Galilee Diary: Non-collective memory
Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt…you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!
-Deuteronomy 25:17, 19
In recent decades, trips to Poland for 11th graders have become de rigueur in high schools in middle class communities. These generally take place just before Pesach, and cost around $1,000-1,500. For many students they are powerful emotional experiences, though periodically the media latch on to some revelation about the kids’ adolescent behavior in the hotel in Poland. It seems a bit weird and maybe not fair to put adolescents in the setting of the typical school trip with its expected pushing of the disciplinary envelope far from home – combined with a pilgrimage to a place that it seems should crush such natural behavior. And there is some controversy over the educational goals of the trip – is it an appropriate way to strengthen Jewish identity? Does it give disproportionate emphasis to Jewish death? Does it convey a Zionist message of the negation of the Diaspora? Is it a tool for nationalistic indoctrination? In any case, the trips continue. Here at Shorashim, it is now a tradition that the annual Holocaust Day eve ceremony is prepared for the community by the teens who have returned from the Poland trip.
The brief ceremony follows a standard format of readings, songs, acandle lighting, and traditional mourning prayers. This year it wasvery well done, and some of the personal reflections by the kids werequite moving, translating the experience into self-analysis andresolutions regarding their own values and their commitment to them.Toward the end, we were asked to stand for a moment of silence. As ithappens, at just that moment the music from the wedding in the Arabvillage across the valley wafted in through the windows, and kids in thevillage set off a volley of loud firecrackers (standard, annoying,practice at weddings). My first thought was anger at theirinsensitivity; then an internal voice wondered if they did it on purpose- but another internal voice pointed out that given my awareness of ourneighbors’ general, surprising ignorance of Jewish holidays andcustoms, it was highly unlikely that they noticed that they hadscheduled their wedding for the 27th of Nissan. And anyway, since wehave made it very clear that the Holocaust is a Jewish possession, ournon-Jewish neighbors tend to feel that it is not relevant to them.
Which brings to mind the fact that the Knesset recently passed a lawdenying government funding to any organization that supports orparticipates in programs to commemorate the “Nakba,” (disaster), as theArabs term Israel’s War of Independence.
And then the moment of silence ended with all of us singing Hatikvah andgoing home. The next morning, though Yom Hashoah is a regularwork/school day, traffic was very light and my bus made record time toJerusalem, leaving me time to stop in the coffee shop in the busstation. The video display that usually shows cartoons and commercialswas devoted to a large picture of a memorial candle. The news crawlbeneath it reported the killing of Osama Ben Laden. And the soundsystem was playing the radio – which, on Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron,plays sad pop music, a genre that must be uniquely Israeli – songs byleading popular singers and bands, written in the wake of the Holocaust and the various wars, that are part of the canon of Israeli folk/popular music and that are all that is allowed to be played on these two days.
I sat there listening, wondering about the morality of trying to manipulate, control, and exploit memory – and wondering if there was anyway not to.