upon the nations that know thee not. . . .”—was also added around the same time.

But note carefully, for this is the point: These (and other) innovations in the liturgy do not mention the Crusades or the crusaders. They encompass the events without specifying them. This solves the aforementioned paradox: It is indeed possible to blot out the specific name of evil, but still remember the need to fight evil based on past experience. One can do this by transforming the prosaic history people endure into the poetry of the soul, into the syntax of the spirit. That is how the evolving Jewish liturgy has handled tragedy without extinguishing hope. This is the way it tries to balance respect for martyrs with hope in the future. This is what defines, in my view, the genius within this tradition.

As I argued in my Jewcentricity book, the contemporary Jewish community in America has more or less failed to understand this. By indulging in the conceit of the contemporary, the Holocaust has become a form of ancestor worship for too many. As critics from Jacob Neusner to Irving Howe have complained going back now many years, semi-assimilated Jewish Americans have replaced authentic Judaism and the God at its core with a “lite” politicized version in which the State of Israel is the deity and the Holocaust its ritual liturgy. Both God and normative Judaism have been rendered completely superfluous to it. Note too that the regimen of mourning within Jewish tradition has temporal distinction and boundaries: first seven days, then thirty days, then eleven months. But it ends, and it ends because the purpose of the regimen is to assist the mourners to return to the blessings of normal, everyday life. A Holocaust cult that seems never to end is profoundly un-Jewish.

It is this unhappy reality that led me many years ago to create Garfinkle’s Rule: No one who does not participate in the building of, or in the dwelling in, a succah has any right to participate in a Holocaust remembrance event, especially one in which the Heroism part of the day’s name goes unmentioned. (I capitalize these words because it is conventional; there are no capital letters in Hebrew.) I still hold by my rule. If the joys and elations of the tradition are sacrificed to the lachrymose and the ashen, a faux-Judaism that cannot be successfully transmitted to future generations will gnaw its way into consciousness. It already has, as the inter-marriage and assimilation numbers testify. Pace the ridiculous claims of those who have argued that burgeoning anti-Semitism in America is causing assimilation, the truth is that Jews themselves are causing it pretty much all by themselves.

* * *

With this in mind, what can we say about the meaning of seventy years? An answer is on the way, but first a story.

September before last my wife and I traveled to Poland (she for the first time, me for the second) mainly for the purpose of visiting my paternal grandfather’s hometown of Suwalki (he was born there in 1872), in the far northeastern part of today’s Poland, near the Lithuanian border. Suwalki used to have a sizable and thriving Jewish community before September 1939. It was annihilated during the war almost in its entirety. Had my grandfather not left for America as a youngster, I would very probably never have been me.

Suwalki today is a pleasant enough town. But aside from the Jewish cemetery, and a single plaque on a building commemorating the birthplace of a certain person (Avraham Stern), there is no sign that Jews ever lived there, let alone did so for centuries. The old Jewish hospital, the Jewish Y, the rabbi’s house, and several other buildings in the old Jewish part of town have all been repurposed. Chances are that most of the residents of Suwalki today have never met a Jew, and do not know their town’s own rich history thanks in large part to the Communists, much assisted, of course, by the mere but relentless passage of time.

Yaroslavl and Warsaw 2011 156

We were in Warsaw a few days, too. You can see on the sidewalks near where the Ghetto used to be memorial inscriptions testifying to its having existed. We saw a guide showing a group of Canadian Jewish tourists around, but there’s nothing to see, really, except in one’s own poorly or well-tutored imagination, as the case may be. Warsaw was all but leveled during the 1944 Uprising, as the Red Army waited knowingly, and cynically, on the far side of the Vistula for the Germans to destroy the place before their retreat.

A single Warsaw synagogue survived the war, in badly damaged condition. It has been refurbished beautifully and functions again today. When we went in a Talmud havrusa was in progress in a side room; two guys going at each other with vigor and care. But of prewar Jewish Warsaw, there is little else left. A new Jewish museum is in preparation, and when we were there large canvas-banner photographs of Jewish life before 1939 adorned the outside of the building then undergoing refurbishment. The whole idea of a Jewish museum in Warsaw fills me with equivocation, I must admit. A Jewish museum, after all, is what the Nazis planned once they had killed all the Jews. But if the Poles feel as though they want and need to do this, and have the support of Jewish groups, as they do, I’m fine with it. Their wartime suffering too was enormous, unspeakable; no avenue of healing should be off-limits to them as far as I’m concerned. Don’t forget, too, that soon after the war the Jews could rejoice in the birth of Israel, but Poles got cadres of vicious Communist thugs suppressing them for decade upon decade.

garfNow, finally, about the number 70: Psalm 90, characterized as a prayer of Moses, reads at verse 10 like this: “The span of our life is seventy years, or if we are strong eighty years, but the best of them is trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass and we fly away.”  Leaving aside for now the many other symbolic uses of the number 70, and of the letter “ayin” that represents it—and there are at least a dozen in the tradition—the Psalm makes the simple point that the human lifespan isn’t too far from seventy years on average. When we fly away our memories fly with them, unless we have made an effort to pass them on in one way or another.

I think it’s fair to say that the world has learned something from the war and the Holocaust. When hateful people begin referring to enemy groups as insects or clods of human feces or as sons of pigs and monkeys, we all know now, much better than we did in the 1930s, that this is part and parcel of the dehumanization that invariably precedes genocide. This is a hopeful collective memory earned from the war, and of course it applies universally.

Needless to say, there have been other, literally monumental efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, and of the heroisms great and small of World War II. But as the generation that lived during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the war flies from us with each passing day, we Jews, anyway, ought to know better than to rely on stone and glass monuments and buildings and sculptures and physical structures to preserve memory. That is not the Jewish way. Other civilizations throughout history have built great buildings—pyramids and palaces and castles and cathedrals and great walls, and some have even carved huge idols in mountainsides. Yet all of those civilizations have either perished, been layered over to oblivion, or are likely one day to be layered over. Jews instead built palaces of memory in the hearts and minds of their children using words and melodies, not bricks and stone. Jews have translated their historical experiences into ramparts of the spirit.

So the challenge is not that we will forget the Holocaust, anymore than we have forgotten the spilled blood of the First Crusade. The challenge is that we will remember it the wrong way, and so forget, and therefore lose, what is really important to us. If you want specifics here, direct your attention to how Psalm 90 continues: “Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing and rejoice all our days. . . . Let Your deeds be seen by your servants, and Your glory by their children. . . .”

Understand now? It’s about singing and rejoicing, and it’s about children. We have maybe seventy years, and when those years are gone no one will care how many tears we cried over our slain or how many Holocaust ceremonies we attended. We must remember our sorrows by embedding them in a tradition whose strength is that it is suffused with singing and rejoicing, a tradition that sees a child as raw material for the greatest monument anyone can build: a decent, compassionate, brave and loving human being. That, I humbly submit, is what this 70th anniversary means, or ought to mean, not just to Jews, but, if I may be so bold, to everyone.

  • Anthony

    A decent, compassionate, brave and loving human being is both a gracious goal and divine reward for humanity.

  • http://www.martinbermangorvine.com Martin Berman-Gorvine

    A lovely and strong essay on commemoration, what it means and what it ought to mean. Food for very important reflection in a world where evil seems to rear its head every day.

  • WigWag

    Adam’s post is magnificent; almost more a work of art than a blog post.

    Adam references an argument that he made in his book “Jewcentricity.” He says, “By indulging in the conceit of the contemporary, the Holocaust has become a form of ancestor worship for too many… going back now many years, semi-assimilated Jewish Americans have replaced authentic Judaism and the God at its core with a “lite” politicized version in which the State of Israel is the deity and the Holocaust its ritual liturgy. Both God and normative Judaism have been rendered completely superfluous to it…A Holocaust cult that seems never to end is profoundly un-Jewish.”

    There is quite a bit that is accurate in this analysis but it is far too harsh.

    While I agree that substituting Israel for the deity and the Shoah for a genuine sense of piety is a sure recipe for communal disaster, the extermination of the 6 million is not an ancient event; it happened within the living memory of hundreds of tens of gentiles and Jews still walking the Earth.

    Isn’t it a little unfair to claim that those secular Jews who view the existence of Israel as in insurance policy against a new Jewish genocide are behaving in a cult-like manner? Is less than a century really too long for a people whose population was reduced by two thirds to still have a vivid sense of loss? Are the periods of ritual mourning prescribed by the sages really adequate to memorialize a near-extinction event?

    Many of those “semi-assimilated Jewish Americans” that Adam is implicitly criticizing (more in sorrow than anger, I suspect) lost grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and cousins in Europe. Even if those Jewish Americans were never personally acquainted with their extended family members who perished, it’s hardly fair to criticize them for perseverating on the same question that Adam’s trip to Poland inspired in him; “if my grandfather hadn’t left, would I exist?”

    Adam is right that ”great buildings—pyramids and palaces and castles and cathedrals and great walls” are not what has vouchsafed Jewish heritage but I hope that it is not indelicate to point out that this same argument is made by those who loathe the Jewish people and Israel. To this day, supposedly moderate Palestinian leaders like President Abbas deny the relationship of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. American Presidents (of both political parties) refuse to meet with Israeli Prime Ministers in the eastern part of the City and the mere possibility of an observant Jew praying silently on the Temple Mount is enough to inspire a riot. The concept of “sacred space” is powerful for people of many faith traditions; the idea that secular Jews should be criticized for being moved by it just as observant Jews are, seems a little bit much to me. In short, anti-Semites are delighted with the argument that the Jews are errant in substituting Zionism for Judaism; their goal is to treat the Jews in their midst as Dhimmis while they eradicate Israel.

    It’s not just Adam, Jacob Neusner and Irving Howe who have made the argument that by conflating Israel and a focus on the Holocaust with genuine spirituality, Jews are risking communal suicide; in his recent widely discussed book, “The Crisis of Zionism” Peter Beinart makes precisely the same argument. From this, in an obtuse and twisted fashion, Beinart formulates a series of policy recommendations that would, if followed, certainly create an existential risk for Israel.

    In this post and in his marvelous (and under-appreciated) book, “Jewcentricity,” Adam makes clear his thesis that the Jewish people have survived their many arduous travails because instead of building monuments, they build “palaces of memory in the hearts and minds of their children using words and melodies, not bricks and stone.”

    True enough, but what safeguards half the worlds Jews who now live in Israel are not merely “ramparts of the spirit” but F-16s and Iron Dome installations. It’s mostly those “semi-assimilated” secular Jews and the organizations that represent them like AIPAC (as well as the admiration of Christian Americans) who insure that there will always be one place in the world at least where the “words and melodies of Judaism” can still be sung.

    The long term suvival of the Jewish people may depend on the degree to which piety and ritual remain central in Jewish minds. It seems to me that Adam may be a tad too dismissive of the important role played by
    “semi-assimilated” Jews in insuring the short-term survival of the Jewish people.

    • Adam Garfinkle

      I am not dismissive of anyone and neither was Rav Kook.

      As for Mr. Beinart, even a broken clock is right twice a day (once a day in military time), so what’s that got to do with anything?

      As for your question as to whether the rabbinic tradition is up to dealing with the Shoah, my answer is a resounding yes, for those fortunate enough to know what it actually is.

  • WigWag

    A few weeks back, Peter Berger wrote a very interesting post at his blog “Religion and Other Curiosities” entitled “Misuses of the Holocaust.” It is well worth a look,

    http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/berger/2013/02/20/misuses-of-the-holocaust/#disqus_thread

    Berger, in the provocative and erudite style that he brings to all of his writing, referenced an article that he had read in the February 8, 2013 issue of “The Christian Century” which pondered the question, “Did Gun Control Prevent Jews from Stopping the Holocaust?” Berger (correctly) quickly dismisses the notion. While referring to the Warsaw Uprising that inspires this post by Adam, Berger says,

    “The notion that Jews in 1940s Europe could have had sufficient weapons to stop or even significantly hamper the powerful Nazi death machinery is an ignorant fantasy. A small number of Jews did acquire weapons and the heroic uprising in the Warsaw ghetto did kill a few Germans. But it was quickly suppressed, and almost all the people who had survived in the ghetto were massacred in place or deported to the death camps…[the] notion that Jewish resistance might have allowed “some of Poland” to remain free is in the realm of science fiction.”

    Berger used this story as a starting point to catalog a number of ways that commentators deliberately or not so deliberately misuse the Holocaust as a metaphor for other tragic events. Unsurprisingly one of the issues that Berger brought up later in the essay (and debated in the comments section by several people including me) was whether the Shoah was different in kind from other genocides or putative genocides committed in the 20th century such as what the Turks did to the Armenians or the Serbs did to the Muslim Bosnians or Kosovars.

    One of the things that make this subject so interesting is to note how the descendants of the alleged perpetrators react to the victims of their forebears. To this day, the Turks deny that their Ottoman forebears committed a genocide against the Albanians (they’re wrong). The Serbs deny that their behavior towards the Muslim Kosovars was genocide (they’re right).

    The reaction of the Poles, especially young Poles to the complicity of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents with the Nazis is very interesting. I don’t know if Adam Garfinkle saw any evidence of this during his recent trip to Poland, but there is a massive wave of Philosemitism sweeping across Poland.

    Perhaps ground zero for Polish anti-Semitism during the war was Cracow; Auschwitz, in the suburb of Oświęcim is less than an hour drive from Cracow’s central square. When I visited Cracow two years ago I was fascinated to see that the Jewish section of the city, devastated during the War (though Cracow itself was largely spared) and neglected during the Communist era, had been lovingly restored. Several old synagogues had been renovated and one had been converted into a museum commemorating the Jewish experience in Poland.

    Upon visiting the museum I was somewhat surprised to see that no attempt was made to whitewash Polish complicity. Polish visitors (there were many when I was there) and tourists (mostly American Jews) were presented with an unvarnished depiction of Polish anti-Semitism and the willingness of many Poles to assist the Nazis in their quest to eradicate European Jewry.

    Of course, other than the visitors, there were no actual congregants in the renovated synagogues; how could there be-virtually all Polish Jews had been exterminated or forced to flee. As a result, I was visiting a Jewish section of Cracow sans the Jews (except for a few tourists). This gave the place a decidedly “Disney Land-like” feel; but the young Poles circulating with grim faces amongst the exhibits outlining the horrors of the Holocaust could hardly be blamed for that. I have spoken with many Jews who escaped from Poland before it was too late; few of them have any nice memories of their former Polish neighbors. I left wondering what they would have thought of the children and grandchildren of their former neighbors if they were ever to have a chance to meet them. I have even heard that there are a not trivial number of Polish young people who are converting to Judaism much to the consternation of the Polish Government and the Roman Catholic Church. It would be interesting to know what the author of “Jewcentricity” thinks about this.

    Adam’s description of his visit to Poland brings one last thing to mind. It’s a story I read a few years ago about the decision of the Polish city of Bialystok to commemorate the 150th birthday of Ludwik Zamenhof, an observant Polish Jew who, in 1887 accomplished his dream of combing elements of Roman, German and Slavic languages with a little Latin and Greek grammar to form Esperanto. Zamenhof died in 1917 and I have heard that within the next two decades or so his entire family was wiped out; no doubt with the acquiescence if not active assistance of their Polish neighbors. What a hopeful sign it is that the descendents of the people who murdered the Zamenhofs decided to honor the memory and accomplishments of Ludwik Zamenhof. Interestingly, “Esperanto” means hope.

    But what strikes me even more, is the irony that Esperanto should have been invented by a Jew. That a Polish Jew who, like his brethren, was almost surely considered an outsider by the community in which he resided, should seek to create a language that could unite the world is a stark reminder of the quandary faced by Jews down through the ages-do I assimilate and if so, how much? What is the purpose of Esperanto if not to facilitate the ability of all people to assimilate?

    Can I assimilate and still be a Jew? Can I assimilate and still be a good Jew? Can I assimilate and still hold precious the survival of the Jewish people? Adam’s post seems to suggest that he doubts it. My guess is that Ludwik Zamenhof struggled with the same questions.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    “Other civilizations throughout history have built great buildings—pyramids and palaces and castles and cathedrals and great walls, and some have even carved huge idols in mountainsides. Yet all of those civilizations have either perished, been layered over to oblivion, or are likely one day to be layered over. Jews instead built palaces of memory in the hearts and minds of their children using words and melodies, not bricks and stone. Jews have translated their historical experiences into ramparts of the spirit.”

    Something the whole world should learn how to do.

    In some ways the Holocaust was an emblematic event. For whle unique in its intensity, there was not a single outrage committed against the Jews of Europe in the years 1933-1945 that had not been visited countless times on equally innocent men, women, and children throughout the world since history and civilization began. A terrible human price has been paid to build the modern world. We should never forget it, Jews and gentiles alik

  • Walter Sobchak

    Thanks for the thought provoking essay.

    One little proofreading comment:

    ” The key was the testimony and insistence of the few survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising … Their cache was powerful enough to turn the tide of debate …”

    Instead of cache you should have written: Cachet.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cache

    cache (noun):

    1. a hiding place, especially one in the ground, for ammunition, food, treasures, etc.

    ***

    Can be confused: cache, cachet, cash.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cachet

    cachet (noun):

    1. an official seal, as on a letter or document.
    2. a distinguishing mark or feature.
    3. a sign or expression of approval, especially from a person who has a great deal of prestige.
    4. superior status; prestige: The job has a certain cachet.

    • Daniel Kennelly

      Good catch.

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  • Jonathan Levy

    This article has given me much food for thought. I should like to address one particular point:

    “But note carefully, for this is the point: These (and other) innovations in the liturgy do not mention the Crusades or the crusaders”

    First, we must remember that it was not always thus. The Hebrew Bible has quite a few texts commemorating notable events which contain historical detail, and they do not suffer for it. Examples are the Book of Lamentations, David’s Lament for Saul and Jonathan, Deborah’s song, and the Song of the Sea. On the contrary, the historical details are what give the laments their power.

    This thought first occurred to me while searching for the text of a particular speech by Winston Churchill, which I had found quite inspirational. To my surprise I found that the Churchill Centre had attempted to universalize the speech by removing all specific contemporary references. This resulted in a diluted bowl of cliches, and all the power of the original speech was gone. I invite any reader to compare the two texts and judge for himself:

    Original:
    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2194&dat=19410714&id=9PUuAAAAIBAJ&sjid=4dsFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6421,2162264

    Revised:
    http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/129-you-do-your-worst-and-we-will-do-our-best

    • adam Garfinkle

      Your examples come from different eras of biblical Judaism, not rabbinic Judaism. The specificity of those texts had their purposes, to be sure. But the rabbinic method of “remembering not to forget” has its purposes, too.

  • Eliezer

    “As critics from Jacob Neusner to Irving Howe have complained going back now many years, semi-assimilated Jewish Americans have replaced authentic Judaism and the God at its core with a “lite” politicized version in which the State of Israel is the deity and the Holocaust its ritual liturgy.”

    I keep hearing that, but I never see it. Not in 64 years. Not in Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist congregations.

    Can someone offer me an example or two of “semi-assimilated Jewish Americans who have replaced authentic Judaism and the God at its core with a “lite” politicized version in which the State of Israel is the deity and the Holocaust its ritual liturgy.”?

  • Pennywhistler

    “As critics from Jacob Neusner to Irving Howe have complained going back now many years, semi-assimilated Jewish Americans have replaced authentic Judaism and the God at its core with a “lite” politicized version in which the State of Israel is the deity and the Holocaust its ritual liturgy.”

    I keep hearing that, but I never see it. Not in 64 years. Not in Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist congregations.

    Can someone offer me an example or two of “semi-assimilated Jewish Americans who have replaced authentic Judaism and the God at its core with a “lite” politicized version in which the State of Israel is the deity and the Holocaust its ritual liturgy.”?

    • Adam Garfinkle

      Perhaps you have been fortunate, but I daresay that if it were possible to do a content analysis of sermons over the years from the denominations of Judaism you mention, especially since 1967, Israel and the Shoah would pop up many, many times more frequently than God or halakhah. You didn’t think I meant the statement literally, did you?