By Agata Pełeszuk | 17/12/2009
Blog – 16 December
Recently Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, has come to Hungary with a first visit after tragic events of the Holocaust. More than 60 years ago he was driven out of his home in Máramarossziget and deported to Auschwitz. Now he is coming back to a completely different social and political landscape to take a stand at the Hungarian Parliament. He recalls the inhuman chapter of history and says: “The enemy—ours as well as mankind's—sought to destroy us by eliminating our memory; he failed. And you constitute living proof to his defeat. That is why our presence here, among the nation's lawmakers is so moving to me.” Furthermore, he turns to Jews with a remarkable calling to never give up their Jewishness, to never turn back on their heritage and most of all not to allow others to determine the quality of their faith.
Present generations, especially the young one, are incredibly privileged to have heard voices of the Holocaust survivors. Indeed in the complex reality of challenges put out to European Jews, the straightforward and firm narrative of Jewish pride that survived the Shoah brings them to the core contemplation on their identity. Everyday discourse keeps revolving around the new faces of anti-Semitism versus anti-Zionism and anti-Israeliness or the issue of secularization and assimilation. It seems that the calling for not giving up the Jewishness under any condition, coming from legitimate witness of the Past, rouses Jewish people from the routine and brings them to the important roots. Wiesel presses for cultivating the memory, manifesting proudly the Jewish presence in Europe.
The debate over identity preservation concentrates on two basic terms of secularization and assimilation. Theoretically, following Gitelman and Kovcás, secularization may mean to abandon religion, but a range of assimilation spreads much further and means leaving the Jewishness behind. Wiesel's remark, therefore, depicts rather the fear of assimilation crisis among Jewish community as a whole. After all Jews who do not practice religion anymore do not necessarily become assimilated. In addition, those we do adhere to traditional customs based in Judaism, should not be automatically defined as religious. Where the Jewish revival should aim then? Should it encompass all the spheres of religious practice and traditions? Should Jewish traditional customs be the imminent part of the social conventions? Or maybe the preservation should focus only on the chosen ideas immersed in Judaism, but at the same time emphasizing the national identity? Should it develop mostly in the direction of cultural promotion, where it can capture also non-Jewish majority of each country?