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Holocaust Survivors’ Children Mull over the Jewish Future

The International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors looked toward the future during a conference here last week that examined topics such as interfaith relations, the meaning of Israel, the implications of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and assimilation.

More than 300 people, most of them children of Holocaust survivors and some from such far-flung places as Venezuela and Israel, came to the University of California at Los Angeles for three days to examine “Jewish Identity in the 21st Century: A Challenge for the Post-Holocaust Generation.”

The conference was organized in cooperation with the Second Generation of Los Angeles.

“We are closer today to the 21st century than to the years of the Holocaust and we are at least as responsible for determining our future as we are for the remembrance of the past,” explained Menachem Rosensaft of New York, founding chairman of the network.

Keynote speaker Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, professor of religion at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.J., brought the audience to its feet with his charge that commemoration of the Holocaust is becoming “a substitute religion . . . for Jews who find it easier to counter-punch on anti-Semitism so that they do not have to make the hard choices” about their own Jewishness.

He also cautioned Jews involved in discussing the Holocaust with the Vatican that the church “wants to live down this record during the Nazi era and much of the Jewish establishment has been playing along with it . . . Don’t you dare negotiate about the Holocaust. It’s not within your competence.’

Catholic-Jewish relations were further discussed by a panel that included Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner. He criticized attempts by the Vatican to withhold recognition of Israel over political issues as “incredible hypocrisy.”

“We Jews jumped from the burning building of Europe and unfortunately in jumping we landed on some Palestinians,” he said, “and I think its incumbent on Israel to take away some of the hurts of the Palestinians. But I think it’s incredible chutzpah for the church to say this, because it was the church who set the fire.”

In Lerner’s view, the utterance of two mere sentences during the Holocaust would have exonerated the church: “It is an absolute imperative that Catholics save Jews”; and “Those Catholics who do not will be excommunicated.”

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, lamented that Israel has become too much the focus of Jewish identification for too many Jews. For example, he noted, when asked to name their leaders, Jews in Uruguay or Argentina invariably gave the names of Israeli government leaders. “And it is our own fault,” he said.

Avraham Burg, adviser on Israeli-diaspora affairs to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, sparked a vigorous debate by his personal observation that “at least a quarter of a million American Jews should make aliya.”

He contended that “a Jew cannot fully experience his Jewishness anywhere but in Israel.”

The problems of assimilation also were of overriding concern at the conference. Chaim Seidler-Feller, B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation rabbi at UCLA, said that although anti-Semitism may exist on college campuses as a result of anti-Israel feelings, “that is not so much the question as the drop in Jewish involvement.”

Hertzberg said he was “terribly frightened” of assimilation. “You have a mission . . . to stop the assimilationist clock,” he told the conferees. “…Remember your loved ones who are no longer alive, and try to live as you would have lived had you been in dialogue with them.”

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