Tomorrow at 1:30pm Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony will be conducted at the Jewish Community Center. I will not be attending this year because last year I cried. There are not many things that can make an almost 40-year old cynical man cry, but when the Holocaust Survivors walked on the stage followed by their children and grandchildren representing continuity of generations, I couldn’t hold it back. It’s hard to imagine what these people went through. The number of Jews who died in the Holocaust is incomprehensible, 4 times the population of the Kansas City Metro were brutally robbed and murdered for no reason other than their nationality. People who survived and were able to build new lives from the ashes are saints. Not only they preserved their culture and heritage, they made every effort to preserve their memories and experiences, pass on the word about the horrors, dedicated their lives to teaching the following generations about the history in order to prevent a relapse.
When I was growing up, being Jewish was “easy”. I had a passport were my nationality was clearly stated for everyone to see. All I had to do is be born and have Jewish parents. We didn’t really do many Jewish things; once a year my Dad would go to the synagogue to get matzoh but I always thought it was just a kind of cracker. My nationality always concerned people around me more than it did me. Once in a while they felt obligated to call me names, I really didn’t take much offense to that, some people just were idiots and there was nothing I could do about it. In the years prior, my Mom and Dad experienced some real discrimination when there were quotas on number of Jews admitted to colleges and things like famous “doctor’s plot” when Jewish doctors were accused of plotting to kill Stalin and other party leaders.
After the demise of the Soviet Union many Jews started reacquainting themselves with their culture and religion. I don’t believe in god and many of the activities were religion-related so I stayed away. When we came here, a volunteer took as to the synagogue but I didn’t feel comfortable, people were praying and I, of course, didn’t. Since then I went to the synagogue only if invited to some event like a wedding. I like the customs and just ignore the praying part.I am a member of the Jewish Community Center but mostly for the summer camp, the gym and the pool.
So here I am, trying to reconcile my heritage, my upbringing and my absence of religion. Being Jewish is so tightly intertwined with being religious that I am not sure how to define myself. I don’t want to lose the connection but I can’t bring myself to mechanically repeat the words of prayers I don’t believe in. Many people do for whatever reason but if there is a god wouldn’t he know that you are insincere? I feel that if I let it go I will be betraying generations of my ancestors, who suffered through ghettos, pogroms and persevered, but I just don’t feel that I belong. Maybe it will come with time.
In the meantime I cry when I watch videos like this. These are my people. I just need to find my spot among them.
Update: This year I added few more posts on the subject.
Holocaust Remembrance Day: Odessa Jewish Ghetto
Holocaust Remembrance Day: Extermination of Odessa Jews