You may remember that a few weeks ago I was wondering about the wisdom of the Passover story. Is it right to teach our children that we are separate and chosen?
Well, today is Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Rememberance Day), and that brings on a whole different way of thinking. We observed the holiday yesterday at Religious School, and when you say the Sh'ma right after thinking about death camps, it turns into one big "Fuck you, Nazis!"
It feels good.
The only other time I felt like that was the first service I went to after 9/11. I was living in Brooklyn at the time and teaching in Manhattan, so in addition to my own experience of the city I lived in being attacked, I had students' reactions to deal with.
I was teaching Religious School at the time in a small congregation in Park Slope. Our first day of school was supposed to be September 12th. When I arrived at the church where we rented space, there was a police officer at the door. I had to identify myself before being let into the church. The idea that my congregation could be in danger--that we didn't know if it was over yet--was a new anxiety to add to the pile.
I remember sitting in a circle outside in the churchyard. It must have been the Saturday following 9/11. When we said the Sh'ma, it felt wonderful. I was still alive, still Jewish, and not going to shut up.
Have I mentioned that it feels good?
But really, what's the better way to stop genocide? Teaching about the Holocaust hasn't stopped it. Sure, the Jews have been more or less OK since then, in most places, but in this list of the top 5 genocides in history, two happened after the Holocaust, and that's not even counting the more recent genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur. Genocide continues to this day. So is it better to keep teaching our kids to be proud that we are still here? Or is it better to teach kids that all people are entitled to equal rights? That everyone should be free and have access to food, clean water and an opportunity to find meaningful work?
People say that not raising our kids Jewish will allow Hitler a posthumous victory, but I wonder who is kicking Hitler's philosophies harder: people like me, who raise their kids to practice Judaism, or people like my brother, who married an Asian woman and had mixed-race children who aren't being raised with any religion? Or maybe it's my dad, who has blond hair and blue eyes and grew up Christian, but converted to Judaism so that he could marry a brown-eyed brunette with bad vision and crooked teeth. (Take that, eugenics!)
And I won't even start on what Hitler would have made of international adoption.
To be clear, I'm not for a second suggesting that we shouldn't teach about the Holocaust. We should remember it, and the other genocides, too. We should make Turkey acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. High school kids should learn about the banality of evil and we should all stand against genocide.
But I wonder to what extent genocide is a side-effect of tribalism. If we could somehow come to believe that we are all humans and that divisions are artificial, how could genocide exist? There has to be a "them" to extinguish in order for someone to commit genocide. If we were all "us," what then?
Okay, that's not going to happen until the alien overlords arrive. But I still have to decide what to teach my kid.