Distinct thoughts bubbled, swirled together and spilled over into thick, sticky puddles of frustration. Gradually, identified by my irregular keystrokes, they congealed into colorful blocks, rising into small, prismatic towers with the clicks of my keyboard. My fingers moved desperately, lest my rush of consciousness topple the little castles into their moats; but as so often seems to happen, I couldn’t type quickly enough.

NEVER AGAIN

So it was for me on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). Articles and blog posts dedicated to the day rang true and familiar to me – here are our stories, never forget them, we must remember, we must forge forward, never again… Never. Again. The phrase crowned the top of Jewish news sites, flashing on my screen in determined reminder: Never. Again.

Among the many words of wisdom, I stumbled upon this talk by Caroline Glick titled Competing Visions of ‘Never Again’; appreciating how she articulated our responsibility to ourselves to remember the Shoah:

Just as all of us have to understand that we too came out of Egypt, we have to understand that all of us came out of Auschwitz; and that understanding should, in fact, inform our… lives… because it is only through the knowledge of what we have gone through as Jews… that we will ensure our future as Jews.

– Caroline Glick

Preparing for class as the Holocaust studies teacher at my childhood Hebrew school regularly brought me to tears in a way that studying the Shoah as a teenager never had. Later, my heritage trips to Poland and Germany with the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies led me to many new insights, which spilled out through me, reflections rising up into little turrets of language and photographs.

This year, the heavy emotions of Never. Again. came flooding back over me, as I read through and listened to the reflections of others. Caroline Glick’s ‘Never Again’ talk centered upon our Jewish imperative to be strong –

We are in a position to defend ourselves… as a result of the power that we have built up for ourselves.

– Caroline Glick

– And I do so agree with this.

But on Yom HaShoah my heart and mind were wandering elsewhere… and ‘Never Again’ felt just as tired as it did true to me – survival lishma (for its own sake) not end enough.

NEVER BEFORE

Glick’s talk focused on maintaining and increasing the Jewish nation’s strength, but her pride in Israel’s accomplishments also shone through in this talk. It was probably inescapable for her.

Israel… is the most vibrant Jewish place in the history of the world… More Jews in Israel learning Torah, living a Jewish life, being educated in Jewish history… than at any time in our history. Israel is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and it is one of the strongest countries in the world… The Jews are in a situation today that we never were in since the destruction of the Second Temple…

– Caroline Glick

Whereas ‘Never Again’ has become our reactive mandate, persecuted and marginalized as we have been throughout the centuries by others, in Glick’s words I also heard a proactive ‘Never Before’ – a deep pride in modern Israel’s potential, rooted in a profound understanding of the historic significance of its founding. It was a mandate to prosper.

Holocaust Memorial Day is not immediately before Israeli Independence Day. The Jewish State’s existence is not predicated upon the Shoah, but the soldiers who died to protect it are mourned on the day just before Yom Ha’Atzmaut, for Israel’s foundation rests upon their sacrifice. And – this year – another thought struck me – Yom Ha’Atzmaut is the day of ‘Never Before’.

And ‘Never Again’ for its own sake isn’t enough.

NEVERTHELESS

The rampart walls tremble, as I pause, threatening to tumble apart into the murky, emotional waters. No, I say to myself, not this time.

The potential of the Jewish state… The potential for a flowering of Jewish life and thought and faith… the potential for the coming of the Messianic era… Glick’s right, I think, ‘More Jews in Israel learning Torah, living a Jewish life… than at any time in our history…’

But it’s not so simple, is it?

In a country where 80% of Jews believe in God (A Portrait of Israeli Jews, The Israeli Democracy Institute, 2009), how is it that Israel is among the world’s least religious countries with 65% of Israelis surveyed saying they were not religious or convinced atheists (International End of Year Survey, Gallup International, 2014)? “There is no disputing that there is an increasing amount of religious alienation occurring within Israeli society,” explains Yakov Gaon of Tzohar.

Examples of religious alienation in Israel surface regularly in the media. Just this last Pesach, Jewish families were turned away from a public park in Afula when guards found leavened food products (chametz) in their bags. According to Israel’s Passover Law of 1986, private individuals are not prohibited from consuming chametz publicly, but secular Jews were forbidden from picnicking with their children on their holiday vacations… And how might this experience have affected their impression of Jewish faith and traditions?

Absurdities abound. Poor families in Israel without cars find themselves in forced lockdown on Shabbat, as Reuven Ben-Shalom points out, unable to visit loved ones who are hospitalized or in old age homes, unless they can afford to pay for a taxi. Unless, of course, they live in Haifa. Religious Jewry in Haifa shares responsibility for operating bus transportation on Shabbat… as long as it can maintain political clout on the city council. Is this a decision grounded in halakha?

Is it any surprise that Israeli Jews dissociate themselves from the “religion” that they believe has produced these follies? And are the political parties perpetuating these incongruities working towards a national awareness of God and the fulfillment of His will? Or – do these sectarian political parties have sociopolitical goals… just like all the other parties do? The politicization of the Jewish faith has thoroughly vulgarized it in the hearts and minds of Jewish Israelis.

As I formulate these thoughts, my heart threatens to burst through my paragraphs, cracking these bricks of language. Who can reinforce these walls? How does one express such sadness?

Recently, I’ve been reading Judaism, Human Values, and the Jewish State, a collection of provocative essays by Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz z”l, the controversial critic of Israeli culture and politics. His followers on specific issues were ardent, writes the book’s editor, but quite often disagreed with him vehemently on others. In his writings, I’ve found another religious thinker who argued compellingly for separation of religion and state – an idea expressed throughout the essays of this compilation.

To those lovers of Judaism who agree with me, but don’t want to undermine Israel… to those who are hesitant to raise divisive issues in their home communities… to those who do not believe that they can make a difference… I ask you, just how much should the institutionalized bastardization of the Jewish religious heritage pain us?

Religion as an adjunct of a secular authority is the antithesis of true religion… From a religious standpoint there is no greater… degradation of religion than maintenance of its institutions by a secular state. Nothing… diminishes its persuasiveness more than… adopting sundry religious… proscriptions as glaring exceptions into a system of secular laws; imposing an arbitrary selection of religious regulations…

 

The secular state and society should be stripped of their false religious veneer. Only then will it become possible to discern whether or not they have any message as a Jewish state and society. Likewise, the Jewish religion should be forced into taking its stand without… an administrative status. Only then will its strength be revealed…

– Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz z”l