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How will the Facebook generation teach the Holocaust?

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06/01/2009

The 20 and 30 something liberal Jews of today partake in Jewish practice to whatever degree it suits their needs. Be it dating, eating, drinking, traveling to Israel for free, the overwhelming sentiment is “What can Judaism do for me?”

This is a post modern phenomena and to some degree a successful one. Jewish continuity has been achieved to some degree via dining on free Shabbat meals, cheering l’chaim at the Chabad house, and traveling to Israel via Taglit-Birthright Israel programs.

Whether or not this kind of Judaism can be sustained given the current collapse of the economy is unclear. What is clear is that unless a 20 or 30-something finds Jewish identity advantageous to their broader life goals, it disappears with perhaps the exception of an extended family occasion.

It’s hard for me to preach the benefits of Jewish practice, as although I am committed to Jewish education, community and Israel, I make my hellos quick or avoid saying them at all to the observant friends and acquaintances walking down Broadway at about 12:30 p.m. every Shabbat and holiday. Last Friday, you would have found me holding a Walgreens bag with self tanner to even out my crazy tan lines from my most recent trip to Israel and my observant friends were heading to eat cheese lasagna on Shavuot.

Despite my own lack of an observance, there is an issue within the Jewish world that is causing me great alarm and I’m afraid that modern day narcissism will get in the way of its preservation in the memory of future generations—the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust, that’s the most remembered thing ever.”

True, numerous museums are dedicated to the subject including a new one in our backyard. But as Holocaust survivors pass away and Jewish identity fades, I can’t help but wonder how our generation will respond to commemorating the tragedy that befell six million Jews.

While all of us learned about the Holocaust in Hebrew school, camps, day schools and even public schools, how many of us are actually willing to prioritize the transmission of the horrors of the Holocaust to future generations? There is nothing visceral to gain from teaching about the Holocaust. In fact, it’s quite horrible and depressing.

As a generation of people who won’t do things just because we have to, how will we prioritize teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to our children and our neighbors’ children?

Whatever our generation’s norms are, they can’t continue when it comes to passing on the lessons of the Holocaust to future generations. Those of us who identify as Jews, no matter our observance or interest, must take on this responsibility. Because if we won’t no one else will, and it is our responsibility to make sure that the Shoah never happens again. How you approach this is up to you. There are many avenues in which to transmit Holocaust studies. You have to choose one that you are willing to do (museum donations, meeting with school officials to see how they tackle the Holocaust in classes, telling the stories of survivors, working on behalf of organization to prevent and fight other genocides).

We can’t be the generation that screws this up. We must remember. Even if it’s not fun. Even if it’s not easy. Even if we don’t directly reap the benefits.

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