Stephen Hirsch

So, you want the memory of the Shoah to be holy?

Auschwitz--Auschwitz Birkenau Museum
Auschwitz--Auschwitz Birkenau Museum

To make the memory of a such a horrendous set of events holy is a fine objective. Honestly, for a people who strive to make the mundane holy with our constant prayers and blessing, there can be no other goal than to make the memory of the 6 million martyrs into something holy.

The problem is, to actually do that is significantly more involved than a moment of silence once a year and virtue signaling on Facebook.

Let’s start with the Hebrew word for holy, קדוש:Kodesh”, in transliteration. Kodesh translates to holy, or sanctified in English, but that misses the essence of the word. The essence of the concept is separation. For example, when a man marries a woman under a chuppah, he says to her Ani Mikudeshet Li (You are separate from all other women to me[i]). For the memory of the Shoah to be holy, to be Kodesh, it would need to be separated from the secular world and kept solely for the Jewish people. There would need to be an end to Yom haShoah. There would need to be an end to Holocaust Studies; perhaps they could be transformed into Genocide Studies, as mass murder is certainly a worthy subject of study. Then, as a matter of course, the Shoah would need to take its place among the many other genocides in history, each with its own idiosyncrasies and stories.

We would need to accept that it is valid for the Shoah to be compared to other tragedies.

We would then need to stop demanding that the secular world remember the Shoah. Would that be such a loss? It’s not like the memory of the Shoah has stopped any other genocide from happening in the 74 years since it ended. It didn’t even stop a pogrom from occurring in Kielce Poland in 1946.

Indeed, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s invocation of the memory of the genocide is the first time I can remember that it was explicitly used as a tool to stop an ongoing injustice. No one showed a picture of Anne Frank to the Cambodians or the Hutus or to the Burmese today persecuting the Rohingya as far as I know. I think it fair to assume that ISIS would not have been moved by the picture at the top of the page to not slaughter the Yazidis. As a means of making “Never Again” a reality, the memory of the Shoah has been an abject failure.

It’s not like we demand that the world remember the Chmielnicki massacres, or the slaughter perpetuated by the Crusaders or the expulsion from Spain and the Inquisition. We don’t even demand that the world recognize the Jewish Nakba, the expulsion of Arab Jews from their ancestral homes, even though it is far more relevant to today’s political environment than the Shoah is. Frankly, I think that forcing this subject on the secular world has reached the point of diminishing returns by now.

So, once the memory of the Shoah is separated from the secular world, the question arises as to where it should go. And of course, there is a home for it, a home that the Haredim insisted on from the beginning, a home that’s been there all along: Tisha B’Av.

By moving the memory to Tisha B’Av, by separating it from secular discourse, then, and only then, will the memory become holy. There are already Kinnot written for the Holocaust; the Artscroll Tisha B’Av Siddur has Kinnot written by Shlomo Halberstam and Shimon Schwab. Another is Eli Eli Nafshi Bekhi, by Yehuda Leib Bialer.

And then, and only then, will the Shoah fully connect to the Destruction of our Temples, which is the source of all of our sorrows.

This is what it will take from you to make the memory of the 6 million martyrs truly holy.

If you’re not willing to do that, then please stop demanding that other people treat the memory as holy. And please stop complaining when other people take the memory that we have forced upon them for their own purposes, because until we make the memory holy ourselves, we have no right to complain.

[i] Not a literal translation

About the Author
Stephen Hirsch is a software developer who leads an Observant Lifestyle in Teaneck, NJ.
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