Today, for Yom HaShoah, we share two essays. One written by our MA student Omri Horesh, and one by PhD student Michael Gans. These two, very different, personal accounts on the meaning of Yom HaShoah exemplify the way we approach Holocaust discourse in our program. Students from different religious backgrounds, political backgrounds and from all around the world come to Haifa to learn from each other and create Holocaust research and educational materials, which will help advance our discipline and affect students around the world. While our students and faculty may not all feel the same way about some of these sensitive issues we are proud to foster a learning community where students influence one another and respect each other on both academic and personal levels. Please enjoy their two essays about Yom HaShoah, and thank you for letting The Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa be part of your Yom HaShoah.
A Day to Remember – thoughts on modern commemoration of the Holocaust in Israel by Omri Horesh
Two months ago, the season premiere of “Zagury Empire,” a popular weekly television series here in Israel, caused a frenzy in the Israeli media. The TV drama tells the story of a struggling family with nine children. During a key scene in the episode, the father, played by the acclaimed Israeli actor Moshe Ivgy, refuses to stand up in silence to honor the annual siren, which is played during the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Day of the Holocaust. His refusal is widely accepted around the house with the exception of his older son, who returned home after years of exile in boarding school and military service. “Let them honor me first”, Albert, the father says. “When they recognize me and my pain, my parents that died on the boat trying to reach Israel, then and only then I will honor the siren”. Who is “they”? Why does Albert refuse to embrace one of Israel’s most sacred and sensitive civil traditions? And what is the pain he talks about? This key scene touched an open nerve in the Israeli fabric. “Zagury Empire’s” creative vision puts the Mizrahi family in the focus of mainstream Israeli society. It neglects, almost completely, any reference to the “other half” of Israeli society: The Ashkenazim (Israeli Jews from European descent). This artistic move is very rare in Israeli television and film. The Zagury Family stands on its own, no Ashkenazy comparison needed. Albert demands recognition of his private pain, recognition of his own family sacrifice that has been neglected by the Israeli mainstream. Furthermore, this rare scene shedders the holiness of “Yom Hashoa” as an Israeli untouchable Ethos. Questioning the importance of the Holocaust? Revise it? Put it on a scale with other narratives of loss? A scandal! What is Yom Hashoa for us, Israelis? A complicated question. Very personal as well. For me, Israeli-Ashkenazi, “Kibbutznik”, asking that question will be almost like asking a fish “how’s the water”. We bathe in it from day one, it has become almost transparent. An annual routine of shared grief. Like other traditions and national practices, it usually reflects the undercurrents of society. Who earns points in this game of tears? Who is being kicked out? A lot has been said about the national use, some would say abuse, of the Holocaust and the manipulation of the narrative ways to sustain memory and positions of power. But what does it mean to us, today? Who has the right to question it? And who has privileges of “owning” suffer and pain? The Israeli society is on a steady process of maturing. Unheard narratives emerge and challenge the main discourse, as well as our everyday life. This Zagury episode is a good example of it. Like a half healed wound it is finally alright for others to look at it, to touch it, even to claim parts of it as their own. It’s okay. Maturing means understanding that others pain does not reduce yours. Moreover, one who doesn’t learn from others remains frozen and isolated with their own suffering. The future of holocaust memory in Israel, on the national level, must include a wider perspective on the many shades of society. Back to Albert Zagury, maybe sitting down during the siren is not such a big deal, it certainly does not cause another tragedy. That scene moved us from our comfort zone, gave us a good kick in the guts, and above all got us to think why we were standing at all.
Yom Hashoah by Michael Gans
I have always found it rather strange that my parents immigrated to the USA in 1952, seven full years after the end of World War II. Only recently was I made aware of the fact that American immigration policy towards Holocaust survivors, in the words of President Truman, remained “flagrantly discriminatory towards Jews”. It was not until 1950 that Congress opened immigration to Holocaust survivors and by that time most of the Jewish DPs in Europe had gone to the newly established state of Israel. My father, who was a Holocaust survivor, would always say that Jews are more vulnerable to the winds of change than others. So I heed the approaching clouds in Israel’s eastern skies for they appear to be darkening. Paris and Brussels, Copenhagen and negotiations in Lucerne, seem to be warnings of tempestuous storms ahead. And from across the Atlantic, cold winds abound. In 2008 and again in 2012, over 70% of US Jewish voters supported President Obama and yet, he still refuses to even consider the Israeli Prime Ministers’ legitimate fears of a possible nuclear Holocaust as a consequence of a poorly negotiated treaty with one of the most corrupt, undemocratic and antisemitic regimes in the world. Are we again witnessing the struggle between “global” powers greedily negotiating away the security of smaller nations for their own political and economic interests? I do believe that it is legitimate for Israel to ask if it should put its well-being into the hands of these so-called “friends”. We should remember that these the same governments who promised Ukraine that if they give up their nuclear weapons, they would protect them from the Russians? Among some North American Jews it has become “fashionable” to throw self-preservation and common sense to the wind by becoming religiously “uber-liberal” and joining the choir of those blaming Israel for the violence erupting at the hands of radical Islamo-fascists. And at the confluence of a revitalized European antisemitism, a radicalized Islamo-fascism, and the blind faith of uber-liberals, it has become “PC” to again use antisemitic stereotypes about Jews and to scapegoat Israel rather than face the pressing issue at hand; the continued survival of Israel and the Jewish people. Unfortunately, antisemitism is here to stay! For the short term, world Jewry and Israel need to join hands and remain strong, determined and focused in this war of attrition. Education is vital but remains ineffectual without a major shift in the way Jews are perceived and treated by others. So when the siren goes off at 10:00 am tomorrow morning, I will remember my father telling me that I am more susceptible than others to the winds of change. I will cry bitter tears for my family who was mercilessly killed during the Shoah in the forests if Lithuania. And I will celebrate the prayers and tears of 2000 years of history as they echo in me; a citizen of Israel. Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/ Painting at the top is “Synagogue, Oil Painting by an Unidentified Artist” from the Ghetto Fighters House Archive