Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. As the numbers of Holocaust survivors diminish, the event becomes relegated to the historical memory of the Jewish people. Such memory is difficult to access for those on the periphery of the Jewish community, especially those who aren’t Jewish but are intermarried, and who are now living within the orbit of the Jewish community.
This may not be the case for their children. In our study of adult children of intermarriage (aged 22-30 in Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco), we learned some interesting things about the determinants of their religious identity. Since the majority of them did not have an education within our Jewish communal institutions, much what they learned about Judaism came from secular sources: reading Anne Frank in High School; seeing Schindler’s List in college. And much of what is in the public realm emerges from sources related to the Holocaust. Thus, much of their Jewish identity is shaped in this regard.
This stands in sharp contrast to what is taking place inside Jewish educational institutions, where there is less emphasis on the Holocaust and the survival of the state of Israel, and more on celebrating the joys of Judaism. A lachrymose approach to the study of Judaism has been eclipsed. (By the way, these two identities may clash when these two student groups find each other on college campuses.)
So while the Holocaust and Yom Hashoah may not be the way to approach the majority of children inside the Jewish community, I wonder what the implications of these findings are with regard to education and the public observance of Yom Hashoah—especially as the numbers of adult children of intermarriage continue to grow.
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