Saturday, May 07, 2011

This Has Been Another Edition of Christians Lecturing Jews on Jewish History

Methodist Church (UK) edition!
Anti-Semitism in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, is another factor that cannot be overlooked if Christians are to understand Jewish perspectives on the land of Israel. ‘Israel is the only real answer to the Holocaust’ is the message given at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Centre in west Jerusalem. Its location (on Mount Herzl, a hill which is home both to the tomb of the founding father of the Zionist Movement and the central military cemetery for members of the Israeli Defence Force) and its symbolic layout undergirds this message. A pilgrimage through the exhibition rooms of the Centre, which bring home both the horror of the Holocaust and the vigour of Jewish resistance, brings you out in the open air, overlooking the beauty of Jerusalem. This perspective is transmitted to young Israelis through visits to Yad Vashem organised by schools and other groups. When I visited the Centre with a group from Britain, I noticed that many visitors were not of European Jewish descent. As Michael Ipgrave, then Secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Inter Faith Relations, wrote in his report of the visit: ‘The Holocaust has come to serve as a national story embracing also Oriental Jews for whom this was not part of their family history.’ Peace groups in Israel have to work against this backdrop.

Wow. Okay, first, there were definitely non-European Jews (particularly in North Africa) for whom the Holocaust is most certainly part of, er, "their family history." Second, it is well-established that Nazi anti-Semitic ideology was deliberately exported to the Arab world, including to Palestinian leaders in mandatory Palestine, and that, too, had a real effect on the lives of the Jews living there (and continues to do so). Third, even to the extent the message was "there but for the grace of God go I", Jews who reside in locations Hitler did not manage to conquer (America, the Middle East) are perfectly within their rights -- and perfectly reasonable -- to recognize the vulnerability of their situation and the applicability of the Holocaust to their own family history. Empathy with one's cohorts who were massacred, paired with a recognition that it is more or less a historical accident we weren't included, is not a sign of psychopathy.

Church groups in the UK need to work against a backdrop where they couldn't care less about actual Jewish experience, and wish to persistently deny Jewish communal autonomy to identify their own life story -- even their own "family history". Church groups in the UK need to work against a backdrop where they observe Jewish communal practice and identification that clashes with their ideological priors and proceed to feverishly deny its relevance. Church groups in the UK need to work against a backdrop where their first, second, and last instinct seems to be that what Jews say about themselves ought have precisely zero impact on how church groups view the Jews. The only Jews who matter are the one's who promote alternate stories that better cohere with what the church groups already want to hear. Why, exactly, should I bother listening to the perspective of those so fundamentally disrespectful of me?


Hawkmoon said...

Years ago I spoke to an elderly Quaker gentleman who was extremely bitter than the American rabbinate did not condemn everything Israel ever did, from 1948 on. He put himself in the position of being the arbiter of what Jews should think and say about certain issues, specifically Zionism and Israel. I was tempted to argue but instead reminded myself of what Rabbi Kushner said: "Never wrestle in the mud with a pig, you'll both get muddy and only the pig will enjoy it." I walked away and did not speak to that gentleman again.

Marni Jane said...

Is it bad to mostly only comment because I absolutely love the title of this post?

But also, yes, when exactly did Christians become supreme authorities on all things Jewish?