Growing up in Melbourne, virtually every Jewish kid I knew had at least one grandparent affected in some way by the Holocaust. Our community is unique as it has the highest proportion of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel. Being Jewish in Melbourne typically meant being 1st or possibly 2nd generation Australian and being connected to pre-War Europe in a tangible way. Yiddish, the Shtetl, thick European accents, distinctive foods and songs are very much part of mine and my parents’ generations connection with the past. The closeness of this link meant there wasn’t really a need for Holocaust awareness or relevance – it simply was and is part of who we are. Thankfully, the relationship is still accessible today as Boruch Hashem we still have many survivors and their decedents to share their harrowing journey. However, the nature of this connection has changed and so too has the relatability of it.
The adage “time heals all wounds” is often used in the context of loss and grieving. Despite the somewhat simplistic tone of the phrase, a deeper look at what wound healing entails can perhaps give us insight into how we can make the Holocaust pertinent today.
When a wound heals, a scar is formed by a composition of various fibres and cells which attempt to restore the tissue back to its original function. The deeper and more extensive the wound, the longer the tissue takes to recover and the greater the scar. Wounds are never the same as previously healthy tissue in their tensile strength and there is always a visible mark of that change – the scar itself. The Holocaust is a very profound wound. It has almost its own gravity in shaping our identity today due in part to its sheer enormity.
But, time has passed and the gaping wound in our rich history has been gradually healing. Each decade herald’s Jewish population growth, Israel is an established, flourishing country and our ability to connect to our creed has never been more accessible with technological advancements. Whilst not without its challenges, being Jewish today is easier than ever before. However, despite our progress and restoration, we are still not fully healed as a people. The perceived need for Jewish continuity has been reduced as many leave our faith. Antisemitism is becoming more common place globally. And perhaps most tellingly, we are increasingly more apathetic and weary to our national mission of the universal betterment of society. The burden of being the “light unto the nations” is hard to carry for many, as it demands continuous commitment and reinforcement. It is a heavy load that we have chosen and many can not bear it.
But with the right approach and recruitment, the load is lessened and the momentum shifts. The immediate need for rebuilding after the Holocaust inspired a surge in growth and reconnection which we still benefit from today. Building on that foundation is now the key, as our focus can shift from repair to understanding. Scar tissue strengthens over time and the scar’s appearance becomes less visible. Wounds remodel – they adapt and change. We too can strengthen ourselves by viewing the last 80 or so years as a process of stages – wounding, restoration and now transformation. By living with the past to transform our future we can use the Holocaust as a means for inspiration.
We cannot forget and ignore the tragedies of the past, but if we discuss them with hopefulness and opportunity for thought and action, then we can relate to them with meaning and purpose. We can relate to tragedy by changing something within ourselves; by being more loving or expressing our thanks for blessings in our life. Our losses then become a tool for change and although the pain cannot disappear, it is a way of creating perspective for what we have and what we’ve lost. Every wound is an injury but to focus purely on the damage, we loose sight of the miraculous process of healing.