Shame on YOU - not an eight year old girl...


Was she wearing a miniskirt? Was she in a bikini?...NO, she was modestly dressed according to the standards of her Modern Orthodox family, recent immigrants from the United States.


This could have been just the latest incident in the ongoing confrontation between some ultra-Orthodox groups and the rest of Israelis, and following the same pattern: Ultra-Orthodox try to impose their views on others, police intervenes, Ultra Orthodox protest – end of the issue. But that was not the case in this instance.


Several hundreds (maybe a thousand) ultra-orthodox Jews went out to protest on Motzaei Shabbath (Saturday night) against what they believe to be government intrusion on their religious beliefs. And they were wearing yellow stars with the inscription “Jude” while some of their children were dressed in stripped pajamas resembling the uniforms of concentration camp inmates. They claimed that authorities' actions were tantamount to a “spiritual holocaust”...


The ultra-orthodox reaction brings to mind some of the political demonstrations in Israel years ago. During the years leading up to his assassination, Rabin was represented in right-wing demonstration wearing a Nazi uniform – and Netanyahu has been depicted in left wing demonstration in the same way. This pattern of misuse of Holocaust imagery is not without consequences...


Using Nazi-like images and descriptions is a sure way to elicit strong emotional reactions because the wounds of the Holocaust, even after 65 years, are still open – and not only for survivors. Palestinians and Arabs use pictures of Israelis as Nazis for the same reason.


Yet all this misuse and abuse of the Holocaust has an unintended consequence: it trivializes the worst example of Human cruelty in Modern history. The Holocaust was the systematic physical destruction not only of a people but of their memory as well, by a regime that claimed to be superior by virtue of their own proclamation. By the power invested in them by themselves they engaged in the systematic extermination of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, Slavs, and everybody else who did not live up to their own racial standards. They essentially invalidated any alternative ethnic or cultural expression on the source of their own authority. By the end of the war entire villages were no more and entire communities had been destroyed.


Co-opting the imagery of the suffering of Nazi victims for political or ideological purposes is not only wrong, it is in the poorest of tastes. It is a way to minimize the suffering of the victims and survivors and to blur the boundaries of ideological fanaticism in an attempt to make it include anybody we disagree with. Most recently, the issue was even used by the San Francisco coalition attempting to make circumcision illegal, and a few years back to oppose Bush's Iraqi war. So if everything we disagree with can be labeled as “Nazi”, where does that leave the ideas and actions of real Nazis and their ideological heirs? If we are capable of insulting the memory of the victims by misusing the imagery that evokes, what is that saying of ourselves as individuals?


To add salt to the open wound, many of those who invoke the Holocaust to justify their actions are themselves followers of some form of authoritarian ideology or philosophy which many times resembles, and often copies, Nazi themes and techniques. Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Al Qaeda, Stalin in Russia, etc.


The Holocaust should be respected by keeping it in its proper context. It represents a red flag in Human history about the abuse of power and of the crimes that can be committed in the name of ideology. Trivializing its imagery and meaning is to diminish the power of the lesson, and diminishing that power brings us closer to accept it. The Holocaust should never be accepted, but it should stand as a warning for all Humanity for all times.


To those who abused an eight year old for not wearing clothes “modest enough” by their standards, I can only say “Shame on you!” - Judaism is not about imposing our views on others, it is about compassion and acceptance of differences. You are entitled to your beliefs, but so is that eight years old girl, and so am I.



Add Comment