Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Bronfman’s musings on Yom HaShoah

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Edgar M. Bronfman and Taylor Krauss wrote an op ed for Jewcy describing the Jewish generation gap regarding Jewish self-interest in contrast to Jewish responsibility to others:

Jews of an older generation guard the language of the Holocaust against use by others stems from fear for Jewish survival. The older generation of Jews, those who lived through the atrocities of the Holocaust, saw the world stand aside as Jews perished in concentration camps. They responded with the resolve to fight anti-Semitism worldwide and to ensure Jewish cultural continuity. But a tragedy of our Holocaust is that humanity has not absorbed the lesson its horrors should have taught. Asserting “Never Again” for all does not mean denying the unprecedented nature of the Holocaust. It means keeping its memory alive in the service of others.

Young American Jews have been active in the fight against genocide-recording survivor testimony in Rwanda, caring for survivors in Cambodia, raising awareness for Darfur. This generation seems unwilling to be aligned with an attitude that privileges Jewish suffering. Having grown up in a country where anti-Semitism is no longer a part of daily life, they are less concerned with the struggle for Jewish survival than with a search for joy and meaning in Judaism. They resist the call for self-protection, and instead focus on the Jewish value of justice and the pursuit of tikkun olam, the repair of the world. This confidence and openness should inspire hope for a newly vibrant Jewish life. But the embrace of the second “Never Again” has also come at the cost of the first. The younger generation tends to gloss over the real dangers that Jews face today, which include the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the threat to Israel from a nuclear Iran.

Edgar M. Bronfman used to quote his mentor Nachum Goldman, “Anti-semitism good for Judaism, bad for Jews. No anti-semitism, good for Jews and bad for Judaism.” As the first director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, my expressed goal for this diverse community was to make those who were very insular a little more open, and to make those who were open a little more insular. These same sentiments are expressed beautifully by Edgar the elder and Taylor, a young film maker in his twenties. The fact that they are writing together is a wonderful testimony to what is possible.

A side note. In their article, the famous statement of Hillel is quoted: If I’m not for myself… They understand it to mean that Jews have to be concerned both with their own community and the world. This may be a mistranslation. A more accurate translation might be:

If I’m not for myself who will be for me, and when I am for myself what am I? (Not, if I’m for myself alone which was a much more recent gloss on this 1st Century document).

The question being, what does it mean to be for yourself? One might answer that it means one should not only consider himself in order to be “truly for ones self”. The fact that Edgar and Taylor know the popular translation “if I’m for myself alone…” as “the” translation shows how we would like to understand Hillel and understand ourselves through this interpretation. For those who have Hebrew enabled browsers, here is Hillel in Hebrew:

אם אין אני לי מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי מה אני
On the other hand, the people have spoken, and this is how they’ve chosen to understand Hillel. This has a veracity independent of the pretentious nitpicking of translators such as myself.
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