Monday, June 6, 2011

Holocaust Shaming in the Jewish community

Recently I was talking to someone on the facebook about circumcision and that anti-Semitic comic thing in San Francisco (Go check out failed messiah if you have no idea what I'm talking about). Anyways, this isn't a post about circumcision, so I'm not even going to go into what my actual opinion is since I don't want 10,000 jews jumping down my throat.

But anyways, one of my friends, actually one of my best friends (who is not Jewish but is into Judaism + married to a Jewish guy), in response to something I said, replied "It is beyond sad to me when family of survivors of the holocaust, whether or not they're religious, are quick to side against their people."

I got really really pissed off about this statement. So upset that I think I sent a semi-mean email to my bff that I hope she is not too pissed off about. But in writing this email I think I was able to articulate what it is that pissed me off so much, so I thought I would share some excerpts with you:

Holocaust shaming? Really? It's bad enough I get that crap from my own family. Just because my grandparents lived through the holocaust doesn't mean I can't criticize Jewish practices (any more than it means I have to be religious or marry a jewish person).

That statement about the family of holocaust survivors was really dismissive and really really pissed me off. It makes me feel like you are joining the Jewish conformity factory that always tries to pressure people to support israel/jews/the jewish community no matter what their personal opinion or personal experiences. Which is part of the reason Jewish Orthodox communities are so fucked up IMO- because they squash anyone who doesn't conform to the 'right' opinions (which is why I never fit in) and cover up anything that would make the community look bad (like child molesting). And holocaust shaming is one of the most frequent methods of squashing that they use.

It's probably years of getting shit from my community/parents about how I have to be religious /not marry B/ never buy a Volkswagen or visit Germany/ not trust non-jewish people/ etc. because of the holocaust that is making me overreact to this, and I know this is an overreaction, but please think twice before invoking the holocaust in any kind of argument, at least arguments you are having with me.

Anyways I don't have any hard feelings or anything, and I hope this doesn't upset you either, but I wanted to let you know how I felt about that, cause you bringing up the holocaust as an argument tactic did really upset me, even though I know you didn't mean it that way. In fact any time someone says my opinion or my actions SHOULD be some way because of something out of my control (like something that happened to my grandparents) it really upsets me, because I've spent the first 2/3rds of my life being told I SHOULD be a certain way that I wasn't or think a certain way that I didn't based on things completely out of my control (like gender, and the religion of my ancestors).


What say you readers? What has been your experience with Holocaust shaming? Maybe it's because I am a direct descendant of survivors (both my paternal grandparents were in the camps), but the shame was thick in the house I grew up in, and it was one of the most common reasons used as to why I had to act a certain way that I didn't want to. "Your great grandparents died so we could be jewish" "Why are you finishing what the nazi's began?" "Did your grandparents live through the camps so you can do what the nazi's would want?" Familiar anyone? Come to think about it, I got a WHOLE bunch of shit like that on this very blog, back when I was engaged to B.

Other than disowning people (or threatening to disown them), holocaust shaming seems like one of the main mechanisms of social control used by the Jewish community. But it may just be something from my particular household since we did grow up with the holocaust. Not that we grew up DURING the holocaust, but growing up with two survivor grandparents who love to tell stories about concentration camps means it is always present in your lives. In fact, here's a picture of a huge painting that used to hang in my grandparent's living room, painted by my grandfather:


That's what I grew up with. Literally hanging in my grandfather's living room, watching over us whenever we were there.

Personally my thoughts on this are...my ancestors died for religious freedom. They died for the freedom to practice Judaism. Yes, some would say those in the holocaust died whether or not they themselves were religious- but the reason they died is because THEIR ancestors kept practicing Judaism and didn't convert, even under enormous outside pressure over thousands of years. To me this is not a story about the importance of keeping Judaism per se alive, although it's been interpreted that way by many Jewish people. To me this struggle is about the importance of being able to practice any religion you want, or none at all. And yet now their deaths are used to try to pressure people who don't want to practice their religion, to keep practicing that religion. How messed up is that?

38 comments:

  1. If 5,000 years of slavish devotion to a god gets you no protection from the Holocaust, you've probably been wasting your time.

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  2. When my husband and I pulled our son out of the local Jewish day school because it wasn't meeting his needs the rabbi called and said "You can't do this. Think of all the yidden who weren't able to get a Jewish education in Nazi Germany." So my kid getting a crappy education is supposed to somehow make up for that.

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  3. One argument to keep people on the frum track is to say that their (grand)parents died for their Judaism and they are just throwing it away. I have heard it in my immediate family.

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  4. Wow! I was raised Conservative at first, then finished in a Reform temple because there were few choices in Northern VA at the time. My father was a Protestant of some sort, and my mother's family managed to largely escape the Holocaust. But this shaming attitude is so pervasive that it bleeds to every level - even a family as lax as mine. One example: I've been disowned by a portion of my already very small family for getting tattoos. "We didn't escape the nazis so you could ruin your body! [sob!] You will never be buried in a Jewish cemetary!" Good thing they never saw my friend who inked Hebrew lettering in the same spot as a camp tattoo would have been. PS - I want to be cremated. It's cheaper.

    It's been a joke of mine that anyone who is actually raised Jewish (ie, going to synagogue, getting bat/bar mitzvah'd, etc) has, by the time they're 16, seen enough concentration camp footage to desensitize them to even a Rob Zombie slasher. "Never forget!" Really? Where was God for his chosen people so we'd never have to remember in the first place?

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  5. "One example: I've been disowned by a portion of my already very small family for getting tattoos. "We didn't escape the nazis so you could ruin your body! [sob!] You will never be buried in a Jewish cemetary!""

    The screwy thin is that they're wrong! While it's true that getting tattos is not kosher, there's nothing in Jewish law to forbid you from being buried in a Jewish cemetery.

    http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/533444/jewish/Can-a-person-with-a-tattoo-be-buried-in-a-Jewish-cemetery.htm

    On the other hand you (well, not you, but your survivors) would possibly have some trouble getting your cremated remains buried in a Jewish cemetery.

    http://judaism.about.com/od/deathmournin1/f/cremation.htm

    And if you're talking about "holocaust shaming" the cremation thing is probably a bigger deal than the tattoos.

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  6. What a gruesome piece of "art"!

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  7. My religious brother-in-law uses Holocaust shaming all the time. He no longer will associate with anything/anyone that isn't 100% pro-Israel because he thinks it's insulting to those who died in the Holocaust. I honestly don't know how to answer him, and haven't found any decent resoruces from a Jewish source (they'd have to be, or else he wouldn't consider them) explaining how it's possible to be a decent human being- and even Jewish!- but dislike Israel's political and military actions. Suggestions?

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  8. yeah, like I understand my grandfather painting it as some sort of cathartic thing, but to just have it hanging in the living room for years and years was as you say kinda gruesome, and very unsettling/disturbing as a young child.

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  9. Julie- if you find out let me know, I've just tried to keep a firm policy the past few years of never discussing anything related to Israel with anyone Jewish, because all rationality goes out the window instantly.

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  10. " Which is part of the reason Jewish Orthodox communities are so fucked up IMO- because they squash anyone who doesn't conform to the 'right' opinions (which is why I never fit in) and cover up anything that would make the community look bad (like child molesting)."

    So naive dear, like a new convert to any cult. Atheists don't do the same? Please watch "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"

    http://www.amazon.com/Expelled-Intelligence-Allowed-Ben-Stein/dp/B001BYLFFS

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  11. Not really, as there's not really an atheist community that I know of. Atheists arn't religious, so they don't like gather to not worship god or something :)

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  12. Thank you for writing about this topic!

    I was once told that my lack of desire to carry or raise children was "finishing Hitler's job for him".

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  13. On the subject of Nazis, I hate to point out a pet peeve of mine, but..."anyways" is not a word, and its use is terribly annoying.

    - Grammar Nazi

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  14. > Personally my thoughts on this are...my ancestors died for religious freedom.

    They died because a madman distilled millennia of anti-Semitism into a plan to exterminate the Jews – and anyone else he didn’t like. There was no greater purpose to the Holocaust. It wasn’t about any struggle, whether for Judaism or for freedom of religion. It was a tragedy. Nothing more, nothing less.

    The “shaming” is just a manifestation of the sunk-cost fallacy.

    Incidentally, the perspective of your grandfather’s painting is off. The train looks like it’s coming down from the sky.

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  15. It's pretty clear that the holocaust had little too do with religious freedom at all. It was entirely ethnically based.
    However the fact that you're even making this argument seems to indicate that you haven't managed to escape the paradigm; of needing to justify your behavior in light of the holocaust.
    But you don't, and what's more you can't. NOTHING will ever give meaning to the senseless brutal extermination of an entire civilization.
    But if still you must, remember that "the best revenge is a life well lived". Hitler would be turning over in his grave to see the wonderful life that you are living now.

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  16. and i know you don't want to discuss israel... but still I'm inviting you to hop over and check out my latest blogpost, I'd love to know what you think

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  17. We never had this in my family but I did see this in the Jewish community though it usually wasn't based on the Holocaust but all the suffering the Jewish community had faced throughout history. The difference is that my father's family were German Jews. He was born in Frankfurt in 1916 and fled Germany in 1937. He had an ambivalent relationship with Germany. I remember him saying he would never buy a Volkswagen car but he spent a large part of his career marketing the products of a German company in the UK because he spoke German. He lost his homeland but no-one in our close family lost their life but they suffered a lot from the persecution in the 4-5 years that they did live in Nazi Germany.

    I've been to Germany and Austria often have German friends etc. I still feel a little odd there as in a sense this is the homeland that we lost. My last trip was just now to interview for a professorship in Austria just now in April this year. So I even thought about living there, though not too seriously.

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  18. I still shudder when I hear a german accent but I'm aware not to translate that into personal dislike of Germans of my generation
    Although I must say as a nursing student, when I cared for a very old, sick, totally out of it mentally german man, I wondered "where were you during the war."

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  19. Julie;
    for your brother, check out Rabbi Menachem Frohman of Tekoa

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  20. "I still shudder when I hear a german accent"

    Of course, I grew up hearing my relatives all speaking German, eating some German foods etc. And they were all Orthodox too... So Germany feels familiar but strange.

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  21. I didn't experience it myself... much, but I saw it happen to friends. My friend who was dating a non-Jew got the Holocaust lecture, for example.

    It's just sick is what it is. Emotional blackmail of the worst kind.

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  22. There’s an old Yiddish saying…
    Fool me once, shame on you.
    Fool me for 3 years with one Jew-bashing incident after another, shame on me.
    kippah

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  23. I was once told that my lack of desire to carry or raise children was "finishing Hitler's job for him".

    Tova, that was cruel and wrong of that person to say. I am not a child-free person myself, but it is a lifestyle choice and far from selfish! Trust me, there are plenty of Jewish folk popping them out. In my view, too many.

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  24. The Holocaust was a terrible tragedy. It's also a really terrible theological argument. Judaism has whatever merits it has, and should be criticized or supported based on its own merits. To argue that it should be perpetuated simply because someone tried to destroy it is an absurdity.

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  25. "I honestly don't know how to answer him, and haven't found any decent resoruces from a Jewish source (they'd have to be, or else he wouldn't consider them) explaining how it's possible to be a decent human being- and even Jewish!- but dislike Israel's political and military actions. Suggestions?"

    Have them read haaretz.com. Some of the columnists (Israelis all) write stuff opposing Israeli policy that, if said in many American synagogue, would get them lynched. There's a lot more opposition to Israeli policy in Israel than among Jews in the US.

    Also, I recommend South Jerusalem, a 20man blog by two Orthodox guys who are ver progressive and opposed to most of the Israeli government policies, yet they are committed Zionists, yadda, yadda, which might help you with your relatives:

    http://southjerusalem.com/

    There are lots of committed Jews/Zionists etc. who strongly oppose Israeli policy and actions.

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  26. Hitler wanted to kill all the Jewish atheists, too, by the way. It wasn't about religion for him.

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  27. Thank you to all who offered suggestions!

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  28. Brilliant post. I simply cannot stand when Jews who are really obsessed with being Jewish keep finding ways to whine about how their ancestors were tortured, and how that should apparently mean they deserve special privileges from society. UNbelievable. You should read Off The Derech by Faranak Margolese. • “Given the reality of the outside world today and the centuries of persecution and exile by the nations of the world, it is not surprising that we would have a negative attitude. Nonetheless, it is important to realize that these negative attitudes can create real obstacles to observance.” (p335)
    the self-pity and constant superiority complex is unFuckingbelievable.

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  29. "If 5,000 years of slavish devotion to a god gets you no protection from the Holocaust, you've probably been wasting your time."
    Wow, this is gross.
    God is love and science and the universe, God is creation and birth and even death. To say God is supposed to break the rules and protect us is simple-minded at best.

    It is appalling so many comments here don't get how damaging the shoah was. Our parents and g-parents saw families dissappear, slaughtered, raped, slow motion and lightning fast murder. Many of them did things to survive that they would NEVER have dreamt of doing. The damage created was immense and real, and I'm surprised and saddened to see so little empathy.

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  30. "It is appalling so many comments here don't get how damaging the shoah was. Our parents and g-parents saw families dissappear, slaughtered, raped, slow motion and lightning fast murder. Many of them did things to survive that they would NEVER have dreamt of doing. The damage created was immense and real, and I'm surprised and saddened to see so little empathy."

    You have a bit of a point, except that a lot of the people who use Holocaust shaming as a tactic to keep people in line never had any experience with it themselves. And Holocaust shaming also has no logic -- "I suffered for being Jewish, so you should e Jewish!" That doesn't sound like a very good reason to be Jewish.

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  31. If I find time in the next month, I'll try to post something about the "anti-Nazism" ideology that I was raised with. In a nutshell - Hitler was the Devil, the Holocaust was Hell, anything that Hitler liked couldn't be all that good (including Volkswagens, tatoos, cremation, authority, Wagner operas and an over-abundance of blonds), and anything that Hitler hated couldn't be all bad (including haredi Jews, circumcision, gays, Gypies, Communisim, the Talmud, and the United States).

    Interestingly enough, the "shaming" exists across the religious and political spectrum. It explains much of the higher-than-average support among Jews for gay rights or action on Darfur, for example. I don't think that's a bad thing.

    The Holocaust was such a massive force that it's not realistic to expect that it wouldn't play a role in people's views at a gut level. Part of that may include a desire for Jewish continuity.

    At the same time, though, it's irritating when it comes through in ways that are counter-productive. I hate it when anyone - from any end of the religious/political spectrum - uses the "bubbies and zaidas" image cynically as a line, in a way that is oblivious to reality. Focusing on the Holocaust to the exclusion of anything else is also horrible for "continuity" efforts. In this regard, non-Orthodox movements are often worse than the Orthodox ones. Seriously, would you want to be a member of a club where the topics on the agenda are always, "ways in which people have tried to get rid of us" and "with dwindling membership, how can we possibly survive in the future?"

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  32. @Conservative
    "a lot of the people who use Holocaust shaming as a tactic to keep people in line never had any experience with it themselves."
    Some, and there ARE some people who are distanced from it and use it as a ploy -- that's wrong of course.
    Both my bubbies were born in Poland but in Canada by 1920. They could still NEVER EVER talk about the holocaust. They lost half their families. How would YOU feel if half your cousins, aunts & uncles dissapeared tomorrow? In such and evil systematic way? It would mess you up too. Doesn't excuse some people, but give people some slack, is it REALLY that big a deal? You can igonre them if they're too heavy on the guilt.

    "And Holocaust shaming also has no logic -- "I suffered for being Jewish, so you should e Jewish!" That doesn't sound like a very good reason to be Jewish."
    No, it doesn't, but it doesn't have anything to do with that.
    It's called being F**'ed up! I know we're desensitized to it by now, but it truly and really F'ed people up in real and profound ways.

    @JRKmommy
    Yes, Hitler WAS evil. I don't believe in a Christian Devil, but Hitler personified that type of evil pretty clearly.
    "would you want to be a member of a club where the topics on the agenda are always, "ways in which people have tried to get rid of us" and "with dwindling membership, how can we possibly survive in the future?""
    On's whose agenda are those topics ALWAYS on? Never noticied it in the MO or Conservative worlds.

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  33. Most of my family was killed in the Holocaust , and my parents are survivors. So I find "Holocaust Shaming" to be very offensive. Even more so is the exploitation of the Holocaust to fund raise and generate income for Jewish organizations.

    Recommended reading: http://bit.ly/k9AV4a

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  34. Chaim:

    Take a look through the archives of the Jewish Tribune and Canadian Jewish News. Count the attention given to:

    1. Anything related to the Holocaust.

    2. Anything related to Israel, and in particular, threats to its existence.

    3. Anything related to "Jewish continuity".

    4. Anything related to in-fighting between various religious, political or organizational (eg. CJC vs. B'nai Brith) factions.

    The Tribune is slightly worse, but the dominant message tends to be doom and gloom. You get the odd uplifting profile, and toward the back they will cover events, recipes and Jewish sports, but that's it. I also remember these being the dominant themes when I was involved with B'nai Brith, and when I was on the board of the Jewish Student Federation at my university in the early 1990s.

    Now, these are important topics, and I'm not saying AT ALL that they don't deserve attention. They do.

    I am saying, though, that if this is the dominant focus, you will not inspire and attract the next generation.

    From my perspective, coming from a Conservative background and seeing the growth of kiruv-oriented congregations (like Chabad and Aish, plus a few independent) in my area and among my friends, one of the big attractions of these groups was the "ruach" - the spirit of excitement about Judaism, plus the warmth of the welcome and sense of action and purpose. My crowd is largely Conservadox/"traditional" in practice, as opposed to being complete stereotypical BTs who suddenly changed their whole lives, but they appreciate the inspiration and positive focus. Ironically, but NOT focusing so much on the issue of mere survival and "continuity", these groups have managed to achieve huge growth.

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  35. A quick point on the generational issue:

    After I read this post, I happened to re-read Alan Derschewitz's book Chutzpah. In the chapter about visiting synagogues around the world, he talks about the Holocaust and visiting a museum showing tefilim in a display case under glass as something that Jews "used to wear to pray". For him - as someone born in the 1930s and raised Orthodox before becoming less observant - this was a powerful jolt, and he really did feel moved by the statement that he can't give Hitler a posthumous victory. He goes on to say that if anything would drive him to put on tefilin again, it would be this.

    At the same time, though, he realizes that while this is a powerful motivation for his generation, it won't necessarily be the same way for his children and grandchildren's generations.

    I'm a bit older than some of you, and can see that. Even when I was growing up, Holocaust survivors were middle-aged, and many had to be coaxed to say anything at all about their experiences. The Jewish community was also responding to years of silence by suddenly flooding kids with information. It was clear that statements were made as a result of these traumas - and also clear that survivors reacted in a variety of ways. I'm realizing that my kids are getting a very different exposure than I did: the remaining survivors are old, the subject seems to be introduced a bit more slowly and gently in the schools, and by the time they are old enough to do March of the Living programs, I'm not sure if there will be any survivors left to accompany them.

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  36. chaimsmom - I just had dinner with a friend who told me almost the identical story! She was about to pull her daughter out of the failing Jewish day school, when the Holocaust survivor who had established the school told her that he didn't survive so that she could send her child to a non-Jewish school.

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  38. >> I don't believe in a Christian Devil

    To be more precise Chiam, you believe in the Christian narrative of Satan to the extent that it affirms the Jewish narrative.

    There is some overlap on Satan's role in the world to f##k humanity.

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