The controversy over Holocaust, Fallen Soldiers, Terror Victims memorials

6 bIyyar 5766
Last year on May 6,2005, Toby Katz posted a thoughtful essay in Cross-currents titled Yom HaShoah explaining why the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance day is deeply problematic.
I reread her essay and ALL 54 commnents (!!) on Holocaust Remembrance day a fortnight ago. I agree with the reservations she articulated about the timing and emphasis of the Israeli observance.
Another controversy has arisen in Israel over the memorial day for fallen soldiers, which falls a week after the Holocaust memorial. As I wrote in my Jerusalem Post article which appears today, Thursday May 4 “Rebuilding is remembrance”

there are arguments for including the victims of terror officially in the name and ceremonies of the day, and there are arguments for leaving the day specifically as a memorial for those who have died in Israel’s wars.

One could make a case for both sides of the controversy. In any case, I was struck by the fact that this year’s remembrance day (for soldiers and terror victims), May 2, fell on the anniversary of the terrorrist attack that killed the pregnant Tali Hatuel and her four daughters in 2004 in Gush Katif.

David Hatuel, Tali’s husband, has created his own memorial and it is connected to the Holocaust memorial in which I live – Kiryat Sanz. Kiryat Sanz in Netanya was founded by the Klalusenberger Rebbe (may his memory be a blessing) who lost his wife and 11 children in the Churban Europa, but remarried, had seven children (one son is now the Admor of Sanz), built Laniado Hospital and Sanz Medical Center, and encouraged others to reconstitute their destroyed families.

Instead of building a Holocaust statue or sculpture, he did something else……..

Instead of building a Holocaust sculpture, the Klausenberger rebuilt lives of survivors in the US and Israel, establishing schools, yeshivas, senior citizens’ centers, shuls, vocational schools, a hospital.

The first department to open 25 years ago in the Laniado-Sanz hospital was the maternity ward. To date it has delivered some 80,000 babies. Last year they opened Children’s Hospital in memory of the children killed during the Holocaust – a 365 days-a-year commemoration. Rebuilding is remembrance. Sanz couples have an average of eight children, and families of 14 are not rare.

Hatuel knew that the Klausenberger Rebbe, who passed away 10 years ago, had also lost his wife and children, but had remarried after the Holocaust and rebuilt his family. Hatuel came to Sanz to talk with the current Sanz Rebbe, the son of the Klausenberger. In a Pessah interview in the Sheva weekly Hatuel explained why. “The Rebbe from Sanz gave me tremendous encouragement and strength, since he himself comes from a family that experienced a similar tragedy and in the face of that disaster his father rebuilt his life with renewed strength and went forward. That is my motto. I identified closely with Sanz approach.”

He recently remarried and as a living memorial established the Tali fund under the auspices of the Puah Institute for couples with fertility problems that… helps childless couples with fertility treatment expenses. There are few more moving statements than that by David Hatuel when he said of his project. “If a couple calls me and announces that they have a child after 20 years, to my mind this is the truest memorial.”

Is it too idealistic of me to suggest that the millions of dollars spent on Holocaust memorials, including Yad Vashem, be used to encourage growth and regeneration of the Jewish people?

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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26 Responses

  1. Tzvi says:

    The entire State of Israel is the response to the holocaust. Are you going to compare a few buildings – school, hospital and senior citizens home – to all the infrastructure contained within the entire State? The whole country is one big memorial and Yad Vashem is one of the buildings that the country put up as a special rememberance to the holocaust. Surely you agree the country needs places like Yad Vashem which remind all of the citizens the reason why their country exists. I think that between public education, social services and places like Yad Vashem the country is doing its fair share of encouraging the growth and regeneration of the Jewish people.

  2. HILLEL says:

    Sell all the Holocaust memorial buildings, fire all the personnel, and spend the money on Jewish education for the furture of our people.

    We should teach our children that w celebrate life, not death.

  3. Toby Katz says:

    My mother has cousins — an elderly couple, not religious — who lost their only son in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Every year on Yom Hazikaron they cry anew, but they find the abrupt transition to Yom Atzmaut too jarring and cannot find it in themselves to celebrate.

    The Israeli government tried to set up a neat historical lesson that would take a few weeks each year and go in an orderly progression:
    1. Galus Jews go like sheep to the slaughter — Yom Hashoah
    2. In Israel a new Jew is created, the proud Israeli soldier, who is brave and strong. He doesn’t die a helpless victim, he dies a hero, defending his homeland — Yom Hazikaron
    3. All the evil and sorrow of our past is now redeemed with the glorious new day, a proud and strong new young country, the State of Israel — Yom haAtzmaut.

    Of course this simple story line has become darkened and more complex with the passage of time. Israel is no longer strong and new and young but weary and battle-scarred. Nowadays Yom Hashoah is commemorated with far more respect for the survivors than was the case in the early days, far more sorrow and far less arrogance and false pride. The Israeli Army is still looked at with pride but more young Israelis try to get out of serving — a favorite ploy is to feign mental illness. The brave soldiers so lionized in the past are instead looked at today simply as sons and brothers. There is less glory and pride and more sorrow and grief, for all the young lives lost. Nevertheless, of all the institutions of the modern Israeli state, the army is the one most deserving of our respect and gratitude — in my opinion.

    Finally, Yom Atzmaut is not looked at, either, the way it was in the past. If you read Yoram Hazony’s book *The Jewish State* — or look at the soul-searching in the Mizrachi camp after the Gaza withdrawal — you see that on both ends of the political spectrum, a weariness and wariness have set in, as the State has not lived up to expectations. The Left is in a post-Zionist phase where patriotism and flag-waving are passe and the alleged mistreatment of the Arabs overshadows all else. The Right has seen its messianic expectations dashed and realizes that the State is not yet the Redemption.

    My mother’s cousins who can’t find it in their hearts to celebrate Yom Atzmaut are not the only ones. Israel needs to rewrite its storyline.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Toby Katz,

    I agree that the Israeli government did it on purpose, to have a national myth and renew its citizens commitment to Zionism every year. However, I don’t think it was just to say: “The useless Galut Jews went to the slaughter like sheep”. The full name of the day is “Yom haShoah veHagvurah”, the Day of Holocaust and Heroism. The date chosen was the date that the Warsaw Ghetto rebellion started.

    In general, it seems that their purpose was to create a military tradition. That’s the reason they emphasized Chanukkah, Lag BaOmer, and Tel Chai. Probably, that was also the reason they chose to commemorate the Shoah on that day, in that fashion.

  5. joel rich says:

    Hillel-please explain the gematria or medrash behind your 20,000 comment so we can discuss more if needed.

  6. easterner says:

    as toby says the left is… the right is ….

    and the haredi is always there to [correctly or not] point out where everyone is wrong , while not withholding themselves the benefits that the pigeaters provided. is it any wonder that the non-haredi in israel has little good to say about their always triumphalist, and open-handed neighbours?

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    I disagree with those who believe that Yom HaShoah should be commemorated in its present fashion because of the attendant halachic and hashkafic issues, which I will not reiterate here. I also believe that we should commemorate the Shoah ( or Churban Europa, if you prefer that phrase) on Tisha Bav which is a day designated on our calendar for communal mourning.

    I have also stated elsewhere that our communities emphasize spiritual resistance at the expense and neglect of physical resistance which we know was supported and engaged in by R M Ziemba and R Y Gustman Zicronam Livracha to say the least.

    It should be noted that Yom HaZikaron is a day of commemoration, as opposed to celebration. I trust that was a typo by the author.

    Nevertheless, Mrs. Katz’s article showed a lack of familiarity with basic RZ and less messianic oriented sources such as RYBS’s Kol Dodi Dofek and Chanesh Drashos, which are available in Lashon haKodesh and English at most seforim stores and an understanding of Kiddush HaShem-anyone who is killed defending a Jewish symbol such as an Israeli flag is a Kadosh. None less than RYBS stated so in his Chamesh Drashos. Moreover, RYBS in Kol Dodi Dofek ascribed positive religious and spiritual significance to the fact that Jews can defend themselves and that the State of Israel’s establishment was a positive sign in stemming the tide of assimilation. Of course, RYBS recognized that the establishment of the State would not stem anti Semitism.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    I would add the following note that -Look at the status of the Torah world in the years preceding the Shoah and the immediate aftermath of the Shoah. Prior to the 1930s, yeshivos and the frum world were suffering massive ideologically based defections to all kinds of secular “isms.” The Shoah affected all of European Jewry, but especially the Torah world and Eastern European Jewry with the exception of some Chasidic groups from Hungary.

    Since 1948, we have seen the revival and development of K-Kollle Torah learning and observance in EY on a scale never seen previously in Jewish history. One wonders why there is such denial and ambivalence of the role of a sovereign Jewish state, albeit imperfect, of these simple facts.

  9. David Gold says:

    I really wish you would not so pithily sum up Israel’s problems. The Jewish people, and the Jewish state, are far too complex for that, and it is a mark of disrespect to be that dismissive.
    “The Left” “The Right” “The Post-Zionists.”
    Come on. Surely you know that Jews are far more complicated then that.

    Also, I find your dismissive attitude toward Israel to be disrespectful, arrogant, and without empathy (“Israel needs to rewrite its storyline.”).

    The majority of Israeli Jews are living for something greater than themselves, for a belief in the future of Judaism. They are willing to stake their lives on it. Give them credit.
    Most Israelis are not religiously bankrupt. They may have a different sense of religion then you do, but they have religious sensibilities.

    And since most still serve in the IDF, there is one more point I need to mention.
    At whatever remove, Israelis are willing to take a bullet for me.
    A devoutly Orthodox Jew outside of Israel may be punctilious and God-fearing. Moreso than a standard (?) chiloni.

    But would he take a bullet for me?

  10. Toby Katz says:

    Easterner wrote: “the haredi is always there to [correctly or not] point out where everyone is wrong”

    In my experience members of every group consider their own group right and the other groups wrong, to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t find anyone at any point of the spectrum (religious or political) shy about declaring that they’re right and the other guy is wrong.

    I note that you yourself have just said something critical and negative about charedim rather than limiting yourself to positive affirmations of your own identity group (whatever it is).

    When you wrote: “is it any wonder that the non-haredi in israel has little good to say about their always triumphalist, and open-handed neighbours?” — I confess you sounded just a trifle hostile.

    Explaining and clarifying your own point of view by comparing and contrasting it with other points of view is a feature of normal human communication. It would be almost impossible to have any kind of reasoned discourse any other way.

  11. Ahron says:

    In the context of Toby Katz’s analysis (which I do think is overly simplified), we should observe the profound historical reversals which have taken place since the early Israeli establishment’s establishment of the three modern days of commemoration/celebration:

    1. Instead of “going like sheep to the slaughter”, it is in fact contemporary religious Jewry–generally speaking whether inside or outside of Israel–that calls for the Israeli government to use all of the tools available to it to combat anti-Jewish violence and ensure security. It is almost always religious Jews who are the most astute and informed on security matters (yes, I know there are ignoramuses there also). Conversely, the vast majority of those Jews who embrace non-rational ideas about security (i.e. “the Palestinian just need to be respected…” or “The use of force only makes things worse…”) are secular.

    2. Instead of “a new Jew…brave and strong defending his homeland,” the dominant paradigm in modern Israel is personal and social angst, and a general abandonment of the hope of affecting our fate in any positive way aside from awaiting diktats from the political class. Additionally, the notion of bravely and strongly defending “our homeland” is viewed (again, generally by secular Jews) as antiquated, narrowminded and immoral.

    3. Instead of “All the evil and sorrow of our past is now redeemed with the glorious new day, a proud and strong new young country, the State of Israel”–the prime minister of that country has just announced that the unconditional handover of Israeli land is “the only way forward”. Terrorist attacks and missile strikes go generally unanswered. No strategy has been openly suggested (let alone followed) for ending anti-Israeli terrorism even though everybody knows what the strategy must be. Proud? Perhaps once.

    No doubt the early Israeli establishment sincerely believed in the values they were advocating. But the script has now been reversed and few members of that establishment’s audience even care to listen. It behooves everybody to ask: Why?

  12. David Gold says:

    There must be memorials to the Holocaust, both ritual and monumental.

    The *only* way Jews have remembered is through historical events. Historically speaking, the Cursades were not nearly as devastating to Jewish life on the Rhine as collective memory would have us believe. The reason the Crusade memory is so fresh for us is because of the kinus we say memorializing the communities destroyed by the Crusaders.

    So we must have ritual memorializing the Holocaust.
    But we must also have monuments commemorating the event. Today, most Jews do not take part in Jewish ritual, and they too need and deserve commemoration of the Holocaust.
    Also, such a crime is not only for Jews, for Jews did not perpetrate it. The world needs to remember as well. For Jews and the world, monuments to the Holocaust are needed.

  13. Tzvi says:

    The objection to having a day other than Tisha b’av as a day of mourning is bogus. The va’ad arba ha’aratzos instituted a fast day for chaf sivan in memory of those martyred in Tach V’Tat (including laining vayechal). It is brought down in the Magen avraham, and the sh”ach, and I think the Tosfos Yom Tov too. If Tach V’tat can have a day of mourning that is not Tisha b’av, I don’t see why it’s a problem for the holocaust to have one.

  14. naomi israel says:

    Shira Schmidt writes in her Jerusalem Post article “…he did not allow himself prolonged mourning for his own losses but instead…” While I did not know the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l, having read of his piety and sensitivity, I’m certain it would be more accurate to say: “despite” or “in the midst of” his prolonged mourning he…As someone whose child also died “al kidush hashem”, I would direct Ms. Schmidt, to the writings of the “Eish Kodesh” zt”l, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, who conveyed very accurately and eloquently the never-ending pain of a bereaved parent.
    naomi israel

  15. Ahron says:

    “Monuments to the Holocaust are needed”? Exactly how many more such monuments does the world “need”? Those who wish to do evil will do so regardless of the number of Holocaust monuments we set up on street corners and city blocks. The compulsion to “remember the Holocaust” is most often used by disconnected or unlearned Jews as a psychological substitute for deep, real and regular Jewish involvement.

    Remembering evil–being aware of its presence and its danger–is a direct commandment from the Torah. But the knowledge and plan of how to respond when evil is present does not come from our bizarre submergence in guilt and pain from the past–a past whose pre-destruction substance most of the “remember-ers” are completely alienated from. The proliferation of Holocaust memorials has done little to increase either reasoned thinking or Jewish involvement within the Jewish community–and it has done equally little to educate Jews in the identification and rejection of genuine evil.

  16. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Ahron: Instead of “a new Jew…brave and strong defending his homeland,” the dominant paradigm in modern Israel is personal and social angst, and a general abandonment of the hope of affecting our fate in any positive way aside from awaiting diktats from the political class.

    Ori: Secular Israeli culture was built on two ideologies that were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Socialism and Nationalism. Both of those ideologies lost a lot of their popularity, and appear discredited. Without them, secular Israelies are left with a country that demands more of it’s people, and give them less, than most other western countries.

  17. Diane Hartman Cudo says:

    In support of David Hatuel’s decision, and with all due respect to monuments: We have a dearth of “good news” in the media these days. What a light and a blessing it is to read of steps being taken to enhance the lives of those who remain in the wake of tragedy, whether it is the loss of a soldier, a “civilian soldier” whose life was destroyed by murderous terrorism, orin memory of a life snatched away during the Holocaust. The living still live. Yes, we need place bound, eyecatching monuments here and there, but lives enriched with those same funds change lives. The millions spent in Germany on a memorial could have been pared down, with most of the funding going to build a better future for Jewish children. Let us continue to seek the right balance.

  18. Harry Maryles says:

    Those Israelis who experienced the holocaust have the most legitimate right to evaluate what the the State of Israel means to them. No one has a greater right than them. The Klausenberger Rebbe has the same right to ignore it, as the Sadugerer Rebbe has to celebrate it. I’m tired of all those who continually find fault with the the State, whether it is the way they observe Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, or Yom HaArtzmaut. Yes there is what to criticize. But there is a context that all but ignored.

    It is… oh so easy(!) …for us to sit back in our comfortable chairs and find fault. We who didn’t live through the concentration camps, the DP camps… WE …can pontificate about the nefarious founders of Medina and “this or that” national event established by them. Yes, those dastardly Zionists… those people who so eagerly rejected the Torah and built that rejection into their very asperations of Zionism… How can we possibly say anything good about what such people did? It was all evil!

    Well if you want to know how, find an elderly holocaust survivor who came to Israel after spending some time in those DP camps. Maybe he can answer that question for you.

  19. Aryeh says:

    –“secular Israelies are left with a country that demands more of it’s people, and give them less, than most other western countries.”

    A friend of mine has a cousin who grew up in Israel, served in the Army, but then came to America to attend college (I don’t remember the details but it had to do with the fact that she couldn’t pay for college there but somehow managed to get financial aid here) and now’s doing a Ph. D. in English in Yale. Her description was “I gave that country (Israel) everything and it gave me nothing. I gave this country (US) nothing and it gave me everything.”
    It hurts the eye to read it and the ears to hear it, but apparently it illustrates what Ori said. If this feeling is indeed common, then perhaps the only thing that’s stopping the depopulation of Israel is the fact that it’s hard to get a green card. Which is also very sad.
    Maybe the only “good” thing about this is that eventually things will hit the bottom and will have nowhere to go but up.

  20. Toby Katz says:

    “Well if you want to know how, find an elderly holocaust survivor who came to Israel after spending some time in those DP camps. Maybe he can answer that question for you.”

    Unfortunately I know several elderly Holocaust survivors who went to Israel after the war, but then subsequently ended up living in America because life was impossibly difficult in Israel during the early decades.

    We love Eretz Yisrael because it is our home and our Holy Land, but the secular Medinah is at best a mixed blessing. Ask a Russian patriot like Alexander Solzhenetsyn if it is possible to love a country and its people while believing that its government is a disaster. For that matter, ask John Kerry.

    I happen to know, BTW, that R’ Harry Maryles lives in Chicago.

    The irony that there are hordes of armchair Zionists living in America, while the largest number of olim come from the anti-Zionist charedi camp, has not escaped me.

  21. Steve Brizel says:

    Once again, we see rhetoric substituted for facts. How many “anti Zionist Charedim” make aliyah in the fullest sense of the word, as opposed to “learning for a few years” and retain US citizenship for themselves and their children or even worse renounce Israeli citizenship?

  22. sarah elias says:

    What’s so horrible about refusing to “make aliyah”, when doing so means becoming a citizen of a state you abhor or don’t recognize? The money they pour into the Israeli economy is the same, or even more, in any case.

    In any event, most likely more anti-Zionist charedim make aliyah “in the fullest sense of the word” than any other olim, if you define the word as it was defined for centuries; i.e., a spiritual ascent.

  23. Bob Miller says:

    Has anyone determined which percentage of each category of American olim to Israel has retained dual citizenship? Or has remained permanently in Israel? And what have been the trends over time?

    If the data are not available, I’d say that any statement about this falls under rhetoric.

  24. Max Stesel says:

    I admire anybody who celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut this year, as long as they were not delusional. There is no question that Israel had positive effect on millions of Jews during the course of its existence. In the dark dungeon, that was former Soviet Union, for millions of Jews who were already cut off from Mesorah, Israel was spiritual life-line for 40 years. As a child, my Jewish identity revolved around Israel, and its military triumphs were the only Jewish joy I experienced.
    The existence and victories of Israel are G-d’s gifts for which we must be eternally greatful. We certainly must be greatful to those whose courageous efforts facilitated and continue to facilitate the existence of Israel.
    At the same time, looking at the situation today it is hard to refrain from mourning rather than celebrating. The evacuation of Gaza Jews, and the contemplated evacuation of West Bank settlements reflects the moral character of Israel and, unfortunatily, many of its citizens. It is not just abandonment of ancestral lands, it is not just shortsightness of giving up lands, which soldiers will be forced to reconquer to guarantee basic security, it is a manner in which it is executed. Putting tens of thousands into hotels and tent camps, executing evacuation before adequate housing and funds to reimburse for job loss are in place. Israel had wreaked small humanitarian disaster on a sector of its citizens, and G-d forbid, is planning a larger humanitarian disaster. And the voters, they could care less. They either did not go to the polls or placed their votes with parties who promote or do not acitively oppose wreaking humanitarian disasters.
    Jews in Israel are plagued either with total Jewish ignorance, or worse hatred for committed Torah Jews, and unfortunatily committed Torah Jews are plagued with extreme sectarianism. So I have no taste for celebration. I am also greatly saddened by my own situation and that of millions of Jews outside Israel, who for variety of reasons failed to come home.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    Ms. Elias-If you don’t recognize the State of Israel for whatever theological or hashkafic reasons, that is your prerogative. Just curious-when you refer to money being poured into the economy, are you referring to US dollars, NIS or unofficial financial resources? AFAIK, anyone who spends a single NIS is utilizing the financial resources and currency of EY, al pi halacha, like it or not. Please name one sefer and cite a passage therefrom wherein “aliyah” means a spiritual ascent. I am familiar with the term of art known among bnei Yeshiva as “bnei aliyah”-that term is not necessarily geographically limited to EY.

  26. Jewish Observer says:

    “The irony that there are hordes of armchair Zionists living in America, while the largest number of olim come from the anti-Zionist charedi camp, has not escaped me.”

    Sounds like you agree that one’s physical investment in a cause gives him more of a right to an opinion on the matter.

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