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Younger Israelis Prefer Alternative Shoah Commemorations

Two years ago, Prof. Moshe Zimmermann, a historian at Hebrew University, was invited to speak at a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. For years he kept away from official ceremonies, and on more than one occasion criticized what he described in the media as the commemoration ritual of the Holocaust. As a scholar of German history, whose family immigrated to Israel from Hamburg, he considers himself competent to talk about the Holocaust, and especially about the ways to immortalize its memory.

The organizer, Avi Gibson, explained that the event in question was an alternative Holocaust Remembrance ceremony and had nothing to do with the official ceremony at Yad Vashem. Zimmermann accepted. “I was glad to hear that there are other events that view the lessons of the Holocaust in a different light,” Zimmermann told Al-Monitor, “and that’s why I agreed to take part.”

Gibson and Shahara Blau came up with the idea and initiated it in 1999. They had had enough of the official ceremonies, of the sense of endless victimhood and feelings of revenge emoted by the official speakers. Shai Golden is also an advocate of the alternative Holocaust commemoration. In the past Golden was editor of Haaretz magazine and today he holds a senior position at Israeli Channel 2 Television. When he was invited to speak, he was quick to accept.

“I felt the memory of the Holocaust must be taken out of the hands of the state,” he told Al-Monitor. “I’m aware of the fact that the government conducts its own ceremonies, but unfortunately they are not relevant to the young generation. I asked myself how I convey the Holocaust to my children, and I came to the conclusion that the official ceremonies only push them away instead of bringing them closer.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of young people attended the alternative ceremony; most were casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts. The speakers emphasized that they do not identify with the national “tone” regarding the Holocaust but, instead, view the tragedy as a very personal experience. Almost all of them rejected the connection to Iran and other enemies, and some even felt insulted by the comparison drawn by the prime minister between Nazi Germany and Iran.

Hundreds of participants sat in complete silence in the hall and listened to the young speakers. The speakers went up and down from the podium in a silence that hovered over the crowded hall. There was no heckling, no interruptions or disturbances. Each speaker came with his or her own story. There was no clapping. At the end of the event that lasted more than two hours, the audience departed to Tel Aviv for Remembrance Day evening.

Gibson believes that he and his friends are planting a new seed as far as the Holocaust discourse goes. “At these encounters we don’t talk about Berlin of 1945,” he explained, “we try to reopen the trauma so that we can go on to the stage of healing. A society that has undergone a trauma must process it and emerge at a different point.”

Zimmermann emerged from the event with a sense that he had been present at a ceremony that was likely relevant for many who had lost interest in the existing Holocaust discourse. “It was a positive experience,” he recalled this week, “because the ceremony sought a different narrative than the existing one. Instead of presenting the Jews as victims of the Holocaust, namely of what was done to me, I and the others also talked about what we as Israelis are doing that is not compatible with the memory of the Holocaust. I spoke of the Holocaust as a universal responsibility, I spoke of the suffering of man, I spoke about how to prevent the suffering of others, I spoke about the fact that Jews don’t have a monopoly on pain and sorrow and that there are other nations that have also undergone terrible tragedies.”

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/holocaust-remembrance-day-alternative-ceremonies-israel.html#ixzz30OTH7EAO

By Daniel Ben Simon/Al-Monitor.com (edited for brevity)

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