My Holiday, Their Tragedy

by Baruch Kimmerling

April 17, 2002



As a Jew, an atheist and a Zionist, I have two memorial days in my country, Israel. One for the Holocaust and one for soldiers who fell in wars. I also have one day of celebration, the anniversary of the day Israel declared its statehood. That is to say, my calendar was and has remained a civil calendar. I am aware that the vast majority of Jews in this country, including those who define themselves as secular, celebrate other holidays as well (Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, etc.) that are religiously derived and are perceived to be a part of the national tradition. However, these holidays seem anachronistic to me, both in their content and the way in which they are celebrated. Although I respect anyone who celebrates them in any manner, I do not identify with them.


Beyond that, ever since I have had an opinion I have also maintained my own interpretations, which have articulated over time, of these commemorative days that connect me (even an individualist like me) to the majority of the citizens of the country and the world.  Without going into biographical details, Holocaust Memorial Day was and remains the most terrible of these, a day whose horror and magnitude are incomprehensible to me as an individual, but ties members of my family to each other and Jewish people to one another, whomever and wherever they are and whom I feel a part of. As time has passed, awareness and horror of Holocaust Memorial Day have grown and, with them, aversion to the official manner in which the Holocaust is commemorated and the "moral" we learn from it.


It is horrifying to realize that,despite the fact that the essence of the Holocaust was the genocide of the Jewish people, we tend to forget, induce oversight of, and even hide the fact that gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, communists, priests, and Germans who opposed the Nazi regime were killed in extermination camps alongside Jews. The transformation of the Holocaust into a solely Jewish tragedy, as opposed to a universal event, only weakens its significance and its legitimacy, tarnishing us and the memory of the victims. Likewise, its unnecessary overuse by Jews in Israel and the rest of the world, particularly political bodies, has made the Holocaust banal. Above all, a provocative and dangerous approach has bought a place in our hearts: that Jews, as the victims of the Holocaust, are permitted to treat goyim however they want. Forceful and condescending, "anti-gentile-ism" is identical to criminal anti-Semitism. 


If in my approach to the Holocaust, the way it's commemorated and its moral, I have more than a few comrades in Israeli society, I am aware that almost no one joins me in my approach to those who fell in wars and battles. The Jewish - Arab conflict, and the Jewish - Palestinian conflict in particular, has had many victims and caused great suffering. I admit that I am closer to the victims from my own people, for personal reasons and because of my familiarity and personal experience with many of them or members of their families.  What can I do?  A person is closer to his own friends, tribe, and people.  Along with that, however, I cannot forget or refrain from mourning the victims of this bloody conflict and feel deep empathy with those who have suffered and still suffer as a result of the fatal encounter between Jews and Arabs in this land. I hope that the day will come when we will commemorate together and mourn together, Jews and Arabs alike, for all of the victims of the conflict. Only then will we be able to live together in this place in safety.


Independence Day is a holiday for me, but also an opportunity for intense self-introspection.  A person needs a state and land, and this is my land, my homeland, despite the fact that I was not born here. I am proud of the unprecedented accomplishments of this country, and feel personally responsible for its failures, foolishness, injustice, evil, and its oppression of its citizens and residents (Jewish, Arab, and others) as well as of those who are defined and defined themselves as her enemies. I know that my holiday, a day of joy and pride for me, is a day of mourning and tragedy for some of Israel's citizens and, more so, for members of the Palestinian people everywhere.  I know that as long as we, all Jews everywhere, do not acknowledge this, we will not be able to live here in safety, every man and woman under their vine and under their fig tree.


Happy holidays, Israel.



Baruch Kimmerling is professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The article was submitted to the New York Times, but was not published.