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Belle Jarniewski, Executive Director Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada: Imagining the Post-October 7 Jewish Worldview

by Belle Jarniewski, posted here Dec 22, 2023

 

October 7 changed our world. The brutal pogrom that took place that day resulted in the most Jewish deaths on a single day since the Holocaust. We thought that the mass murder, rape, and mutilation of Jews was something relegated to the past. We thought that with today’s technology, surely no one would deny what happened nor who perpetrated these atrocities.

We were wrong.

So much has changed and will change. Not all of that is clear right now, but I will try to outline the questions and perhaps provide a few thoughts of responses.

First of all, we must not call October 7 another Holocaust. It was a massive pogrom, a mass atrocity event. It was perpetrated by the terrorist group Hamas. To quote Dani Dayan, chair of Yad Vashem – “Despite Hamas’ best efforts, the Holocaust is not back” In the 1930s and 1940s, we did not have a Jewish state, nor a defensive military. This time, many world leaders have provided essential though sometimes flip-flopping moral support and especially in the case of the US, arms and ammunition. We are not alone and we are not defenseless.

We will need to assess how to commemorate this event. Will we add another date on the calendar as an annual date of mourning – such as Yom Hashoah, or Tisha B’Av? Will we add new liturgy to our memorial prayers? Will survivors, bereaved families, and veterans gather together annually? In the early post WWII years, we struggled to define the Holocaust – and how we fit in the other victims – the Roma who were also targeted for genocide for instance.  How will we remember the non-Jewish victims of October 7 – the foreign workers who were among the murdered and the kidnapped – the non-Jewish Israelis – the Muslims, the Druze? How will we remember the heroes? Those who risked their lives or even sacrificed their lives to save their friends, family members, or even strangers. Will there be a special designation for these heroes?  Who will decide?  And how can we protect the narrative of their lives and also of their deaths?

Vivian Silver of course, was the Winnipeg-born legendary co-founder of Women Wage Peace brutally murdered on October 7. Will history preserve or distort the narrative of this exceptional woman who spent 50 years loving her country whilst working toward a future of peace? I have sadly already seen signs of that from young people who twist her peace work to an anti-Israel narrative.

How will we engage with faculty here and around the world who have so easily adopted narratives that are completely devoid of scholarly research? When events such as tomorrows at the UW include individuals who have suggested that Israelis rather than Hamas murdered the 360 victims at Re’im.

How do we as Jewish women, continue to engage with women’s movements when they have so facilely gone against everything they should be standing for by casting doubt on the veracity of the horrific rapes of October 7? #Me too does not seem to apply to Jews.

What will happen to interfaith dialogue when far too many non-Jewish voices were silent? For some of us, the trust developed and nurtured over many decades seems broken.

The last few years have taken a toll on our remaining survivors. Studies have shown that COVID and its isolation reactivated previously experienced Holocaust-related trauma.[ii] Increasing antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and Holocaust distortion created tremendous stress and sadness for survivors. But the barbarous attack by Hamas– has made them feel they were reliving their nightmares. Perhaps just as difficult  for them was the post -October 7 bizarre increase in antisemitism – the mezuzah mapping, calls to gas the Jews (at a mass protest in Sydney, Australia) and cries of “Death to all the Jews” in London – replicated many times on X.  

Holocaust education: For a long time, many of my colleagues have talked about the failure of Holocaust education if only taught as a historical narrative to prevent antisemitism. We have long been saying that Holocaust education must include learning about who Jews are today, who they were historically and where they came from. We need to teach about the historical and religious connection to the land of Israel and about Jewish indigeneity. We need to teach about historical antisemitism and how it has mutated so easily over the course of history. Without these, it is impossible to understand the Holocaust.

Finally – I would like to address where IHRA fits into all of this – that is the IHRA definition of antisemitism and how this legally non-binding tool meant to sensitize individuals, organizations and governments to the existence of antisemitism in society fits into today’s reality. The definition is often misrepresented – and often willfully – to mean something it is not. Those who claim that the examples which mention Israel are there to protect Israel from criticism are wrong. They are there because they reflect the shared lived experience and the realities of how antisemitism manifests itself in the Diaspora today. Referring back to all I have said tonight, I call attention to the following examples, because they all apply to our present reality – all of them are indicative of our lived experiences since October 7:

Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

And finally -

Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

 

 

[ii] Sarfati S, Katz A, Cohen M, Bantman P, Mimoun A, Sitruk P, Amson F, Rimmer R, Zittoun J, Paillat S, Levy V, Pariente J, Huet C, Sztulman L, Wargnier N, Soussan A, Bloch G, Ghozlan E, Michower M, Fisbein L, Hazan K, Battner H, Heymann M, Astruc A, Halioua D, Taïeb J, Journo M, Odier R, Dassa S, Rochmann G, Vaislic M, Taieb C, Halioua B. “Psychological impact of the outbreak of COVID-19 on Holocaust survivors in France.” European Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. 2022 Jun;6(2):100242. doi: 10.1016/j.ejtd.2021.100242. Epub 2021 Aug 6. PMCID: PMC8342864.

 

 
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