Answer any question, honestly.

If we’re being cynical, the propaganda machine is running in full force at my house. If we’re being honest, I’m just trying to protect my offspring. If we’re being optimistic, the hope is knowledge will lead to creative, original and practical solutions.

This Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, hit me hard. Harder than in years I can count on both hands. I think there are a few reasons for this:

  • Syria.
  • I have a lot more responsibility, suddenly. I’m waking up from a very intense few years of having kids.
  • My boy is a bigger thinking, processing human and asks bigger questions.

Who were the good guys? Who were the bad? Why is there a shirt hanging on the stage? Why did they have to wear those clothes? If you’re grandma is that old why wasn’t she in the shoah? Oh did she fight in the war then? The Russians were good and then they were bad?

What side was Israel on?

Wait, what?

Questions I answer for my kids on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Winner of this year’s national Poster Competition for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.

I’m not against the early, introductory Holocaust education of nursery and kindergarten aged kids. I think it’s a reality and if done right and age appropriately, it can enrich as opposed to stir excessive fear. It’s a hot debate in Anglo-immigrant circles; many people are taken aback by the openness. But I didn’t move here to hide from reality. I would have stayed in America for that.

During dinner tonight, after my kids sang a song that involved a certain debatable chocolate cake, we got to talking about race – you know, the כושי conversation – and navigated toward American slavery – and swerved through what it means to have different skin colors – and landed on Holocaust. What can I say, my older kids had talks, lessons, ceremonies about it today.

“Those bad guys… ummm… what are they called again?”

“Nazis.”

“Yeah, Nazis – so did the Jews say nu nu nu to them?”

“Ummmm no…”

“But you said when someone is bad to us we should yell at them.”

“Yeah… but Nazis had a lot of power. The Jews had none. You know, a lot of people died.”

“Six million!”

“…oh. That’s precise. Did anyone say that had savtot rabot or sabim rabim that were there?”

“Yeah!”

“You know, ours weren’t. They were in other places. Like America.”

“And did they help?”

“Umm…”

“But America helped them?”

“…did they?”

“And England.”

“Yes… they eventually helped. England helped.”

“And Hashem!”

“Uh huh.”

“But if our savta raba is now 101 she was 30 when it happened?”

“I guess about that…”

“Because it was 71 years ago…”

“That’s also precise…”

“I did subtraction!”

“You sure do learn a lot in school.”

 

 

 

 

Local Holocaust remembrance in 2015 and beyond

Since becoming a mom, everything has gotten harder to swallow. I don’t read the news as much. Especially local evening news from New York. I can’t stomach certain facts of life. And I’ve distanced myself from my cultural ties with Holocaust education and remembrance.

Which is getting easier to do – less voices, more distance from 1945. In Israel, there is a debate over what it all means for the next generation. Can you really expect a generation born into relative national freedom to identify with this historical chapter?

I pushed myself to come out tonight to Tzur Hadassah’s beit ha’am to listen to a local resident and Terezin survivor tell his story. Reuven Fisherman was born and raised in Denmark. Though the Terezin concentration camp in the Czech Republic is the one place I have visited, I hadn’t known the Danish angle. And I hadn’t heard as personal a telling as I heard here.

And I hadn’t heard an Israeli survivor in a long time. Nor one that lives in my community. And has a lot more in common with me as an oleh than many of my other native neighbors.

Like a lot of other survivors, he hadn’t really started telling his story publicly until relatively recently. He published a book in Danish, which was used in a documentary, which is set for release on May 5, which is the exact date he was liberated from Terezin. The book should be coming out in Hebrew by the end of the year he hopes.

There were local scouts in the audience. There were a few other grade school kids. I wondered if my kids will hear a ניצול שואה telling their story, live, in person. I was in first grade when this was all revealed to me in the open. I guess in Israeli standards, they are not too far off from the live, survivor reveal.

Especially since in Israel, Holocaust education starts in pre-kindergarten.

Speaking up.

It won’t be long before Jewish parents of school-age children no longer remember the point. The memory becomes a faded square of yellow fabric, eventually disintegrating under museum lighting. The pictures, cliche. The speeches, routine.

It’s probably already true to some degree, but most of us are young enough to remember the first time we met a Holocaust a survivor. Really met.

Who will remember those who remember?

We’re going to have to preserve the message, the memory, the moment somehow.

Linking the past to the present, the moral to our future.

What about teaching our kids to speak up?

Speak up the way some of our grandparents didn’t. Speak up when everyone else would rather speak about something else.

Speak up against intolerance. Speak up against misunderstanding. Speak up against baseless hatred.

Speak up for healing. Speak up for moving forward. Speak up for the people who can’t.

Who am I kidding, we’re Jews <insert stereotype>, Israelis <insert stereotype>, Middle Easterners <insert stereotype> – we don’t know how to speak up?

Psst.

Constructively.

The yearly struggle (No, we’re not over the Holocaust yet).

I’ve been struggling a little more the last few months. Struggling with something dark and damp and desperate, twisting itself among my veins, reaching across my heart and nipping at my soul.

My growing morbidity. I’ve been morbid since I can remember. As a kid, I had freakish nightmares despite a safe and happy daylife. I had an imagination that overran my little brain. It was an amazing thing to grow up with, and I still love tapping into it now. But the morbidity came with it too.

I had a lot of Holocaust nightmares while I was growing up… I remember being in first or second grade and hearing about the Shoah in a school assembly. I remember my teacher speaking about her parents. I remember the nightmares that started to haunt me for years, through high school.

Now that I have kids, it’s only getting worse. Iran is the new face of my freakish thoughts and it’s already blown up out of proportion or it’s not enough, I’m not sure yet, I guess we’ll find out. But the evil that embeds itself into our world consumes me while I hold my children, while I bathe their little bodies, while I shh shh them to sleep.

I think about death. Destruction. Terror. Injury. Hate. Apathy. I wonder about killing children. Stabbing a sleeping baby. I wonder about pulling the trigger on a seven-year-old. I wonder what goes through your mind when you line up mothers and their babies and shoot them. How you plan to deploy missiles where kids grasp each other in shelters.

Is their blood a little brighter? Are their screams a little higher pitched? Do they know how to scream in terror before they’re devoured by it?

And how it’s possible for a person to be alive, breathing, born to this world, who considers without a second thought that a child has nothing worth living for. That a child has no worth. No feeling. No pain.

So I guess it’s really been building up. And after watching this video – My Child, The Holocaust Denier – something unlocked in me and I just let it all come out through streaming, salty, bitter tears.

Every year, you kinda wonder when this Holocaust stuff will go away, when we’ll lose touch.

Every year, there’s something else to remind us it’ll never go away… we’ll never be given the opportunity to forget.

As long as we have everything to lose, we’ll never be free.

——————————————-

Here’s some more Shoah education for today: My Brother’s Keeper: Jewish Solidarity During the Holocaust

The poster above is by graphic artist Doriel Rimmer, winner in the “Designing Memory” competition run by Yad Vashem and the Israel Ministry of Public Diplomacy. 

The state of Israel in 5758.

This is the time of year when the State of Israel has a chance to really look deep into the heart of herself and understand what condition she’s in. It’s the post-Pessach triangle of introspection: yesterday was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and next week are Yom HaZicaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day).

When I was younger, and full of the enthusiasm and energy of Herzl’s Zionism, this triangle was one of my favorite times of the year. Yom HaShoah was the day to remember why we need a state; Yom HaZicaron was the day to remember how we’ve managed to defend the state; Yom Haatzmaut was the day to celebrate how we will continue to flourish in this state.

That was, of course, before I lived in Israel.

The state of the Jewish State is bleak. Actually, it’s quite depressing. I’m tired of hearing all those wonderful accomplishments and inventions done by Israelis; It’s not moving me anymore to see pictures of young European Jews building the kibbutzim. Those are still wonderful things, to be sure. And I do get still get teary-eyed when I sing the words to Hatikvah. But pardon me if I think there are other things we need to go back to focusing on.

On Yom HaShoah I read that Holocaust survivors’ situation is worsening. I wonder why the elderly who starved under German torture are starving under the Israeli government? How are we going to continue keeping our kids’ interested in this piece of Jewish history when we can be so nonchalant towards our grandparents, who are all nearly dead? How are we going to survive ourselves?

On Yom HaZicaron I wonder what our 18-year-old soldiers are really getting killed for. Do the sirens move Ehud Omert? When he is standing with his arms behind his back, eyes low, is he thinking about the soldiers ‘ blood or border security? Is he thinking about how embarrassing it is for us to have him as a prime minister? What is the long-term plan here? How are we going to manage to stay here in Israel? Who will fight our wars in the next 20 years?

And, finally, Yom Haatzmaut this year: turning 60. I’m having a hard time understanding why this number is worth going into debt, pouring millions and millions of shekels into frivolous parties instead of working on social programs in the State’s honor to show off the good soul of the Jewish State. I’m wondering why the government is busy making sure that no one uses the Israel 60th birthday logo without permission instead of worrying over the fact that most non-immigrant Israelis I speak to are completely disenchanted with Independence Day this year. Why celebrate a lie? Why celebrate debt?

Why celebrate the state of the State of Israel this year?