Jewish and Israeli history is replete with both tragic and joyful events, and in fact the life of a Jew living in Israel is something of a roller-coaster existence, taking us from the depths of sorrow one day to the sublime heights of joy the next, whether it’s to celebrate one of the religious festivals or Independence Day, to mark the fallen in Israel’s wars or to remember those who perished in the Holocaust (not to mention other solemn days such as Yom Kippur).
Someone once said that those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them, and no one can accuse the Jews of not being aware of their history. In fact, they have erected an entire set of religious beliefs to commemorate their history. Pesach and the Seder denote the exodus from Egypt, Shavuot marks the giving of the ten commandments at Mount Sinai, and Succot reminds us of the booths the Children of Israel erected in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness.
Whether by coincidence or design – probably the latter – those festivals, as well as others, also coincide with salient points in the agricultural calendar. In the farming communities of ancient times the seasons and the times of sowing, planting, reaping and harvesting were the main events of the year. Whether they warrant being elevated to the status of religious events is questionable in this day and age, but Jews being what they are the agricultural festivals have remained embedded in daily life, no matter how urbanized and mechanized our lives have become.
By the nature of things, Holocaust Day, Remembrance Day and Independence Day are relatively recent inventions. To make matters still more complicated, the first two take place within one week of one another, and the third on the very next day. So that instead of having time to wind down from the sorrow and emotional depths of remembering personal and national tragedies we are almost immediately thrown into a state of euphoria as we celebrate the fact that after so many centuries of suffering the State of Israel exists.
The problem for the individual is how to combine, cope with and also separate all those conflicting emotions. And if this is the case with adults, how much more so must it be the case for children?
The outgoing Minister of Education introduced a ruling to the effect that preschool children should be taught about the Holocaust. I am not alone in finding this offensive and totally out of place. Who knows what effect learning about the subject – no matter how it is modulated – can have on a young child’s mind? In last week’s newspaper I read a report of one preschool teacher who sent the little ones home with a yellow star pinned to their clothing. This was roundly condemned by all concerned, but I doubt that there’s any ‘right’ way of teaching this subject to infants.
It’s hard even for adults and older children to cope with the emotional burden of what happened in the Holocaust. Recently I encountered a protest on Facebook complaining that the day of mourning for ‘a bunch of Ashkenazim’who were killed long ago and far away’ is being taken to undue lengths in preventing the average Joe from watching a football match on TV on that day.
The growing divide between the various segments of the population in Israel, as was demonstrated by the recent election results, seems to have given rise to a situation in which some people are unable to understand why the nation as a whole should commemorate something that happened to other Jews in a distant place.
I doubt that anyone has suggested it, but perhaps it’s time to introduce a day to commemorate the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Maybe then those people who object to commemorating the Holocaust will be appeased.