Over the next few days I’m going to write about Tisha B’Av from various perspectives. For those of you who have read my previous pieces in 2008 and 2009, you’ll probably recognize similar themes. This year though, I will focus on the Holocaust as my primary lens for looking at Tisha B’Av.
A couple of months ago, I read Avraham Burg’s poignant and painful book, The Holocaust is Over, We Must Rise from its Ashes. The book echoed my sentiments that the Holocaust as currently understood and as currently intertwined in the Zionist narrative was unhealthy for the continued development of the Jewish people in Israel and in the Diaspora. Burg cited liberally from Hannah Arendt’s controversial report on the Eichmann trials, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, so I read that too. Arendt’s focus on the complicity and passivity of Jewish victims made her book difficult to read, but her point that the Holocaust was not unfathomable and incomprehensible rang true. To confirm her point, I looked to Raul Hilberg’s masterwork, The Destruction of the European Jews. Though Hilberg corroborates Arendt’s points, his work occasioned much less debate.
Spending my leisure reading in this dark period has been really strange. Engaging in the Holocaust not to memorialize, but to understand and analyze, has been refreshing and invigorating. Rather than pulling on a solemn face and grave attitude, as we typically do when confronting the Holocaust, I looked forward to it. I read about the Holocaust on the train and on the subway, and in bed before I went to sleep. For me, a grandchild of survivors and child of Sabras, it was my first encounter with the Holocaust outside of its religious, nationalist or personal dimensions. This was an exploration of the Holocaust as a historical phenomenon, free, for the moment, of the need to position it within a broader narrative that could give it meaning, or that could exceptionalize it, and place it outside the realm of meaning. I tried to simply learn what happened, and how it happened, holding everything else in abeyance.
At a certain point, I’m not sure when, an idea began to take shape though. I guess you can only live in that place of suspended judgment for so long. I started to sense the shadow of Tisha B’Av creeping closer, and I began to contextualize my reading around that. I had some idea that I would use this reading experience to write, and that it would culminate on Tisha B’Av – even though I never saw that as the day for Holocaust remembrance. But once that idea took hold, another interesting thing happened. I began to grow more aware of the mourning practices of the Three Weeks and the Nine Days – the lead-up to Tisha B’Av itself. The rituals I chose to observe took on greater meaning, even as my confusion over the relationship between the Holocaust and Tisha B’Av grew.
Over the next few days, I’ll try and cover some interesting ground, starting with Yom HaShoah and Tisha B’Av, and moving on to questions of Israeli and Diaspora narratives, and the changing nature of Holocaust remembrance, as we shift from preserving memory to teaching history, and as we escort our last living survivors to their final rest. I welcome your comments and feedback.