23 April 2011


sally ryan for the new york times
Edward Rothstein's review of the new Holocaust museum in Skokie, Illinois had me asking the question I've asked on more than one occasion:  When do we know that we have reached the limit of Holocaust museums?  The reviews essentially write themselves and in this particular occasion, I actually found myself agreeing with Rothstein for once, who questions the leap to the universal so quickly in the Skokie museum's curricular mandates about teaching the Shoah's relevance to a contemporary generation.  Having spent a few sessions this year visiting our 6th grade classes at CBE who study the Shoah, I felt especially mixed about the educational mandate to make the Holocaust "relevant" to a new generation of Jews by teaching them to think broadly about the Shoah's horrors and how they apply to life today for other people--what Rothstein points to as the "upstanders" and the "bystanders" (as brought to you by Barbra Streisand)--perfectly correct moral stances but so deeply disturbing in a way that we are now using philanthropic dollars ($45 million for the Skokie museum) to teach bourgeois American Jews that Darfur is bad, too.

Of course Darfur is bad; and as you might have seen over the weekend in Tablet, David Simon says that New Orleans is bad, too.  These are the self-evident lessons we Jews have been expected commanded to know since our Exodus from Egypt (Moses was an "upstander.")

I admire Simon his cantankerousness.  And I think he's morally correct to at least question communal priorities that don't place enough emphasis on our obligation to help the truly oppressed in our society.  What could be a greater lesson of our own one-time enslavement?

Equally, I keep thinking about that number I read today in the Rothstein article.  $45 million.  I think about our aching, troubled buildings.  I think of the hundreds we have each Shabbat, seeking a meaningful connection to Jewish life.  I think of the meals we make for the sick; the shiva minyans we organize; the work we're doing with the New York State prison system via the Osborne Association; the hunger and feeding programs we're starting.  So many demands by Jews; so many needs of the poor non-Jews in our community and beyond.  Given the near universal accessibility of the internet; the accessibility of the Holocaust Museum in DC; the millions of tourists who visit Israel and tour Yad Vashem; is it heretical to ask whether or not we need yet another Holocaust museum?

For more than three thousand years we have been remembering our enslavement in Egypt through a small, concise book--the Haggadah--and the ritual of remembering has sustained us as a people as well.  Songs and food played no small part, too.

The synagogue, which has sustained Jewish life for two thousand years, is a bargain compared to these museums.

Whatever happened to Jews making sound investments?

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