January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Perhaps in preparation for this important day, the BBC dedicated its The Big Questions Twitter account (#BBCTBQ) to this occasion in the following manner: “Our one big question this morning: Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest?”
If you have ever looked for an example of the zeitgeist, this title is quite indicative.
But for all the dismay that such statements invoke, what really worries me is how we, Jews, treat our past. If titles such as American Jews Must Stop Obsessing Over the Holocaust can be casually attributed to prominent individuals such as Prof. Jacob Neusner, there is real cause for concern.
I must admit that I, too, am not keen on dwelling over the past. But we cannot normalize the Holocaust because there is nothing normal about it. The Holocaust is a stark reminder that the acculturation (which is nothing more than euphemism for assimilation) that the majority of American Jews seek will not happen, not now, not ever, not in America, nor anywhere else.
Six centuries ago we tried to assimilate in Spain, and we all know how this ended. Ninety years ago we tried to do it in Germany, and it became an even greater tragedy than Spain. Now we are trying to do it in the US.
There is no reason to expect it to end well.
While it is true that if you look at the values that American society proudly nurtures, there seems to be no reason to think that what happened in Germany will happen here. But the Jews in Spain and the Jews in Germany did not see the upheaval coming either.
To me, it is as clear as day that if we continue to pursue our current social trajectory, we will face a third catastrophe. It is not just my own view, but one that I have “inherited” from my teacher and from my teacher’s father (Yehuda Ashlag, author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Zohar). The latter wrote about it in his The Writings of the Last Generation. I must admit that I, too, am a firm believer that their predictions were accurate to the letter.
We are, have been, and always will be regarded and treated as different, because we are. We may not see it for ourselves, and we certainly have no desire to be regarded or treated as the eternal culprit, but this is a fact of life. There is no reason why the anti-Semitism spreading across Europe will not creep into America.
Actually, in many respects, the situation in many US campuses is worse than it is in most European countries. And if we remember that it was precisely this age group that has led every social transformation in America from Woodstock to Occupy, then we can see that we must not let down our guard.
But packing up and making aliyah en masse is not the solution. Here in Israel we are also not doing what we should in order to prevent the next cataclysm.Instead of running from one another and trying to assimilate, we have to do the opposite.
Uniting Above Our Differences
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 American Jews. The world is already observing our every move with microscopes. Now we should give it what it needs.
And what the world needs is the ability to unite above differences. People are hateful, alienated from each other, narcissistic, and alone. This is why depression is the most common illness in the Western world. But the only cure for it is unity and camaraderie among us, which no one knows how to create. People do not want to be oppressed or be made identical. On the contrary, they want to be unique and outstanding.
We, Jews, once possessed the ability to unite under the motto, “love your neighbor as yourself.” This motto allows you to be both unique and united, and this is the combination that the world is looking for. Only when we contribute their uniqueness to the benefit of society will we be able to build a society where all 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. The nations do not care how many Nobel Prize winners come from Jewish descent, or how much funds Jews donate to charities (far beyond our proportion in the global population). And most importantly, history and the present state of affairs prove that these accolades have not helped one bit to mitigate anti-Semitism. Until we learn how to unite, and spread the method of unity throughout the world, people will continue to blame us for everything that’s wrong with the world, and 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 themselves 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. But 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 unite above them. If we try, we will succeed. It is inherent in our “national genes,” and all it takes to awaken them is a small effort on our part.
This article first appeared online in the Times of Israel blog