My niece Hadas came into the TV room tonight to watch her usual evening edition of ‘House’ (I think they’re up to season 2 here; they show it every night), only to find that every channel was honoring Holocaust Remembrance Day either by showing the official state ceremony or suspending programming in deference to the state ceremony. So she went upstairs to read. I watched a bit of the ceremony, which felt familiar: poems, songs, Psalms recited by the chief rabbis, survivors and their families.
Later on one of the news programs had a long, 60 Minutes-style segment on the descendents of the Bielskis, the subjects of the movie ‘Defiance.’ Some of them live in Israel, and two of the American grandsons (in their 20s) have made aliyah. The most significant moment came as they toggled between scenes of Zushya Bielski crying over the loss of his wife and child, and images of one of his grandsons taking target practice in an IDF uniform. For me the scene raised all the issues of how the Holocaust is part of Israeli and Jewish memory, both positive and negative, some of which I wrote about in an earlier post.
What would Israel be like if, for instance, its Declaration of Independence didn’t mention the Holocaust, or if every Jewish high school junior didn’t go to Poland for a class trip? Others have written about this much more knowledgably than I can, but the question strikes me as inescapable and essential to ask while I’m here. (Roger Cohen, with all the caveats, asks the same question today.)
Fittingly, Natalie and I are traveling to Kiryat Atta tomorrow to meet the sole surviving son of her grandmother’s sister. We talked about how we want to get there, and decided that it would be best to be on the road at 10 a.m. when the sirens go off all over the country. Drivers stop their cars and get out of them to stand at attention as the siren blasts for two minutes. And then people resume their day. As my dad likes to say, the only things changing are the birds and the traffic lights. It’s a powerful moment, and we want our kids to see it (though we’re not quite sure how we’re going to explain it to them just yet–they’re still too young for this.)