Finding Meaning After the Holocaust

Responding to the challenge of faith in a post-Holocaust world.

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The best example of this is the story of Esther, the quintessential account of the Jewish exile in a non- Jewish land. God did not appear and is not mentioned, but it is understood that He acted behind the scenes, able to exert His influence once the Jews themselves had accepted responsibility for their situation and took steps to affect its outcome. As we went out into the world, we were supposed to assume more of the burden of the Israel-God partnership that had been established to improve the world.

Making Sense of Our Relationship with God

Acceptance of our role in countering evil does not necessarily militate against the view that the covenant was broken. The fact that He had told us to expect such treatment was no excuse. Whether out of sadism, indifference, shame, sorrow, or the mistaken belief that humans would rise to the potential of our responsibility, God, in letting His people so severely suffer, was seen [by some] to have canceled the contract.

In the end, [though,] walking away from God and Judaism only leaves a void. What system of belief compares? (Hermann Broder, the central character of Isaac Bashevis Singer's postwar novel, Enemies: A Love Story, finds all sociopolitical alternatives bankrupt.) No model of social justice or rationale for longstanding hope has been devised to supplant the Jewish view of the world and Jewish destiny.

Choosing Life

In reply to the Holocaust, the overwhelming response has been to reconnect with Jewish tradition in some way, to rebel against Hitler's attempt to destroy Jewish lives and values by asserting them, to counter his plan to eliminate witness to evil by more forcefully refusing to give up as the world's conscience. Confronted with the power of evil in the world, we have chosen to renew our job to fight against it.

The Holocaust proved that our mission is far from finished, and if we do not fulfill it, it is unlikely the world will adopt it. Against unrelenting efforts to destroy us, we Jews have responded by embracing life, giving birth, rebuilding, and providing support for fellow Jews and Jewish causes in unprecedented volume.

At the beginning of Creation, the vessels meant to hold Divine light proved too weak and shattered. So another means of sending spirituality into the world was devised. The first set of tablets of the Ten Commandments, the tangible contract between God and His people, were smashed and had to be replaced.

The Covenant was Not Fully Destroyed

The post-Holocaust world--a world in which we know the possibilities of evil--demands no less an opportunity for repair. The covenant, along with the Jewish people, tradition, and memory--even if torn up or torn from us--like the dream it represents, was not fully destroyed. Without satisfactorily being able to answer the questions thrust on us by the Holocaust, we have, as Rabbi Greenberg explains, volunteered to pick up the crumpled, sullied agreement, proclaiming our intention to move ahead under its terms, waving it in God's face, challenging Him to meet our commitment by fulfilling His promises.

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Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally. She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.