jewin' the fat

From the vault: Ennui-tainment 1 & 2
April 12, 2010, 9:57 AM
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Today marks Yom HaShoah, Israel’s national Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Memorial Day, and around the country and the world, ceremonies are being held to commemorate and consecrate those who perished under the Nazi regime. In Israel, the theme centres around “The Voices of the Survivors”, and the ways in which survivors themselves have contributed to Holocaust commemoration over the years.

But what happens when there are no more survivors to tell their own stories? How will we carry the heavy burden of remembrance?

Take a look at this double-header from September 2009, on the power of commemoration and the importance of maintaining its relevance for future generations.

Part One

Part Two

Velvele Valentin Pinkert, one of the 33 771 victims of the massacre at Babi Yar on September 29-30, 1941 (HT @ Yad Vashem -


March 22, 2010, 10:15 AM
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I can’t wait to see this in Cinemas. Four Lions is the name of a movie released in the UK in May about a group of hapless terrorists plotting an attack on London. Director Chris Morris describes the film as a ‘farce’ exposing the ‘Dad’s Army side to terrorism’. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and was short-listed for the festival’s World Cinema Narrative prize. Take a look at the trailer:

Older and/or Wiser

First things first – Happy New Year y’all. Here’s hoping that resolutions were made and broken, champagne glasses emptied and dignity lost in the fun and fury. It’s 2010, and we are officially living in a sci-fi novel – Brave New World indeed.

Secondly, an apology – I have let life, love and living get in the way of blogging. Especially because, if you weren’t aware, I’ve been Mid-East side for the past month or so. And in among all the crazy, I have let slide this little venture. … Mostly because I didn’t want to spill Jameson on my lap top. And despite being in the thick of it, with a million and one things to write reams and reams about, to put it simply, I’m on holiday, and cbf. So Sorry.

But then again, it has been a fairly decent while in cyber-terms, so here’s my resolution. I will make a concerted effort to not be a lazy ass, and get back on the blogging-bandwagon. Starting now.

2009 was a memorable year. It taught us the value of money, once we lost it, and the stupidity of trusting financial institutions. It also taught us that hiding $1 million in a mattress can backfire. It began with a bang that shook Gaza, and is still shaking the world, and ended with a silence on Darfur that is deafening.

 2009 was brought to you by the colour Green, and Twitter became (and still is) the protest medium of choice for thousands of young Iranians. 2009 was the year Australian politics got (mildly) interesting – and the first year an Abbott and a Bishop ruled the Liberal Party. It was also the year that his Honour, the Honorable Honorary Jew himself, Malcolm Turnbull, found himself out on his ass (but still with that amazing BRW Richest 200 fortune to fall back on), Nathan Rees locked us out of parliament, and the year Kristina Keneally found the spare set of keys.

Melbourne trains got an overhaul, Brendan Fevola got pissed and lost his shit at the Brownlows, and Nate Myles got pissed and actually took a shit in a hotel corridor. The British Supreme Court ruling against the Jewish Free School told us how to be Jewish, and John Safran’s Race Relations showed us how to be crude – ish.

Settlements, Satire, Sexting and Sagging – we remember 2009. Another year older, but not necessarily wiser. Except for Ron Weiser. That guy is a champion.

Ennui-tainment (Part 2)

The stubborn refusal to give tragedy the final say

There seems to be a distinctly anti-Generation-Y movement which undercuts the question of Shoah re-commemoration.

See, for years there has been a very stable, highly enforced method of interacting with the history of Holocaust, and an especially enforced standard of commemoration of that history. It included extreme reverence, highly emotive triggers, and a heaviness of the soul that most Jewish youth associate with any Holocaust-related public conversation.

Then, after upwards of 50 years of silent, sombre and most sincere reflection, young  Jewish people began to do with the Holocaust what young Jewish people have done with Shabbat, Zionism and other sacred cows – they turned it on its head.Cyanide and Happiness 

Which is not to say that young Jews today don’t appreciate the gravity of the Holocaust. Rather, they over-appreciate it. They are saturated in understanding. Like the children of Holocaust survivors who were drowning in the silence of their parents, these third-generation Jews are likewise drowning in the over-exposure their parents are kindly facilitating.  

Is visiting a death camp at 16 an age-appropriate experience? Indeed, can one ask an 11-year-old to comprehend or relate to the number 1 000 000, let alone light a candle to remember 1 000 000 children killed in the Shoah? How do you explain hatred for hatred’s sake, without condescending, or killing for ethnicity’s sake, without terrifying?

Would it surprise you that even our nightmares are Shoah related? I challenge any Jewish person to deny that they have had at least one, if not lifelong Holocaust-themed dreams. Mine involved abbatoir-style slaughter-houses, with loved ones forced like cattle through the turnstiles, awaiting their death, with nothing to be done. And for a long time, there was nothing to be done but tread water in the overwhelming tide that threatened to overpower our connection to our history altogether.

As time separated the generations from the immediacy of the tragedy, and threatened to disconnect them from its meaning, humour became the bridge which allowed Jews to take back the power, and stubbornly refused to submit to the magnitude of victimhood. Suddenly there was a means to process this massive influence in our lives – a method to understand the madness. What started with the Ghetto reinterpretations of Hitler’s masterpiece Mein Krampft (My Cramp) and the naming of dogs and pigs ‘Adolf’, became a critical communal and coping mechanism for those affected by Nazi policies. Survivor and Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said in Mans Search for Meaning,

“We knew that we had nothing to lose except our ridiculously naked lives. When the showers started to run, we all tried very hard to make fun, both about ourselves and about each other. After all, real water did flow from the sprays!”

Half a century on this tradition continues, to the chagrin and horror of the PC police and inflated egos that cannot understand that Heeb Magazine’s mockery of Holocaust memoirs stems from a moral disgust that the once noble premise of documenting history has become a money-making industry – so why not write your own Holocaust memoir? And if we want to truly destroy the power of Hitler, how better than to belittle his memory and mock his self-righteousness character with a series of YouTube videos here, here and here? And here. And there. And here too.

People like Rosanne Barr hit the nail on the head – Sure it’s sick and twisted to don a moustache and bake Burnt Jew Cookies in an oven, but what are we so blinded by our pride and self-importance that we cannot see the irony and power of the inversion? When someone like Barr suggests such a photo shoot, a woman whose life has been dedicated to offending as many people as possible with her brand of take-no-prisoners humour, everything is fair game. As she herself told Heeb:

“He killed my whole family, it is true, but he is also dead, and I, a Jewish woman am still alive to make fun of him, and I will continue to make fun of the little runt for the rest of my life! He, and his ideas need to be laughed at even more these days, picked apart and analyzed up and down, as there are more and more people denying his crimes, and more and more despots trying to copy them.”

This peculiar cultural revenge is replicated again and again, in the infamous character actor Sascha Baron Cohen playing an anti-Semitic Kazakh in Borat, or in the faux-terror of Seinfeld‘s dreaded ‘Soup Nazi’ – turning the stereotype on its head, and in doing, fulfilling the hopes of the millions of victims encapsulated in the Talmudic verse: “The best revenge is to live”.

Call it revenge porn, but Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds could be regarded as the best antidote to the evils of the Nazi regime since Chaplin’s The Dictator. Tellingly, after the screening of Tarantino’s film, I bumped into a Jewish couple in their mid-sixties who could not fathom how such a film was even produced, let alone enjoyed – such was their disgust for the film’s subversion of the traditional power-relationship of the Shoah.

Where younger viewers whooped and heckled as Nazi’s were gunned down, and the image of a young Jewish woman laughed, rising in flames as the harbinger of death and destruction upon a Nazi crowd, wreaking her luscious revenge … it was a sweet moment for this generation.


Still from Inglorious Basterds

This tale of Jews taking back their honour and their lives from the Nazi regime which had tried and failed to destroy them was a “once upon a time” fable that reverberated in cinemas across the world, re-forming those Shoah nightmares into Shoah fantasies, littered with scalps and bullets and relief. Far from offensive, Inglorious Basterds gave young Jews the chance to divert the course of their people’s tragic history, even if it was only for a couple of hours, in a recliner seat in a theatre in Sydney or Toronto or London. And sure it’s just a movie – but in telling this story, Tarantino validated this generation’s fantasy, and went some way to understanding the foundations of the cultural architecture of 70 years of suffering.

So rather than mis-reading young Jewish attempts to re-imagine, re-define and re-tell the story of the Holocaust as out-of-touch, inappropriate, disrespectful or ignorant – perhaps it is time to step out of the stranglehold of ‘traditional’ Holocaust commemoration, and recognise that the light of satire does not diminish any of the truth of history. Rather, it can light the way to a better understanding, and clearer picture of what the Holocaust means for Jews today.

Ennui-tainment (part 1)
September 21, 2009, 9:59 AM
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My earliest memory of ‘Holocaust’ occurred at the age of 11, when I was asked to create a living history project with the help of a kindly 70 year old Polish woman, who told us her life story, and we dutifully recorded it onto cassettes (yep! cassette tapes) and transcribed it all. The childhood sweetheart lost in the deportations, the persecution, the daring escape from the horrors of death camps, and being starved, and the –

Oh wait. Wrong story. No, Olga*’s story was about immigration, and having children, and moving to Australia, and learning English … In the 1920s. In fact, all but one of the ‘Holocaust Survivors’ we were introduced to did not even live in Nazi Occupied Europe during the war. I felt … in a word … cheated.

Here I was, 11 years old, and ready to be shocked and inspired and awestruck at the veracity and vividness of the Holocaust – my people’s legacy. Except that it wasn’t quite like the black and white Spielberg movie we watched before the projects began – at least not the story we recorded.

And so began my Holocaust education. I came to understand that every experience of the Shoah was different. Some daring, some devastating, but all decidedly unique – in language, plot lines, backdrops, scores – because at that age, It was all a sweeping movie set of history. I really couldn’t tell you what the ‘real’ Holocaust was like, because all I had was Anne Frank’s journal, Spielberg’s vision, Escape from Sobibor, Eli Weisel, Number the Stars, Exodus, Mila 18 – my bookshelf was full, but I was still no closer to the truth.

I knew all the partisan songs and weeping stories of ghettoized children with haunting eyes and yellow stars. But it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to go to Poland and walk through the gates of Auschwitz, and Majdanek, and the synagogues of Krakow that I appreciated the magnitude of what I was about to see and experience, even some 60 years later. In fact, I was so appreciative, I decided not to go.

I could not fathom literally walking the path of millions, standing in the place where they died, and observing where thousands slept,and where many did not wake in the morning. Then eating lunch next to a bus outside the gates – even wearing beanies, scarves and jackets, complaining about the weather, the food – it all seemed a cruel but honest reminder that no amount of tears or diary entries could really bring my understanding to a point where I could make sense of it all. So I stayed home, and enjoyed a normal 16-year-old summer, content to stay ignorant for a few more years.
My peers returned, shell-shocked and overwhelmed by the journey and the history, hit over the back of the head with the reality. They never saw it coming, and some never really came back.

* * * * *

Almost ten years later I find myself in a world where suddenly (or so it seems) the connection to this culture-changing event has shifted momentously. There is a distinct sub-culture emerging, and it is well documented. Phrases like Transgenerational Trauma are a fancy way now of describing the emotional trauma suffered by the descendant generations of Holocaust survivors, or any people where an entire generation suffered, like in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. It even extends to those with no familial connection to the trauma – such is the magnitude of its effect.RE-Imagining

Within these families, where honesty and communication have been replaced with repression and silence, the strange, politically incorrect phenomena of ‘Holocaust Humour’ emerges. Stemming from the black, sardonic humour of the ghettos, to the suburbs where survivors live today (Australia is home to the largest Holocaust survivor community, outside of Israel), the jokes take on a melancholy, twisted quality, where the only way to relate to the tragedy is to laugh about it.

Like laughing at a funeral, this easing of tension by the younger generations is just as likely to inspire a giggle as offence, and it is a fine line indeed. Even Shakespeare knew about the power of jest and its careful interrelationship with the truth – but rather than laughing at the expense of the victim, as with all great comedy, this kind of humour was about laughing with the victim, at the expense of the perpetrator.

Poking fun at the ritual, the infrastructure of the tragedy – the tattooed numbers, the ovens, the yellow stars – not because the suffering is funny, but because if we can’t laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?

Some may argue that this post-Holocaust generation is too far removed from the horrors, to easily mocking of its tragedy, to quick to decontextualise and recontextualise the suffering. That re-imagining the Shoah is destroying its integrity or staining its truth.

But then isn’t the power of re-telling an integral part of the Jewish experience? We have a written law, and an oral interpretation of that law, we have entire festivals dedicated to reminding our children “They tried to kill us, we survived, lets eat” – Chaggim like Purim and Chanuka, if you believe the history to be an accurate reflection of the past, rather than a fable, were probably once sacred events, placed on a pedestal and bequeathed to the younger generations with their own version of “never again”.

Now, Purim is about alcohol, and costume parties, and making a hell of a noise during the reading of Megillat Esther. Chanuka by comparison is also about commemorating God’s miracle, and eating donuts, lighting candles and doing our bit to put the conservationist message out there.

Even Pesach, that great biblical pilgrim festival has been manipulated into post-modernity. Last year I attended a Pesach Seder where instead of the traditional prose, “Tell your children” – Tell your children that we were slaves in Egypt, and the Lord our God took me out of the bond of slavery – the prose read “Tell your children that we were persecuted, tortured, starved and killed in Europe, but now we are free.” And now we are.

So why does this phenomena scare us so much when it comes to Shoah?
*Name changed
Check out Part Two here