If “remembering the Holocaust” is an essential part of what it means to be Jewish, then it follows that a substantial core of Jewish identity is primarily defined by heinous acts committed by Nazis upon Jews. In a tragic twist of history, it is the enemy who now writes the story of Jewish identity and who determines its emphases.

Perhaps even more regrettably, this “essential” feature of being Jewish is characterized by gaping loss, appalling destruction, and unremitting sadness. Hence, according to the popular view, the most pivotal component of Jewishness actually emerged post-1933 in the form of a horrendous cataclysm that was fashioned by others; and Jewishness is devoted to recalling this nightmare so that nobody should forget what happened.

Let there be no doubt: it is vitally important to remember the Holocaust and its lessons. But it is also vitally important to acknowledge that remembering the Holocaust is no more essential to being Jewish than remembering 9-11 is essential to being American. Both memories are of great consequence, but neither shapes the “essential meaning” of the nation.

Rabbi Dr. Daniel Schiff, “Remembering Our Identity”, eJewish Philanthropy (2 January 2014).

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