At the end of last summer, during the war in Gaza, Zara pulled a set of children’s pajamas from its stores after a public outcry that the striped shirt with its six-pointed yellow star looked like Holocaust prison garb. The retail chain explained that the star was intended to be a Sheriff’s star from the Old West, but the resemblance to the infamous stars that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust was undeniable. Zara issued a heartfelt apology, recalled the product, and pledged to destroy the shirts.
This is my Zara jacket.
I bought it while on vacation in Eilat two summers ago. Trendy and fashionable, it was one of those great buys – end of the season, 70% off, with no VAT because Eilat is a tax-free zone. I hesitated for a minute because it needed to be dry cleaned, but decided to buy it nonetheless. I would wear it only on Shabbat and holidays, and for the tens of shekel that it cost, if I found that it was too expensive to clean, I could throw it out or give it away.
I wore it exactly once, to synagogue on Shabbat. After the services, my friend Sharon joked that I, of all people, didn’t need slimming vertical stripes. My boys quipped that it looked like the jacket that Robin Thicke wore at the MTV awards.
But Sid looked at me and said: “When I was growing up, we didn’t wear things like that.” I looked at him quizzically. “The camps,” he said. “It looks like what they wore in the camps.”
I shrugged off the comment with a laugh. “Vertical stripes are the rage,” I said. “I wouldn’t have thought of that in a million years.” But once Sid had said that, I couldn’t avoid thinking of it. Once he had said that, I couldn’t bring myself to wear my Zara jacket to shul – or anyplace else. What if a survivor were to see it? What memories might I be bringing back? Sid’s parents’ taboo had suddenly become mine.
And every Shabbat morning since then, as I leaf through the clothes in my closet, trying to decide what to wear, I pass my Zara jacket and think “No, I can’t wear that. That’s my Holocaust jacket.” I can’t bring myself to wear it, nor can I bring myself to throw it away. It has become a “zecher lachurban,” an ongoing reminder of the trauma of our people that my family did not experience directly. Like the Challah loaves on my Shabbat table, which we cover so as to spare them the embarrassment of seeing the wine blessed first, it has become a weekly reminder of the need for sensitivity.
Today, as the world commemorates the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I am very aware of the fact that soon there will be no survivors to be made uncomfortable by the sight of a woman in a striped jacket in synagogue. Only their children might pass that particular trauma on to future generations. And I wonder about the power of memory.