The next time some guy with Ron Jeremy’s facial hair tries to screw with Jewdar, he’d better bring his bitchin’, bass-heavy, 1970’s-style porno soundtrack. This past week, the Jewish Week ran an opinion piece by Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, which made some rather nasty comments about your favorite—well, whatever it is we are.
The Nutmeg State clergyman attempts to castigate what he sees as the problem with young people today, namely, that they don’t give the Holocaust the reverence to which Rabbi Hammerman thinks it’s entitled, going so far as to suggest that "shockmeisters" (Please note, his word, not ours) like Jewdar and Sholom Auslander are a "greater danger to the memory of the Holocaust" than even Holocaust deniers. He then contrasts this danger with his own holier-than-Jewdar behavior, having the audacity to suggest that just as the rabbis of yore built a "fence around the Torah" to prevent Jews from violating Jewish Law, so too should we "protect the memory of the slain" by building a "fence around Auschwitz," which is kind of funny, seeing as how the Nazis actually did that and it didn’t end happily for the Yidn.
Rabbi Hammerman’s purported piety towards the Holocaust is so great that it even infuses the games he plays with his kids. For those of you who might not already know, the game Apples to Apples involves a judge playing a card with an adjective and players putting down cards with nouns that provide either a real or humorous relationship to the adjective. (e.g., the judge may play a card that says "Plain," and players might play "Canada" "Surfing," "Harry Potter" or whatever, and the judge decides which wins.)
Rabbi Hammerman owns the Jewish version, and one of the cards, apparently, is "Anne Frank." Despite oozing the mustachioed ruggedness of a young Saddam Hussein, Rabbi Hammerman insists that no matter what the adjective, whoever plays the Anne Frank card automatically wins: After all, he argues, it would be insulting to the memory of the 6 million if "Schmaltz Herring" bested "Anne Frank" in the Hammerman household.
The newspaper piece is so crappy that we don’t know where to begin, but our lack of knowledge has never prevented us from meeting a deadline before, so here we go:
1. Rabbi Hammerman plays a parlor game that features an Anne Frank card, and he thinks that I’m offensive?
2. Rabbi Hammerman links Jewdar with a “generational seismic shift," which has resulted in the Holocaust being viewed as an abstraction. Now, we don’t know what generation he is from, but Jewdar’s father was a refugee who came to America in 1940 while most of his extended family was murdered in Europe. Our refusal to sacralize the Holocaust has nothing to do with our lack of awareness of its historical or personal significance.
3. If “The Anne Frank Rule” in Apples to Apples were intended ironically, it would be nothing more than a pretty funny bit of Holocaust humor. The fact that he intends it seriously makes it, instead, a super-hilarious example of precisely the sort of lunacy that we find so offensive. (Does Rabbi Hammerman actually believe that the Anne Frank rule is somehow honoring the memory of anyone who died? That Anne Frank would actually care that her card trumped “Farfel” or “Baal Shem Tov”? And if she did care, would she actually want it to trump those cards? Would this child, who had to spend her last years in various forms of hell, want to know that today, generations after her death, her name is used to inject a small dose of misery into some other Jewish child’s game?)
4. When we make jokes about the Holocaust, it’s not the Holocaust we’re mocking; it’s the arrogance of supposed leaders who have decided that the Holocaust is a suitable replacement for Jewish culture and belief. We aren’t making these jokes for the benefit of the survivors, and don’t expect them to find them funny; we’re making them for those Jews who are tired of seeing the Holocaust belittled and diminished by those who would use it as a fundraising tool or a means of guilting people into "being Jewish."
5. While Rabbi Hammerman’s feelings about the Holocaust are doubtlessly sincere, they are also, in a way, destructive. Decades ago, the great historian Salo Baron criticized “the lachrymose version of Jewish history,” the tendency of many to focus on Jewish suffering as opposed to Jewish creativity. What would Baron have made of the way Rabbi Hammerman and his peers have taken three-thousand years of Jewish history and reduced it to a dozen years of persecution and genocide? You want a “generational seismic shift”? How about a rabbi who apparently has lost such a grasp of what that title represents that he would proudly pronounce his belief that we should sanctify the Holocaust the same way we do the Torah?
Sorry, Rabbi Hammerman, but Jewdar is not joining your cult. You and yours can spend your time finding new ways to infuse the Holocaust into every facet of Jewish life. As for Jewdar, we’ll play non-Holocaust themed games with our children, make sure they get a solid, non-Holocaust centered Jewish education, and grow up to celebrate Jewish life instead of obsessing over Jewish death.