Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left
Egypt...you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not
forget! -Deuteronomy 25:17, 19
In recent decades, trips to Poland for 11th graders have become de rigueur
in high schools in middle class communities. These generally take place just
before Pesach and cost around $1,000-1,500. For many students they are powerful
emotional experiences, though periodically the media latch on to some revelation
about the kids' adolescent behavior in the hotel in Poland. It seems a bit weird
and maybe not fair to put adolescents in the setting of the typical school trip
with its expected pushing of the disciplinary envelope far from home - combined
with a pilgrimage to a place that it seems should crush such natural behavior.
And there is some controversy over the educational goals of the trip - is it an
appropriate way to strengthen Jewish identity? Does it give disproportionate
emphasis to Jewish death? Does it convey a Zionist message of the negation of
the Diaspora? Is it a tool for nationalistic indoctrination? In any case, the
trips continue. Here at Shorashim, it is now a tradition that the annual
Holocaust Day eve ceremony is prepared for the community by the teens who have
returned from the Poland trip.
The brief ceremony follows a
standard format of readings, songs, a candle lighting, and traditional mourning
prayers. This year it was very well done, and some of the personal reflections
by the kids were quite moving, translating the experience into self-analysis and
resolutions regarding their own values and their commitment to them. Toward the
end, we were asked to stand for a moment of silence. As it happens, at just that
moment the music from the wedding in the Arab village across the valley wafted
in through the windows, and kids in the village set off a volley of loud
firecrackers (standard, annoying, practice at weddings). My first thought was
anger at their insensitivity; then an internal voice wondered if they did it on
purpose - but another internal voice pointed out that given my awareness of our
neighbors' general, surprising ignorance of Jewish holidays and customs, it was
highly unlikely that they noticed that they had scheduled their wedding for the
27th of Nissan. And anyway, since we have made it very clear that the Holocaust
is a Jewish possession, our non-Jewish neighbors tend to feel that it is not
relevant to them.
Which brings to mind the fact that the Knesset
recently passed a law denying government funding to any organization that
supports or participates in programs to commemorate the "Nakba,"
(disaster), as the Arabs term Israel's War of Independence.
And then the
moment of silence ended with all of us singing Hatikvah and going home.
The next morning, though Yom Hashoah is a regular work/school day, traffic was
very light and my bus made record time to Jerusalem, leaving me time to stop in
the coffee shop in the bus station. The video display that usually shows
cartoons and commercials was devoted to a large picture of a memorial candle.
The news crawl beneath it reported the killing of Osama Ben Laden. And the sound
system was playing the radio - which, on Yom Hashoah and Yom
Hazikaron, plays sad pop music, a genre that must be uniquely Israeli -
songs by leading popular singers and bands, written in the wake of the Holocaust
and the various wars, that are part of the canon of Israeli folk/popular music
and that are all that is allowed to be played on these two days.
there listening, wondering about the morality of trying to manipulate, control,
and exploit memory - and wondering if there was any way not to.