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The Yom HaShoah test

Why he's glad he's taking the Israeli bar exam on Holocaust Remembrance Day

I and my family made aliyah, we moved to Israel, eight months ago, in August, 2016. During the course of this first year, we’ve engaged in the tasks of resettlement; getting the children enrolled in schools (in the case of our oldest, enrolling him and them transferring him out to a new school), figuring out our way through Israeli bureaucracy, which often seems labyrinthine, and generally learning our way around Israeli culture. And it’s a culture rife with seeming paradoxes. What I’ll be doing on Yom HaShoah typifies one such paradox.

I won’t be participating in any ceremonies, or attending any events on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day. Rather, I’ll be at the Israel Bar Association in Jerusalem, taking the first of nine exams necessary to obtain a license to practice law. It strikes me as odd, considering the seeming close relationship between the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, that a semi-governmental authority would schedule the exam on that day. Why are they not observing the Holocaust commemoration?

We, in the religious Zionist ambit, have all heard the theodicy that “the Holocaust was the price we paid for the State of Israel.” In fact, I know that many Holocaust survivors, among them many members of my own family, when having to make sense of the horrors that befell them, resorted to and took comfort in precisely that type of formulation. The juxtaposition of the two events made doing so all too convenient and easy. Not only that, linking the Holocaust to the Hakamat HaMedinah, gave purpose and meaning to what were otherwise senseless murders; mere proof of man’s capacity for pure evil (did we really need so many examples?). Each of the Six Million became a martyr for the cause of Jewish destiny.

The post WWII Zionist leadership was not shy about mining that point as well. It proved a very useful tactic, suggesting that the world “owed” the Jewish people a state as comeuppance for the barbarity of the Holocaust and the civilized world allowing it to happen. Feeling guilty over the horrors of the Holocaust, especially because the Allies chose to do little if anything to stop the massacre when they learned of it in the midst of the war, their acquiescing in the establishment of the State of Israel was an expedient way to expiate those sins.

That juxtaposition was short sighted. Those who pushed it on us didn’t plan for how to perpetuate the idea after the last Holocaust survivor would no longer be able to retell the story of the destruction of European Jewry. And without that intense first hand human connection to those events, the Holocaust becomes another painful chapter in the book of Jewish history. Perhaps, as Professor Mordechai Breuer suggested, it’s the most severe atrocity done to us since the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans as it resulted in the end of Jewish life in Europe. But the Holocaust is fast becoming a historic point of reference, no longer a festering open wound. The problem is, Israel continues on. There are still nations and a growing number of ideologues and intellectuals who reject her legitimacy as the nation state of the Jews.

Hearkening back to an event growing ever distant in the past fails to answer the challenges of the present. People are coming to wonder how much regional instability, how much moral outrage over the suffering of Palestinians (and I don’t here intend to cast aspersions on Israel’s conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians. I’m merely reflecting what is a growing sentiment) shall the world accept and tolerate because a once rogue Germany perpetrated an inhuman attack on Jews? But more than that, the recently popular comparisons of the Holocaust to other genocides, suggesting that it was not unique or even all that horrific by comparison, serves to raise the scepter that perhaps the world was wrong in manifesting its horror at the holocaust and sympathy for the victims by voting to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. While those notions are currently advanced by leftist fringe elements, there is every reason to believe they will grow in popularity and go mainstream.

Moreover, using the Holocaust to justify Jewish nationalism, rendered the Palestinians victims of Hitler’s evil. After all, the Palestinians did not participate in the mass murder of 6,000,000 European Jews. Yes, as a stratagem against Zionism, the Mufti aligned himself with Naziism, displaying his amoral capacity to make deal with the devil. But in truth, he contributed nothing to the destruction of European Jewry. For all the atrocities Palestinians have visited upon Jews, the Holocaust is not one of them. And as such, the Palestinian assertion that the establishment of the State of Israel in what they deem, their land, land in which they have lived for centuries, is unfair and even colonial rings legitimate. And that claim grows ever stronger as Jewish connections to the Holocaust grow weaker with the passage of time. Why should a teenager in 2017 in Nablus suffer the loss of land because Germans and Christian anti Semites once massacred Jews in Europe in the 1940s? The once powerful and convenient reason to establish this state, now undermines her very legitimacy.

Expedient though it was at the time, suggesting that the Holocaust necessitated the establishment of the State of Israel was a mistake for the above reasons.

The historic injustice addressed by the Jews’ return to Israel was our exile more than 2,000 years ago. The Holocaust, like all the other calamities perpetrated upon us in the Diaspora, was the result of that exile, of the deprivation of the nationalism that too, along with religion, forms the Jewish character. Restoring us to our homeland, returns the Jewish people to its’s normal state; a native people, in their ancestral homeland, going about the glorious and mundane tasks of running a country. We had the same rights to this land in 1325, in 1665, in 1895, in 1925 as we did in 1945.

Sticking to the true reasons for the necessity of this state is the harder message to continually sell to the world. It cuts against the historic and unrelenting  Augustinian perception of what the Jews’ position in the world should be. But it’s the honest way to go. It also ennobles us as a people. We aren’t decimated victims of attempted genocide seeking some sort of haven. We aren’t an offended minority demanding a safe space. The diaspora and the atrocities committed against us didn’t alter who we essentially are. We are a proud nation reassuming our patrimony and our place on the world stage.

In a way, returning to the real message of Zionism is the greatest tribute we can pay to the six-million Jews murdered on the eve of the creation of the Jewish nation state. We mourn them. We commemorate what was done to them. We indict the world for its hatred of us and its cruelty to us. But most importantly, at the same time that we remember who they were and the unjust genocide, we ever abide and continue to thrive. We continue the glorious and mundane tasks of living in our own country. And that’s why I’ll be taking my exam on Yom HaShoah.

About the Author
Daniel Schwarz, an attorney in Jerusalem, made Aliyah from Rockland County, New York in 2016. He's also an avocational chazzan.
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