Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Auschwitz Kollel and Kiruv Center? Oh My.


    On January 28, 2014, Failed Messiah reported about the new Auschwitz Jewish Memorial's Kollel and Kiruv Center on site at Auschwitz, set to be launched in April of 2014. This is a sticky issue. Here are my questions:
  1. Why are other non-orthodox groups not stepping up to join forces here and offer either a non-denominational Jewish center or an all-encompassing Jewish center? I understand why people feel the need to have a spiritual place, after all, many Jewish (and non-Jewish) groups visit Auschwitz throughout the year. 
  2.  A kollel is a full-time yeshiva for married adult men. I can understand the desire for a community center for visitors, but why a kollel? And why at this location? Is it because the words "Auschwitz" and "Holocaust" inspire a certain emotional reaction that make it easier to raise funds to support an institution that if placed randomly in, let's say, Queens, New York, might not raise as much money? Isn't that taking advantage of the victims of the Holocaust for financial gain? 
  3.  Having visited Auschwitz while backpacking through Eastern Europe with a friend back in the 1990s, I can promise that it's a pretty sobering experience that can often leave people in an emotionally vulnerable state. My concern is that this kiruv center would serve to take advantage of people in this state, and push an ultra-orthodox agenda to those searching for meaning in the ruins of a place where their brethren were slaughtered. What gives the Auschwitz Jewish Memorial's Kollel and Kiruv Center the right to exploit people's very real emotional vulnerability in order to push their personal agenda?
     These are just a few of the thoughts that I had upon learning of this. Again, I understand why some may feel the need for a Jewish community center of some sort--it could be helpful for those who may want to regain their emotional balance upon entering or leaving the site of the camp. However, to put up a kollel and kiruv center at Auschwitz just seems like an underhanded way to push an agenda that is not representative of many of those who perished there, nor is it representative of many of those who visit.

16 comments:

  1. Uh, wait a sec... Um, what was the Jewish world's complaint about the Catholic Church placing a convent and cross (and crosses) at Auschwitz again?

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  2. Curmudgeon, really, is that true? Catholics tried to put up a cross & Jews protested? Can you site an article about that?

    I couldn't agree more with Bec on her points. I'd also like to add that I think it's a way for fundamentalist Judaism, via kiruv, to take over the religion as they do at the Western Wall.

    If you're from some place that doesn't have many Jews and visit a kiruv-infested Auschwitz you're likely to think that all Jews are like those freaks. What an embarrassment.

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  3. http://lmgtfy.com/?q=jews+protest+cross+at+Auschwitz

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  4. Too funny! I had no idea. And yeah, I could have googled it myself, so thanks for doing that for me Curmudgeon.

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  5. Oy.

    No. Just no. I'm sure this people have some noble motivations, but this is just wrong.

    We don't stick a yeshiva in the middle of a cemetery.

    Look, I've been to visit Auschwitz. I know that reactions are individual, and I don't really want to judge someone else's reaction....but the place is a huge cemetery. It was a death factory. I don't want it prettied up, and I don't want it to be transformed into anything other than what it was - the stark reminder of evil needs to stay.

    A chapel in a cemetery may be appropriate, and I do appreciate things like the March of the Living and the desire to scream out "we're still alive - you didn't kill us all!" The living, though, don't live in a cemetery. Jewish education and growth needs to take place with an eye to the future, among the living. Not with one foot anchored in the grave. That's just twisted.

    If someone really feels the urge to revive lost Jewish communities, restore a destroyed synagogue in Europe and sponsor a Jewish community there. At least there would be a pre-war connection. Auschwitz was never a place of Jewish learning - just a place of torture and slavery and death.

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  6. Their intention are good. All directors and the advisory board are all Jewish businessmen that are supporting this idea of having the light of the Torah on the place that our enemies tried to destroy our nation. It doesn't matter if a person is or not observant, the Torah continue to belong to the entire Am Israel. Let's not judge people always for the bad. Kiruv means to connect, to have it closer, to connect the Torah and the Jewish people on the place that the nazi tried to destroy the Torah and the Jewish people.

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  7. I'm not knocking anyone's intentions. It looks like a group of South American businessmen, and I don't know anything about them. I assume they mean well.

    That doesn't change the fact that it's a horrible idea.

    A mourner is not permitted to study Torah (except to review the laws of mourning, or read the Book of Job or Lamentations). The same restrictions apply to Tisha B'Av (fast day that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples and which has come to also symbolize Jewish tragedies throughout the ages including the Holocaust).

    This isn't a grave of some holy individual who passed away after a long life. It's a mass grave of those who were murdered, and the places where they were enslaved and tortured and gassed are still standing. The souls of those who were killed are holy - but it's not a holy place. It represents darkness and evil.

    There is a time and place for everything. A visit to Auschwitz is a time to mourn, and to learn more about the atrocities that took place. That's an important thing to do - but it's not compatible with Torah study. From a traditional Jewish POV, if Torah study is supposed to be joyful and a path of life, how can it take place where you look up and see the entrance to Auschwitz?

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    1. Well-stated, Law Mom.
      I agree with you completely.
      It makes me uncomfortable to think that fundraising for this Kollel (and kiruv!) center is going to be used to keep people at Auschwitz. The more I think about this, and the more people comment and express their own opinions on this, the more uncomfortable I become. Sure, put up a memorial. Maybe a quiet place for contemplation. But a kollel? Are they going to be building an ultra-orthodox Jewish community based around Auschwitz? This sounds like a bad joke.

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    2. I understand what you say, and a few survivors also thinks like you, that Auschwitz should always be kept empty. But one of the businessman of the board, that I know personally, told me that this question, wether to open or not the Torah center there was asked to 2 big rabbis, 2 of the most important rabbis in our generation, that also lost their families in the Holocaust, and they say that the project should be done. You are right, that when a person is mourning his relative, he cannot learn Torah that could bring joy to his soul, but when you go to the cemetery, you are allowed to pray and also to learn for the soul of the person that is buried there. In the case of millions of people that were killed in Auschwitz, the fact a group of good people will be there to pray for their souls, will be important, not only for them, but also for their families. Regarding the kiruv part of your blog: the Jewish people is one big family. The fact that religious people will be learning there the entire day, and will be teaching Torah for the jewish tourists that goes to visit the camp, and want to visit the Kollel (the Kollel won't be inside the concentration camp, those who want to visit, will go to the Kollel) and will give them a little comfort for their suffering, I don't see any bad deed on this, opposite, is a great mitzvá. Let's look for the good side of the story, and better not always to try to criticize people that are trying to do the good.

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    3. Anonymous, I am Jewish and I am not part of your great big family. Don't drag me into being your kin. I am not.

      Peddling kiruv as "offering comfort" to a crowd who are feeling a little weepy & sad & whose defenses are down is despicable exploitation of the dead.

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    4. Ok, you can say whatever you want. But when the nazis decided to kill the Jews, they look at us, all Jewish, as one family. Frum, not frum, atheist, doesn't matter. We were one family and we will continue being one family.

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  8. I agree with anonymous. Many members of my family were killed in auschwitz. I am happy to have a kollel learning and praying there everyday. It will elevate all the neshomohs that were lost there. Kol hakavod. Keep it up. And the hatred I feel in the words of some of the commentators here are sickening. If we all got along maybe all the bad things happening would stop. I never realized how much the modern orthodox are anti ultra orthodox. If they want to be mekarev people, leave them alone. Y does it bother you so much? Why all the hatred? You do your thing and they will do theirs. How is it bothering you? Because YOU don't like it? That's selfish Maybe that's what people visiting auschwitz are looking for. Some meaning in this disaster of a place. So to find comfort we look to G-D. And by becoming closer to him and learning his laws and what he wants of us in life can maybe give someone that comfort he is looking for.

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    1. I don't know, Yitzy. When I backpacked through Eastern Europe as a secular Jew and chose to visit camps on my own, I would have been very upset if people attempted to use my personal visit as an attempt to recruit me. It's fine if there's a community center, but actively recruiting visitors would be very wrong.

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  9. I sent them an email to ask about that. They told me that AJM won't recruit anyone. They have a kollel where the avrechim will be learning. They won't go to look for the people to visit them. People can go to them, to talk, to ask questions. The avrechim won't go inside the camp, even not outside, to try to call people to visit them. If groups would like to visit them, they can contact them and to arrange a visit, a lecture, prays, etc. That is the misunderstanding that people is thinking.

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    1. And you believe them? Ask any kiruv rabbi point blank to his face if he recruits and he will almost certainly tell you that no, he does not recruit. He simply teaches people about their heritage, is willing to explain Judaism, happy to discuss Judaism, wants to have you over for dinner (because you are unique and special), wants to give you a loaf of bread or a dip in the tank, he wants to introduce you to someone he thinks you'll like (who happens to be ultra orthodox), and if you should happen to become more interested in Judaism, gee, who could have seen that coming? The fact is that kiruv does recruit and the fact is also that they lie about it. I am not at all comforted by the email you claim to have received that says AJM will not recruit anyone.

      The other part is that kids who have no idea they are even on a kiruv trip will be marched into that center for further kiruv indoctrination during the most emotionally vulnerable point in their trip. Tell me that isn't sneaky kiruv!

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