Tomorrow, January 5th, marks the Tenth of Tevet, a dawn-to-nightfall fast day commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in the first temple period (586 BCE). As with other fast days during the year, more than one historical tragedy has come to be associated with the Tenth of Tevet. And in Israel, the Chief Rabbinate has also declared this fast as a day of “Kaddish” (prayer for the souls) for victims of the Shoah, the Holocaust. This is the religious counterpart to the national memorial day – Yom Hashoah – that takes place in Israel after Pesach.
The word “Shoah” is a verbal flashpoint here in Israel, where the wounds of war are still fresh and our collective memory continues to reinforce our outrage against the misuse of Holocaust-related symbols.. The swastika, used by anti-Zionist propagandists makes our blood boil, while the yellow star and concentration camp uniform have gained special status in the minds of Israelis (I even heard former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau’s son refer to these items as “sacred items”) That’s why, when Haredi Jews wore these symbols at a protest on Saturday night, and dressed their children in these symbols, the media went into an uproar.
First, let’s understand that the protest itself was a rally on behalf of a member of the Haredi community who was sentenced for burning a neighborhood store that sold MP4 players. It was presented as a general protest against what they see as a spiritual Shoah aimed at them. They could easily have used the word “pogrom” but the star and the prison uniforms were chosen because they knew it would get the media’s attention. Was it blatant manipulation? Yes. Did it get people angry? Yes. Did it make its point?
I don’t think so. And the reason why is not because I think of the star as sacred. Although I am the child of survivors, I find the use of this particular symbol in this case more puzzling than offensive. (I will talk about my Shoah memories in the next blog)
For me, the yellow star represents the Nazis declaring to all Jews who believed they were like everyone else that they will never be allowed to “pass.” They cannot sit on public park benches, ride the buses go to movies, get jobs or be with everyone else. They would never be like everyone else. A people apart. Period.
It was a sign of rejection of the Jew who just wanted to be like everyone else.
In the Haredi community, the rejection is self-imposed. The clothes they wear, the stringent dietary rules, the rejection of such things as Israel Independence Day (and Yom Hashoah) are all symbols of that rejection. But The Shoah was the trauma of our parents’ generation – and ours as well, and wearing the yellow star not only trivializes this trauma, but also does nothing to convey feelings of spiritual repression the Haredi community want us to understand.
We are taught that we should guard our tongues from speaking evil and the Mishnah in Avot tells us to be followers of Aaron – loving peace and pursuing it. Therefore, I do not condemn the Haredim for wanting to tell us how they feel. Nor can I condemn those who complained of their exploitation of Shoah icons for explaining how they feel, even though it’s been done before by secular and religious alike. These are the first steps towards building understanding. What I do condemn is the atmosphere that is developing here. As children of Avraham we would do well to remember the Midrash that describes the tent he kept open on all four sides so that it would be accessible to passers-by. . We would also do well to remember the Midrash that describes how , when he left Haran for Canaan, he took with him an entourage of followers whom he influenced by the simple act of inviting them in (not by imposing his standards on the people who did not enter or abusing them if they did not adopt them). Haredi, religious, secular all have contributed to Israeli society and to the Jewish people without losing their own identity. All of us have more to offer together than separately. The tzibbur (community) is all of us. Let’s not separate ourselves – or others – from it. .