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Focus on Issues Rabbi Warns Against Misusing the Tragedy of the Holocaust

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A leading rabbi warned that "the politicalization of the Holocaust as an instrument with which to deal with the gentile world" and as an instrument of international diplomacy "has boomeranged." He also warned that the fixation on past catastrophes that befell the Jewish people and the view that Jews continue to face destruction at any time and anywhere — that "all roads lead to Auschwitz" — is self-defeating and negates any plea to non-Jews to live in peace with the Jewish people.

Furthermore, Rabbi Horold Schulweis, spiritual leader of Valley Beth Sholom in Encino, told a plenary session of the 51st General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, misusing the memory of the Jewish peoples’ past by invoking the Holocaust to induce guilt in the new generation of both Jews and non-Jews and employing false equations between past anti-Semites and current political figures who disagree with policies of the government of Israel or the Jewish community on specific issues is to indulge in a "desperate fantasy."

‘A PERILOUS MIND-SET’

"It is a perilous mind-set to conduct diplomacy by false analogy," Schulweis said. "It is dangerous to our future to invent new enemies in the image of unreachable barbarians who burned our children. In fact, rational men and rations women know the cast of characters is not interchangeable. The fantasy of history relived, rewritten, refought and reversed can only confuse our goals: it tends to make foes out of friends, turns potential allies into implacable enemies; it twists the possibilities of the future into hopeless repetition of the past."

In this context. Schulweis referred specifically to Israeli Premier Menachem Begin who, in response to a letter from President Reagan during Israel’s siege of west Beirut, wrote: "I feel as a Prime Minister empowered to instruct a valiant army facing ‘Berlin’ where among innocent civilians Hitler and his henchmen hid in a bunker beneath the surface … What happened in Berlin will never happen again."

The rabbi also referred to the media’s "own form of time-reversal and expiation" in its use of the "perverse equation" of Beirut Lidice and Beirut Warsaw ghetto, and by employing Holocaust metaphors such as "genocide," "final solution "and "pogram" in reporting about Israel’s military operation in Lebanon and the consequences of this on the civilians of Beirut.

The danger in misusing history is that "catastrophic thinking, fixated on trauma can only distort the full memory of the past and the opportunity of our future," Schulweis said. "The Jewish future is not written in the past. The world is not eternally bifurcated into Jews as victims and gentiles as haters."

There are, he pointed out, friends to be won, allegiances to be formed, alliances to be gained, and new options to be sought. To politicize the Holocaust, as some "on our side" have done, has made it harder " to mention the Holocaust, massacre without some stammering," Schulweis said.

Schulweis, who was speaking on the theme, "Federation’s Role and Responsibility in Insuring the Commitment of the New Generation," asked: "How does the Holocaust relate to our children and our children’s children in our role as transmitters to the next generation?" He observed that "For our generation the Holocaust was and remains the ultimate argument against mixed marriage, against low fertility rate, against threat of apostasy, against neglect of Jewish piety and education."

Moreover, Schulweis declared: "Auschwitz serves us as the clinching argument after all else fails. It was the surest short cut to successful fundraising for yeshivot or chairs of Judaica, homes for the aged and orphans, and for Israel. Not giving is deemed more than stinginess: It is betrayal of the six million."

The rabbi said he feared "the fallout from that catastrophic thinking" which sees the world as "an eternal rent in the fabric of the human species; them and us, goyim and Jews, Amalek and Israel; they, the persecutors, and we, the inevitable victims."

Continuing, he said; "If we teach our children that the whole world seeks our destruction, if we teach them that the whole world always has, still does and will always hate us, we visit the iniquity of a paralyzing cynicism upon the third and fourth generation." What, he asked, "is the point of hasbara, of interpretation and explanation of Jewish, of Israeli belief and behavior if all roads lead to Auschwitz? What is the sense of influencing public opinion if a priori we maintain that they, ‘goyim,’ will hate us no matter what?"

Schulweis questioned whether the view of endless victimization is the authentic Jewish interpretation of history. What is required "to transmit Jewish faith to the next generation" is "another mentality, another philosophy, another morality," he observed. "We will not transmit a Jewish will to live through a fear of death. We cannot frighten our children to life. We cannot build healthy Jewish identity on the pillars of fear and anger and guilt." The immortality "of our martyrs is bound up with our Jewish vitality, not our melancholy," he added.

WARNS AGAINST HISTORIC AMNESIA

Despite all this, the rabbi cautioned his audience not to misunderstand the {SPAN}###{/SPAN} of the Holocaust in the history of the Jewish people. The Holocaust, he declared, "is our sacred memory. Whoever counsels amnesia betrays our elementary reverence to our martyred people. Whover counsels less than eternal vigilance against anti-Semitism is a fool or rogue. Whoever denies the reality of anti-Semitism is dangerously naive."

What is called for, Schulweis added, "is neither denial nor obsession with anti-Semitism. The Holocaust is a critical part of our memory. It cannot be made to provide our whole meaning. The Holocaust is our tragedy. It is not our rationale." Commitment for the next generation, he said, "must be based on Jewish vitality, hope, trust, love, joy."

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