[Please note: Blogger has been having trouble, but I understand that the comments which appear to have been lost will be restored in the coming days.]
[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]
I’ve been thinking about the triangular relationship between Israelis, Diaspora Jewry, and the Holocaust.
That relationship has been emotionally fraught since the beginning; Israelis and Diaspora Jews have seen the Holocaust in fundamentally different ways since the war itself. For example, the latter tend to emphasize the suffering while the former emphasize the Jews who fought back, as well as the imperative to build a state which can defend itself.
For the past sixty-five years, in part due to the fact that the majority of survivors lived outside of Israel, Diaspora Jews have dominated the Holocaust narrative. Despite the presence of Yad VaShem, the world’s leading Holocaust memorial, in Israel, it has still seemed – based on news media, published literature, academic studies and conferences – that the Holocaust’s heirs, if you will, were the Jews around the world.
Two events from the past two weeks have made me change my thinking about where we are, though:
1. An Israeli friend pointed out to me that Israelis postponed this year’s Yom haShoah commemoration from the 27th of Nisan (a Sunday) to the following day, to avoid violation of Shabbat in the evening’s ceremonies. He was upset that much of the Diaspora did not follow Israel’s lead.
To me, this was surprising; unlike Yom ha’Atzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim, there is nothing inherently Israeli about Yom haShoah. (The concern for Shabbat violation in holding ceremonies on Saturday night was not relevant, either; faced with a Sunday Yom haShoah in lands where Sunday is a day off, communities tend to use Sunday for their Yom haShoah programs.) So why should world Jewry follow the Chief Rabbinate’s decision on marking this day? But to him, and I suspect to many Israelis, it was obviously the correct thing to do.
[PS Thanks to Michael Sedley's comment, I recognize that the preceding paragraph is actually incorrect - The idea of remembering the Holocaust on the 27th of Nisan is actually an Israeli concept. I was always taught that Yom haShoah was a global day, but that's an error, product of a Diaspora education. Fascinating. I'm leaving the original post as-is to point to that common error.]
2. When John Demjanjuk was convicted this week in a German court for his role in the Nazi genocide, local radio went looking for Jewish reaction not in Jewish Toronto, or even at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but instead in “man on the street” interviews in Israel.
I think one reason for this shift is the passing of so much of the Survivor generation. As those who witnessed it personally disappear, there is less reason for their Diaspora communities to represent the Jews who were lost. But more, I think it’s because of a growing clarity that the only viable Jewish community in the world, long-term, is Israel. As powerful Jewish communities in Galut shrink, there is decreasing reason to consult them on “Jewish matters”.