Auschwitz entrance
Auschwitz entrance Thinkstock

Tuesday marks the fast of the tenth of Tevet, a day not only marking the beginning of the destruction of the Temples, but also the Chief Rabbinate's designated day to commemorate Holocaust victims whose dates of death remain unknown. 

Arutz Sheva spoke to Rabbanit Esther Farbstein, head of the Center for Holocaust Studies at Jerusalem College in Bayit Vegan, to find out more about how the Israeli public relates to Holocaust education in light of the increase in commemorative days for the period. 

Despite fears about generations after the Holocaust losing interest in the period and what the horrors mean, more and more members of the general public want to know more about the Holocaust in general and what the tenth of Tevet represents in this context in particular. 

"As we get further away from the Holocaust, more young people are interested and want to hear about it," she said. 

Grandparents have been the key to assuring that the memories of the Holocaust remain fresh, she said, as grandparents opened their hearts to their grandchildren to tell their stories - at least, in the religious sector. 

"At Jerusalem College and in the Beit Yaakov [haredi school system - ed.] and other places to which I visit there is no sense that the memory [of the Holocaust] is fading," she said. "We are looking for ways to make it easier and more accessible."

Lessons about the Holocaust are no longer history lessons, but also lessons about the historical processes leading up to that time, lessons on philosophy and faith, and an opportunity to hear personal stories from survivors. 

Overall, there are few differences between how the haredi and national-religious worlds approach the Holocaust, she noted. The exception: questions relating to the Holocaust and Judaism. While haredi students often wonder how survivors prayed and kept the commandments, or wonder whether victims could be observant Jews under those circumstances, national-religious students ask questions about how survivors kept their faith in general. 

"The haredi public is accustomed to the idea that we don't understand many things in life and that faith does not stem from logic, but from the impact of Torah on a person's life," she explained.

Substantial differences do exist, however, between how the Holocaust is taught in the overarching religious sector and how it is taught vis-a-vis the secular public. 

The problem: a tendency to "universalize" the Holocaust in the secular education system, with an emphasis on the evils of xenophobia and racism. 

"The Holocaust is increasingly perceived as a difficult event in human history rather than the main event of the Jewish people," she said. "This general approach stems from a desire to be part of the family of nations".

The difference particularly manifests in how students from differing sectors perceive the typical trip to Poland, and to concentration camps, high school students take at the end of the academic year. Religious Jews in Israel consider the journey a means of reconnecting to their roots, and an inner journey of self; secular Jews see the trip as more of a historical tour. 

The Rabbanit cautioned about the tendency to make the Holocaust too universal.

"It's not that [this generation] does not want to hear the testimonies of Jews in the Holocaust, days of commemoration and mutual aid resulting from the Jews," she noted. "They want to hear it; there's no disrespect."

"For them, it is not 'our' tragedy vs. 'theirs': it's a lesson for all of us," she said. "Their hearts are attentive and a strong Jewish spark remained from the Holocaust [...] there is a great thirst and I speak the same way to the religious and the general public."

She warned, however, that while "the Holocaust can serve as an anchor of Jewish identity, it's fading away as a blurred memory in the wake of universalization." 

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