I really enjoy reading an online Jewish publication called “Tablet Magazine”. However, in the past couple months I’ve been really angry about a couple of positions that they have proposed. First, Tablet published a piece questioning whether we need an “Israel Lobby” in the US. I could not disagree more with their suggestion that we don’t. That is a topic for another day.
Today’s topic is about their Yom ha Shoah article, questioning whether that commemoration is “obsolete”. In this case, just the title made me cringe. I was prepared to lambaste the piece. Then I read it and realized that the author, Ruth Franklin, has a very well-reasoned argument. Despite my understanding of her position I don’t agree when she proposes that a decrease in participation in Yom ha Shoah events since the 90’s implies that the day may no longer be relevant.
Ms Franklin is correct in acknowledging that a 12+ year period of terror can’t be sufficiently dealt with in a single day. She is also correct to note the nationwide decline in event participation. My conclusion differs from hers, though. I propose that a decline in Yom ha Shoah commemorative events indicated a larger problem. The number of remaining survivors is dwindling at an ever-increasing rate. We are nearing the time when High School students will be assigned to read Eli Wiesel’s “Night” but will no longer have real, living human beings to testify to its veracity. We are reaching a time when even those who were babies at the time of the liberation will no longer be here to speak with the generations to come.
Because of the sorry state of the human race and the even sorrier state of global rationality, there are plenty of people to speak about genocide: Cambodians, Rwandans, Darfuri Sudanese and more. But I propose that one of the reasons America has refused to take direct action to stop these atrocities is that, even when the Holocaust was freshly concluded, even when we did have night-long Yom ha Shoah vigils in the 70s and 80s, even when we did have a large pool of survivors, even then we did NOT DO ENOUGH to speak out. Perhaps we should have acknowledged earlier that this had orders of magnitude broader implication than simply that of Jewish remembrance. But, if anything, we need commemoration now more than ever.
I agree completely with Ms. Franklin that a single day is insufficient to remember over a decade of irrational nationalistic xenophobic insanity. But I disagree that the day may no longer be relevant. If that question can even be proposed then I have a twofold conclusion:
1. We Jews owe it to our families, ancestors, and cultures to revivify Yom ha Shoah; not to discard it.
2. We citizens of a planet torn by strife owe it to our co-inhabitants to use the experiences of our families, ancestors, and cultures, to use Yom ha Shoah to protect ourselves, and everyone else, from the destruction we have seen can happen and that our species, in a post-Holocaust, post-Cambodia, post-cultural revolution, post-Rwanda, post-Darfur century, perhaps deserves.