Another kind of Holocaust denial: denying that it’s over
By Rabbi Dow Marmur
JERUSALEM — Saul Singer is the author, together with his brother-in-law Dan Senor, of the widely acclaimed, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. I’m pretty sure that he hasn’t read of my book, Beyond Survival or even heard of it. Nevertheless, he almost quotes from it. Hence these reflections.
In a blog that appeared in The Times of Israel Singer writes: “It is time we stopped wallowing in the narrative of crisis and survival. If we are going to talk about survival, we have got to talk about what we are surviving for. What’s our vision? Do we want peace for its own sake, or because we want to do something when we have it?”
Singer writes that if he wanted to live in peace, he need not have come toIsrael: “I felt safe in theUnited States. I also could have had a rich Jewish life in the US.” He came to Israel because “it is not about being just another country. It is about becoming a ‘light unto the nations’.” For that, “security, while certainly necessary, is not sufficient.”
Much of the above is a reaction to the recent speech at the AIPAC convention by Prime Minister Netanyahu in which he invoked the Holocaust and implied that the Jewish people is facing another one, this time from Iran. His speech is said to have been interrupted more than forty times by wild applause, often with standing ovations.
But there were also critical voices. Though Iran is a real threat, the idea that Israelis facing another Holocaust unless its air force is deployed there seems unduly alarmist to some. It seems to them that the abuse of the Holocaust isn’t only the prerogative of our enemies: whereas they deny that it ever happened, we deny that it has ever stopped.
Many of us refuse to accept that the establishment of the State of Israel has shifted the paradigm of Jewish existence. The Holocaust now belongs to the old; Hitler is dead. The new paradigm has moved us from the quest of survival to the challenge of purpose. It seems that those elected or appointed to lead the Jewish people, in Israel no less than in the Diaspora, refuse to embrace the new and prefer to stick to the rhetoric of the old.
The fact that the rest of the world doesn’t look at us as an enfeebled, hounded pariah doesn’t seem to inhibit many from mouthing the old clichés. Whereas for Israeli demagogues the Holocaust is a favored gimmick to arouse the Jewish masses, especially abroad, for many Jews, the Holocaust has become something of a substitute for faith.
Perhaps the late Emil Fackenheim contributed to it when he warned us not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. What for Fackenheim was the result of serious philosophic reflection has become for many today a mantra to be constantly invoked in one form or another. It’s often a way of avoiding the problems of the day rather than addressing them.
One of the countless destructive side effects of the abuse of the Holocaust is that it frightens the young, particularly in Israel. If their country is to face another Holocaust, then perhaps Saul Singer’s contention should be taken at its word: it’s easier to have a rich, even a Jewish, life in the United States than in a Jewish state devoid of purpose
Though the majority of young Israelis stay at home a growing number seek their fortune abroad. If that were to become a serious trend, what set out as a means to rouse frightened masses will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without the dedication and talent of today’s young Israelis, the future of Israel will indeed become precarious. Which is another reason why we must repudiate Netanyahu’s words.
Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. Now dividing his time between Canada and Israel, he may be contacted at email@example.com
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