Blog  Rabbi Loren Sykes’s Weekly Reflection: Relationship between the Shoah & Israel

Rabbi Loren Sykes’s Weekly Reflection: Relationship between the Shoah & Israel

Rabbi Loren Sykes is the Principal of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel. In these weekly postings, he gives a description and rundown of what the group is doing day to day, which he hopes sheds some light on what the EIE experience is like.

There is a logical fallacy known as “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” or “after it, therefore because of it.” Per Wikipedia, the fallacy is referenced in several television series like The West Wing (my favorite of all time) and Big Bang Theory. According to this fallacy, since y happened after x, x must have caused y. There is a scholarly argument that continues today regarding Jewish history and this logical fallacy. I raise it here because it speaks directly to the sequence of events we have covered in JHist for the past four weeks. Let me explain.

We break the span of Jewish History up into four quarters. The fourth quarter deals with the modern period. We learn about the emancipation of European Jewry, the split between the development of secular Jewish culture, the growth and diversification of religious life, and the emergence of Zionism. We look at early religious Zionism and the development of modern political Zionism. We learn about Theodore Herzl, the father of political Zionism, and Asher Ginsburg, also known as Ahad Ha’Am, who founded cultural Zionism. We then travel to Poland, learn about the nearly one thousand years of Jewish life in Poland and the destruction of European Jewry at the hand of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Immediately upon our return to Israel, we learn about the success of political Zionism and the establishment of the modern State of Israel. We visit Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, learn about the fateful UN vote on November 29, 1947 where UN Partition Plan was adopted, and hear the recording of David Ben Gurion making the announcement of Israel’s Independence. We talk about the unification of the various pre-independence military forces, from the Palmach to the Lehi, and the fateful decision Ben Gurion makes to sink a weapon smuggling ship named the Altalena to ensure that there would be only one fighting force, not a series of private militias, for the newly independent state. And then…
We send the students off to Gadna and a chance to get a small taste of basic training in the IDF.

Going from Herzl to the Shoah to the UN vote to partition the land, thus creating a Jewish State, raises the causality question of how the State of Israel was created. Since political Zionism was making significant inroads toward creating the infrastructure for a state, would the Jewish state have been created no matter what? Was it a fait accompli? In a relatively short time, the Yishuv (Jewish presence in mandatory Palestine) succeeded in creating cities like Tel Aviv and Zikhron Ya’akov to name just two. They established quasi-governmental institutions like the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Keren Kayyemet L’Yisrael or JNF, one serving as a quasi-legislative branch and the other as a vehicle for acquiring land. They developed cultural and intellectual institutions. The Hebrew language was revived. Perhaps there was inevitable momentum leading toward establishing the independent Jewish State of Israel.

There is also a strong school of thought that believes that since the establishment of the State of Israel came right after the Holocaust, the Holocaust must have caused the positive outcome of the UN. This is the epitome of the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” argument. Rather than being a fallacy, however, the idea that world sympathy for the suffering and attempted extermination of the entire Jewish People during the Holocaust directly led to the positive UN vote is compelling. Hearing testimony at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, reports from veterans who liberated the camps, and learning the scope of the horror that could have been avoided if even just the train tracks to Auschwitz – Birkenau were bombed, could easily have led to strong feelings of guilt. World leaders may have felt so guilty that they were compelled to provide the approve an independent state for the Jews in our ancient and ancestral homeland.

We will never know which school of thought is correct. The schools of “would have happened no matter what” and “but for World guilt it would not have happened” will continue to argue in the ivory towers for decades to come. In our school, The URJ Heller High: The Isaac and Helaine Heller EIE High School in Israel, we explore both approaches. We make the journey to Poland and bear witness to what existed before and was destroyed during the Holocaust. We visit sites like Latrun and learn about the fierce battles that took place there during the War of Independence. We hear the Declaration of Independence recited by our first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. And students sleep in tents in the desert, wear olive drab uniforms, talk about the IDF code and, yes, sometimes run just because the officer order them to run.

We discuss the question of causality on EIE and look at the sequence of Jewish history. At the end of the day, some students will reject any causal relationship between the Shoah and the establishment of Israel. Others will argue that there is a causal relationship. Both will be equipped with facts to justify their argument- not just feelings but facts. At the end of the day, both sides will agree on one thing: The vote in the UN passed and we have a Jewish State. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the challenges our state faced from the outset and those that have only recently developed just as we will continue looking at the blessings and miracles of Israel. In the final quarter of the semester, the love of the “real Israel” that has developed will, hopefully, grow deeper each day.

-Rabbi Loren Sykes