Identity, Israel

Zichrono Livracha

arson mosque
When people die we often add Zichrono Livracha after their names–may their memory be blessed/for a blessing. This speaks to the way that people impact the arc of history even after they themselves are no more. What lessons do those living learn from those who have departed? If we think about the beautiful lessons to learn from other lives lived and act upon them, those memories are for a blessing.
Most of us are aware by now of the heinous attack on a mosque in the West Bank. Many leaders have expressed sympathy and empathy. Ari Hart noted such a visit earlier today. The one that struck me the most was of the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, who said:

“I came here to expression [sic] my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people.” Agence France-Presse reported that that he drew an explicit comparison to Kristallnacht, the November 1938 attacks on Jewish synagogues and businesses in Nazi Germany. “Seventy years ago,” Rabbi Metzger said, “the Holocaust, the biggest tragedy of our history, began with the torchings of synagogues during Kristallnacht.”

Much of my family is from Germany. They lived there for many hundred years. Their shul, like many others, in Augsburg was defaced (destroyed, I think) on Kristallnacht. Every time Kristallnacht is invoked to critique terror, xenophobia, other-ing, and narrow-mindedness, the memory of my family’s synagogue in Southern Germany is for a blessing. The memory of siddurim and volumes of Talmud being hurled into the street and burned, as windows were broken and lives shattered, is a traumatic one. Though that memory still burns, it is for a blessing when used to fight the surviving racism today, the very sort that led to that terrible night 71 years ago.
As Chanukkah candles burn and we think of brightening a dark world and a dark time, I hope the memory of the fires that burnt those prayer books help guide us to a more beautiful brighter future.

8 thoughts on “Zichrono Livracha

  1. Please do not compare Kristallnacht with any other sacred scriptures burning event. On November 9 German Jewry Sinagogues & Torah Scrolls were burnt in Germany, but the Jews were brought by force and compelled to impotently watch the flames – Family books, photos and memoires were also destroyed, including children’s poems and tales. The houses were vandalized, valuable belongings stolen, several Jews beaten and many others didn’t make it home ever again.
    Kristallnacht is therefore uncomparable. Sacred scriptures have the value of paper, human lives are thousands of times more costy.

  2. @Sophie – the time has come for us to STOP claiming that the Shoah was sui generis and is incomparable to anyone else’s suffering. This is one of the worst sins of the last generation, IMO. The use of the Shoah smokescreen by the current government here in Israel to excuse continued exploitation of the Palestinians and foot-dragging on peace negotiations is unconscionable. In a visit with a Palestinian friend recently, he said “The Israelis want me to accept their suffering 70 years ago as legitimate. I am willing to do so. But if that is the case, then they must accept the suffering of my family right now.” Furthermore, the practice of forcing people to watch their sacred books burned in public was common practice in Spain in the early 1500s, and was done to Muslims as well as to Jews. So the Nazis didn’t invent it…
    If the central message of our tradition is, as Rabbi Akiva said “Love your neighbor as yourself”, then how can we allow others to suffer as we did?

  3. Well said Simcha.
    It is the core idea of Z”L that we make people’s memories for a blessing not by living their lives but by learning from them. For me, and I hope Jews more broadly, the lesson of the Holocaust is a Zero-Tolerance policy on ethnic intimidation and abuse. It is especially sickening when fellow Jews commit similar horrors to the ones my ancestors (and, perhaps theirs) ran from. Z”L isn’t about perfect symmetry, it’s about learning lessons from the past that make lives richer in the future.

  4. Eh, it’s a pretty absurd comparison. Please let’s not fall into the hackneyed chic that “a fire is a fire is a fire”…. so that the ‘fires of kristallnact now burn today in a West Bank mosque’….. blah, blah, blah.
    No, they don’t.
    This incident was the vandalism and burning of an empty mosque by a rogue or small group thereof. Kristallnacht was the state-endorsed mass burning of synagogues and businesses combined with the arrest and murder of hundreds of people.
    If Rabbi Metzger was suggesting that kristallnacht and this mosque trashing were similar, he’d be an idiot. If he was saying that based on his people’s history he empathizes with those who feel pain at seeing the burning of their house of monotheistic worship, I understand him and agree.

  5. @Sophie – the time has come for us to STOP claiming that the Shoah was sui generis and is incomparable to anyone else’s suffering. This is one of the worst sins of the last generation, IMO
    Agreed. It’s time to move on.

  6. The Israelis want me to accept their suffering 70 years ago as legitimate
    Why would we even care if the Palestinians acknowledge the Shoah as “legitimate” suffering?

  7. Eric, a hate crime is a hate crime, whether it’s state-sponsored or not. It’s equally despicable either way. Certainly no one’s claiming this represents as much of an existential threat to Muslims as did the Nazi government to Jews, but the motivation is no less heinous and should be condemned no less strongly.

  8. @Eric. Your point about state-sponsoredness is a good one, in that it is a notable distinction. Though the Israeli State actively encourages West Bank settlers and has done little to deter their militarism (hasn’t done serious gun control, frequently fails to detain those who threaten and commit violence against palestinians), the Israeli Government is not the agent of these kinds of attacks, so much as an accomplice.
    The problem, of course, is that pointing out distinctions isn’t really that productive. I made the point in the post and in the response above, that it is a good thing when Kristallnacht is used as a critique of xenophobia and attacks against minority populations. The people attacked are unpopular. Believing minority populations should be safe means criticizing attacks on the unpopular. Sure some Palestinians have done some bad things, some have done some very bad things, but certainly Israelis shouldn’t be burning Mosques. It is immoral, it is strategically dumb, and it’s just bad politics.
    When we use the memory of Kristallnacht is the fight for broadmindedness and acceptance it is a good thing. It honors the memory of those that died and the stories that ended. When it is invoked in service of a racist agenda, as happens every so often [see Kahane, Meir] then it is disgracing to those memories. I didn’t say, nor, i think, did Rabbi Metzger that Kristallnacht and this Mosque burning were identical, nor equivalent, nor even overwhelmingly similar. That is a straw man and isn’t productive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.