May 12, 2008

Good, Evil and Israel's 60th Birthday

The period that follows the holiday of Pesach is arguably the most emotionally charged time period on the Jewish calendar. Each year, within the space of a few days, we collectively re-experience the horrors of the Holocaust, the trepidation, pain and triumph of Israel's wars and the joy of her re-birth.

Sometimes, it is difficult to make order out of all the highs and lows. How should we relate to the Holocaust? Clearly, we must remember, but the question is not if we remember, but how we remember; to what conclusion does the collective remembrance lead us?

"What is your message to the groups that you guide here?" I once asked a young tour guide at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"I tell them that a little Nazi hides in each and every one of us - that it could happen to anybody," she answered without pause.

"There is no Nazi hiding inside me," I said to the guide. "In the Holocaust, there were good people and there were bad people. The Jews represented the ultimate good, and the ultimate evil tried to exterminate us."

If the guide's post-modern conclusion - that there is no good side and bad side in the Holocaust and that all of us, including the Nazi storm troopers, are victims - reflects the position of Yad Vashem, then despite its important archival work (and actually because of its important archival work) Yad Vashem is the most glorious institution for Holocaust denial in the entire world.

How should we relate to Memorial Day for Israel's fallen soldiers?
In truth, we have created confusion with Memorial Day identical to the confusion created by Yad Vashem. Nothing is left of the heroism of the brave fighters who have fallen. Memorial Day has become a day of tears over death that no longer shines with the glory of giving one's individual life so that the nation as a whole may live. It is no wonder that we have added the terror victims to the list of those to be remembered on Memorial Day, and then those soldiers killed in training accidents and IDF traffic accidents. They too, will never return, and what is the difference how they were killed or for what purpose they died?

And so, the significance of Memorial Day is diluted. Today, it has become a day of denial. Because if the death of a soldier in combat has no national significance, it, too, becomes a merely personal issue - quickly forgotten.

This is not just a matter of semantics. The lives of our soldiers have become very cheap in this era of watered-down memory. Our sons are sent to die in the alleys of Gaza so that Israel can conquer it from the bad terrorists and hand it over to the good terrorists. Our soldiers are killed as they attempt to capture the same terrorists that other soldiers have already risked their lives to capture and that Israel's government has released. Nothing is more than just another sad personal saga - with no heroes and no evil.

And last but not least - Independence Day. When I first saw the billboard announcing Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations, I mistakenly thought that it was an ad for Coca Cola. That is the first association I had with the graphics on the illustration. It took me a few seconds to understand my mistake.

But on second thought - maybe I wasn't mistaken after all.

Moshe Feiglin

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