Why I don’t think Israel needs its own Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah

More than five years ago, Ariel Rubinstein was brave enough to offer, in Ha’aretz, these twelve reasons why he believes that Israel should do away with its own Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah (paywalled).

In particular one paragraph caught my attention and emboldened me to share, here, my own reason why I have long quietly supported Rubinstein’s viewpoint:

“Holocaust Remembrance Day should be canceled, because we must not ground our existence here [in Israel] solely on our being perpetually persecuted. If we do not distinguish ourselves culturally and religiously, it would be better for us to assimilate among the nations.”

The following opinion is offered with the sincere desire not to cause offence or hurt to those who very much believe in the merit of this national Israeli institution.

The Yom HaShoah — Yom Atsmaut Tie-In Feeds Into The Trope That Israel Exists Because Of The Holocaust

If you want to know my thoughts on the commonly heard trope that Israel exists “because” of the Holocaust (or “because Jews needed a safe haven from persecution”) then the below poster, from the Israel Advocacy Movement, does a reasonably good job at summarizing my views on the matter:

Credit: The Israel Advocacy Movement

My Zionism is of a pretty classic variety (some might say even fundamentalist): I believe that the State of Israel exists in order to facilitate the homecoming of the Jewish people to its ancestral homeland. It’s the Jewish manifestation of self-determination. Any other benefits that such a homecoming may have are — in my view — ancillary.

Unfortunately, by creating a national day calendar that deliberately juxtaposes Yom HaShoah (first) and Yom Atsmaut (Israel’s national day) in close succession, Israel plays into the notion that the country exists because of the horrors of the Holocaust. (Yom HaShoah is fixed on Nissan 27 in the Hebrew calendar while Yom Atsmaut is on 5 Iyar. In practice, the two commemorations are spaced about a week apart in the secular calendar.)

The juxtaposition of the two commemorations sends out a powerful message, or at least a strong subtext: because of the events which this day commemorates (Yom HaShoah) we are able, one week later, to celebrate the beginning of our statehood.

I and others who celebrate our existence here as a manifestation of our coming home reject any such attempts to forge such a nexus.

The Strongest Reaction To Anti-Semitism Is The Success Of The State of Israel. If Only In A Small Way, Yom HaShoah Undermines It

You could say that my views regarding the issues that surround Israel are a potpourri of perspectives that don’t box me conveniently into any one camp or stereotype.

For instance:

I’m largely opposed to hasbara — Israel’s policy of investing heavily in public diplomacy in order to ‘explain’ the righteousness of some of its policies or combat some of the distortions leveled against it.

Part of my reasoning for holding such a viewpoint is the fact that I believe that a lot of hate — particularly of the irrational kind that emanates from a strong dislike of Jews— is best left to foment among itself where ultimately it will lead to the self-destruction of the haters. Reacting to it with a slew of state-sponsored propaganda is, in a sense, the real life equivalent of “feeding the trolls.”

I also believe that the best answer to anti-Semitism — particularly the kind cloaked in anti-Zionism — is the continued success, by and large, of the State of Israel, the only Jewish country in the world.

The disruption to daily life in Israel that Yom HaShoah closes might be small,but nevertheless, it impacts in a perceptible way upon the quotidian here in Israel:

  • By law, restaurant and places of entertainment must remain closed
  • Workplaces grind to a halt, briefly, as employees are expected to pay respects to an air raid siren that serves as a moment of commemoration

The most defiant answer to the horrors of the Holocaust is the continued success of the Jewish people in spite of the attempt to annihilate them from existence.

Their success in coming home and achieving self-determination shortly thereafter — a historical event without precedence — was simply the icing on the cake. But A didn’t justify B.

Yom HaShoah Makes Permanent Our Collective Sense of National Grief

To the best of my knowledge, Yom HaShoah — Israel’s national remembrance day for the Holocaust — doesn’t have a sell-by-date. There is no law in the Knesset that institutes that the national day of grief for the horrors of the Holocaust must end by a certain year.

However, I think it’s unrealistic for us to think that — however awful the near annihilation of our people was — it needs to be remembered, on its own day, in perpetuity.

Sadly, many tragedies have befallen the Jewish people over the eons of history.

Indeed we must never forget the horrors of the Holocaust. But do we need a day upon which to mourn over it in perpetuity?

And even if we argue that the answer is ‘yes,’ how can we honestly expect to compress a grieving process about something as monstrous as the Shoah into one day — a day that the calendar dictates to us?

In the Jewish mourning process that follows the loss of a loved one (aveilut), restrictions are gradually lifted upon close survivors until none remain in place at all. Thereafter, the loved one is memorialized and grieved for one a year. Jewish tradition even discourages excessive visits to the resting place of the loved one.

So I ask for Yom HaShoah: while I don’t argue that we shouldn’t appoint a national day on which to commemorate and grieve for the Holocaust — whether an exclusive one or one shared with other tragedies — I wonder whether the state ceremonies and enforced restrictions should continue indefinitely into the future.

Would it be more fitting if the day were rolled into another national-religious holiday that commemorates a tragedy that befell the Jewish people — such as Tisha B’Av? And if Israelis weren’t prevented from living their lives and buying food once a year because the country were forced into closure?

Furthermore, by suggesting that the existence of the State of Israel is predicated upon our persecution — as the close juxtaposition of the two dates does — Yom HaShoah risks engendering in us a never-ending persecution complex.

It also encourages a reactionary mentality that views every negative response to the State of Israel (commemorated on Yom Atsmaut) as rooted in the evils of anti-Semitism (commemorated one week previously on Yom HaShoah).

While much anti-Israelism is indeed rooted in thinly veiled anti-Semitism, not all of it is.

Israelis Don’t Need To Be Reminded Of The Dangers Of Hatred And Anti-Semitism

Every year, on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s political class follows through with a predictable series of events designed to commemorate those who perished in the Holocaust.

And yet in the very same country and on the very same day hate crimes continue which demonstrate the futility of ever eliminating hatred and prejudice through national displays of commemoration.

Just as no amount of hasbara will succeed in making everybody love Israel, no amount of national commemoration or remembrance ceremonies will ever succeed in blotting out anti-Semitism from the world.

Here’s a salient example. The day before I wrote this piece, in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod, Israel — as on a previous year — Arabs set off fireworks during ceremonies to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The messaging doesn’t require the interpretative skills of a Talmudist: like terrorists handing out candies in the wake of an atrocity, we delight in your suffering. Indeed, if it were up to us, we’d like it to continue.

Israel does not need to institutionalize a separate day of morning for the Holocaust to provide its citizens with a reminder of the dangers of anti-Semitism and unfettered hatred.

Israelis get near weekly reminders whenever a terrorist carries out a stabbing attack in its capital.

Or when its northern neighbors — or those in the south — rain missiles upon the country’s towns. Or when Iran continues in its efforts to build a nuclear weapon with the intent of annihilating it.

For the world at large, one can argue that some sort of permanent commemoration of the horrors of hate crimes and persecutions is a needed and salient institution.

Here in Israel, the experience is lived every day of the year. Including, ironically, on its national day of commemoration.

In A Sense, Yom HaShoah Blinds Us To The Grief Of Others

While it is to be expected that Israel will commemorate a tragedy that befell the Jewish people, and on the dangers of anti-Semitism, equally, in a sense, fixating solely upon the Holocaust and upon Jew-hatred encourages us to ignore other forms of persecution and racism that exist around the world.

The above — I rush to add — is not an attempt to draw an equivalence between the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and other form of suffering.

But Israel and the Jewish people do not hold a patent — nor a monopoly — upon being on the receiving end of acts of national persecution.

Institutionalizing in Israel a day of commemoration only to remember our painful experience with persecution and hatred in a sense blinds us to the (present-day) suffering of others.

While it is to be expected that — in the Jewish State — we will put our own national commemorations above those of others (all nations are selfish in that respect!), I believe that equally our own painful history of persecution shouldn’t blind us to the suffering endured by other peoples, including those going on in the world today.

Author’s note: Due to the fact that, sadly, I have spent much of this week receiving anti-Semitic online bullying — a fact that reminds me of the need to take anti-Semitism seriously — I have had to turn off comments on any Medium article that touches upon these themes as, unfortunately, the haters have continued their abuse here.

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Thought leadership ghostwriter for technology clients and non-fiction books. Site: DSRGhostwriting.com. Book: amzn.to/2C3jkZS

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