Real Mistakes, Real Laughs:

Air bases were built on captured islands of Tinian, Saipan, and Guam but they were barley within the range of the long-range bombers.

(hope the bombadiers weren't on gluten-free diets)

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Monday, April 20, 2009

April 21, 2009 is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a memorial holiday brought to the forefront of contemporary American life with Steven Spielberg's 1994 film, Schindler's List. It certainly made me more cognizant of the profound implications of this day of observance. I didn't realize, though, that Yom HaShoah was not an outgrowth of a menschy film director's cause; it was established by Israel in 1951, seven years before my birth and less than a decade after the end of World War II.

I don't know why Yom HaShoah seemed relatively new to me; I had attended Hebrew school for seven years, during which time we obviously studied the Holocaust in depth. Our temple's cantor and sexton (a name they gave to the man whose only duty was to teach all the bar and bat-mitzvah kids their haftorah portions and rituals) had both lost their spouses and children to it. The sexton survived himself was shot with his family, and survived by playing dead when stabbed with a German bayonet to evoke any movement indicating that he still lived.

Maybe it was just a matter of growing up. I'm sure my childish mind didn't lend itself to deep thoughts about the Holocaust any more than it would have been inclined to attend the community memorial service for assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Rabin that I proudly attended with a thousand or so others in my community. And I would never have guessed I'd grow up to write a novel based on a Holocaust survivor's story. Three cheers for maturity!

But I still have much to learn. For example, Yom HaShoah's official full name is Yom HaShoah Ve-Hagevurah, the Day of (remembrance of) the Holocaust and Heroism. That's important. There were so many heroes during World War II, Holocaust related or otherwise. It's only fitting that we remember them all, not just those who perished in concentration camps and ghettos. Brevity is our society's watchword, as nicknames, acronyms, and abbreviations become our vernacular to the extent that we no longer remember what the original name or term was.

Yom HaShoah, as the name was inevitably shortened, has been negatively associated with exploitation, making money on the tragedy of others. There's no business like Shoah business.
Books, movies, museums, memorials...all seen as merely commercial enterprises by bigots looking for any excuse to perpetuate the stereotype of Jews as insatiably greedy. I'm sure poor Spielberg never envisioned that kind of reaction when he established the Shoah Foundation to record an oral history of Holocaust survivors.

What surprised me is that there are Jews who perceive Holocaust remembrance efforts as blood money. Shortly after '>Far Above Rubies was first released, I received an email from a New York man asking if he could find the book in his local library. He wouldn't buy it, he explained, because he was a Holocaust survivor and did not want others to profit from the victims' misery.

Needless to say, I was devastated that someone thought I had written that book for purely mercenary reasons (as anyone familiar with the publishing industry can tell you, authors don't become authors to make money!) I hastened to explain that I wrote it to honor and preserve the memories of those who survived and those who didn't. The man assured me that he didn't think ill of me or my book; he just felt atrongly that all associated earnings from that book, no matter how unintentional, reduce its publication to "Shoah business." That included the publisher, printer, distributor, and so on.

Brevity isn't always to our advantage. It can lead to stress, misunderstanding, and sub-par work, among other things. It can obliterate soon-to-be-extinct arts like letter writing, family conversation, from-scratch cooking, and outdoor play. So tomorrow I will remember that I am observing Yom HaShoah Ve-Hagevurah, the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism. Acknowledge the real-life heroes who cross our paths each day, and remember that heroes can touch our lives even when we aren't looking. And before I say TTFN to go text my BFF about the LOL Tweet I received this morning, I'd like to ask you to take a moment -- a full 60 seconds -- tomorrow to remember someone important in your life: a survivor, a hero, a victim, a friend. We're in this life together.


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