For the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the BBC posted in its The Big Questions Twitter account the following question: “Our one big question this morning: Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest?” That same day, Professor of Modern Judaism at Indiana University, Shaul Magid, titled his article in Tablet magazine as follows: American Jews Must Stop Obsessing Over the Holocaust. In his article he describes the view of the highly acclaimed scholar, Prof. Jacob Neusner, that we must “normalize the Holocaust” in order to advance our “intellectual and spiritual acculturation.”
I wish it were that easy. I wish that British actress Maureen Lipman wouldn’t have to consider “leaving Britain because of a “worrying” rise in attacks on Jews.” I wish that “Belgian public schools” would not be turning into “Jew-free zones.” In short, I wish that we could all put the Holocaust to rest, or at least “normalize” it, but it isn’t going to happen.
There is Nothing Normal About the Holocaust
When people deny there was ever a Holocaust, and then promise to finish what the Nazis began, you know that there is nothing normal about the Holocaust. And if we don’t understand why it happened, and why specifically to us, then some version of it will happen again, guaranteed.
First, we need to realize that we are not a “normal” people. The sheer number of Jews among the Nobel Prize laureates indicates that there is something different about us. The fact that we are invariably the immediate culprit whenever things go wrong in some country (even in countries with hardly any Jews), or the fact that we are always at the center of the world’s attention, all these indicate that we are different. We may think we are the same as everybody else, but since the whole world treats us as different, it puts us in a different place than the rest of humanity, whether we like it or not.
But different doesn’t have to mean worse off. We need to realize that the ancient prophecy that Jews will be a “light for the nations” may be obsolete in our eyes, but that doesn’t mean it’s so in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Prof. Elie Wiesel’s definition of anti-Semitism includes the famous three Ds: Delegitimisation, Demonization, and Double Standards. The obvious double standard by which the state of Israel and Jews worldwide are judged is indicative not only of the existence of anti-Semitism, but also of the fact that the world is expecting us to set the standard when it comes to morals and conduct. Put differently, as far as social values are concerned, the world is expecting us to be “a light for the nations.”
Luckily, being such a light is far more practical a mission than it seems at first glance. Currently, the world is crumbling under multiple crises—international crises, national crises, internal social crises in many countries, and personal crises, primarily in Western countries in the forms of high depression rates, soaring divorce rates, violence, and social alienation especially among youths. All these problems stem from one source: the human ego. We have developed such a heightened sense of self-entitlement and self-absorption that we are beginning to rattle the very bases of society: family, social connections, work-relations, and the economy.
Uniting Above Our Differences
People must find a way to unite above their egos. They do not want to relinquish who they are, but they do want to connect. Only we, Jews, can help them do that. Instead of turning away from one another and trying to assimilate, we have to do the opposite. We must unite above our differences and set an example of social solidarity and mutual responsibility. We must do it in Israel; we must do it in America, and we must do it between Israel and world Jewry.
We, Jews, once possessed the ability to unite under the motto, “love your neighbor as yourself.” This motto allowed us to be both unique and united, and this is the combination that the world is looking for today. Only when we contribute our uniqueness to the benefit of society can we build a society where we feel personally fulfilled while contributing our skills and talents to the benefit of society. Today, only such a society is sustainable.
It is our role as Jews to rekindle this ability within us and convey it to the world. Until we learn how to unite, and spread the method of unity throughout the world, people will continue to deem us not only redundant on this planet, but noxious to their lives. And they will do what they can to rid the world of us.
We may think that we cannot unite as long as we are so different, but that’s because we’re looking only at our current level. Albert Einstein, a clever Jew in his own right, already said that “the significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” What we need is to leave our differences intact, and uniteabove them. If we try, we will succeed.
This article was originally published online in the Jerusalem Post