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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News November 2001

November 16, 2001


The Memorial Foundation organized a successful colloquium on "Jewish Consciousness and Education One Half Century After the Shoah", in Ashkelon on October 14-17, 2001. This conference was a follow-up to the earlier meeting in Ashkelon sponsored by the Foundation on May 7-9, 2000, dealing with the Impact of the Holocaust on Jewish Theology and Thought.

As at Ashkelon I, outstanding academics and thinkers from 3 continents, ranging across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines and representing the diverse religious and ideological sectors of the Jewish community, including the Haredi community, participated in the deliberations. The meetings were again chaired by Prof. Eliezer Schweid of Hebrew University and Prof. Steven Katz, Chairman of the Dept. of Jewish Studies, Boston University and Co-chairman of the Foundation's Commission on the Holocaust.

The meeting was remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, this meeting took an important step forward in an area of the Shoah to which we have assigned high priority — the integration of the Holocaust into Jewish philosophy, thought and theology.

In our earlier work at the Foundation, major emphasis was given to history, documenting the tragedy of the Holocaust. The most important contribution in this phase of our work was the preparation and publication of the Pinkasei Hakehilot, the history of the destroyed Jewish communities in Europe.

In recent decades we also have begun to stimulate work in Holocaust education, making great strides in this area in creative collaboration with Yad Vashem, which I explained in my earlier reports.

The Foundation in recent years has sought to move beyond history and education to the impact of the Shoah on Jewish Theology and Thought. At this meeting we continued the important conversation we initiated at Ashkelon I regarding the integration of the Holocaust into Jewish religious philosophical and theological thought. The papers presented at Ashkelon I, which received positive critical response and which were disseminated at our biennial meeting in Turkey in July 2000, will soon be published as a book.

A second volume growing out of the Foundation's pioneering efforts in this area will be a Reader in Shoah Theology. This reader will contain approximately 600 printed pages of primary sources, much of it never before published and originally written in several languages — Hebrew, Yiddish, and German. The volume will include a lengthy Introductory Essay by the editors, placing the material in a larger historical context.

The selections will be grouped under three sections: Writings During the Shoah; Writings after the Shoah between 1945 and 1967; and Writings after 1967.

The chief editor of both volumes will be Prof. Steven Katz.

Secondly, and most critical component of Ashkelon II, was the first steps taken there to explore the implications and educational consequences of the theological and philosophic dimension of the Shoah.

Holocaust education, in our view, cannot proceed effectively in the 21st century without decisive progress in the area of integrating the Holocaust into Jewish religious, philosophical, and theological thought. Holocaust education, by our definition, is not only learning about the Holocaust.

More fundamentally, Holocaust education means making the Shoah an integral part of Jewish education, connecting it with the Jewish experience and tradition. Holocaust education can only grow and flow by consolidating the Holocaust within our own cultural and religious heritage. That means that the Holocaust must not be perceived as a unique monster event outside the parameters of our past, separated from all that has preceded it in Jewish history and thought.

At Ashkelon II, we took a major first step towards the development of a new conceptual framework and paradigm for Holocaust education, based on the Jewish theological and philosophical dimensions of the Shoah. There was also a vigorous discussion devoted to what will be the character of Jewish education in the next half-century, so that Jewish Holocaust education can be shaped to the new contours of the Jewish educational enterprise of the future.

Thirdly, like Ashkelon I, in the three days of intensive deliberation on a variety of exceedingly complex and highly provocative religious, theological, philosophical and educational issues dealing with the Holocaust, the participants maintained an ambiance of harmony, respect, and civilized discourse throughout, unusual at meetings with such diverse, contrasting and deeply held positions regarding the Holocaust.

There were excellent papers and discussions on: The Problem of Confirmation and Disconfirmation in Jewish Theology after the Holocaust; The Meaning of the Central Concepts in Jewish Religious Thought after the Shoah; The Universal and Particular Dimensions in the Torah; Status and Role of Historical Experience in Jewish Theology and Thought; Jewish Unity; Theological and Philosophic Dimensions of the Shoah: Their Implications and Consequences for Jewish Education; The Impact of the Shoah on Jewish Education and Jewish Consciousness, Past and Future; The Place of Holocaust in Jewish Consciousness Fifty Years After the Shoah; The Universal and Particular as Foci for Determining the Place of the Holocaust in Jewish Education, and Jewish Consciousness and Education on the Threshold of the 21st Century.


Next Steps

The continuation of this process, which hopefully will take place at Ashkelon III, is vital for both individual Jews and the Jewish community. By expanding our conceptual framework in the direction recommended by Ashkelon I and II, we will, hopefully, be better equipped to communicate the meaning of the Holocaust from the Jewish theological and religious perspective.

Ashkelon II, therefore, marks an important advance in the Memorial Foundation's ongoing endeavor to re-conceptualize our work in Holocaust education for the next generation of Jewish youth in the 21st century, who will be increasingly seeking answers about the Shoah.

Best wishes for a joyous Chanukah.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President