When I read The Diary of Anne Frank as a little girl I was quite captivated by the tale, and it spawned an era in my youth where I devoured other such stories of these ultimate games of hide and seek. Born exactly 53 years and one day before myself, this dorky little Jewish girl had been the face and name through which I had imagined myself in that era, she had been the catalyst for way too much reading on the holocaust than is healthy for a child and countless sleepless nights of my pre-adolescence where I imagined what if.

Three generations removed from the Holocaust, it gave me a connection, at a safe distance, to a Jewishness not based on much other than an ill defined condition of specialness (why were we special? I didn’t know, but it definitely had something to do with the holocaust). I have since become somewhat resentful of my death-centric Jewish identity and let it go, along with other faded remnants of my childhood. Enforced by my move to Israel, where I was able to form an identity based on strength rather than weakness, rare are the moments I allow myself to connect to the incomprehensible realities of what happened to our people 60 odd years ago.

Even so, On my journey back to Israel two days ago, I had a 12 hour lay over in a cold and rainyAmsterdam, and felt compelled to visit the Anne Frank House.

I went through the house twice. Not quite knowing how to feel, I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t feel more. Did I not dwell long enough in each room? Did I not contemplate the overall significance enough?

But then what is our duty as living Jews? Yes, we must remember, but must we still mourn? I think in my own life I had to make a break from the emotional quicksand of the holocaust in order to move forward as a member of a living and thriving Jewish people. As such, I could not help but appreciate the beautiful irony that in a city where Jews once wore stars declaring them Jude, I walked on the same streets proudly sporting a hat declaring me Jewlicious. Cheesy as it often is, I couldn’t help but silently sing a little Am Yisrael Chai.

More on the trip when I get back from the shuk…and looking for a home for Michael and ck.

About the author

Laya Millman

45 Comments

  • L, it won’t surprise you to learn that I felt the same kind of connection to Anne Frank, as a writer, as a June b-day (although my birthday’s about ten years closer to hers than yours), and as a teenager who wanted to be a writer, and actress, and who found herself falling in love…

    I haven’t been to Amsterdam, so I’ve never been to the house. But if I had, I imagine I’d feel much the same sense of disconnect. There are no piles of shoes or eyeglasses to shock you into feeling something huge happened there. But that’s probably because it wasn’t something huge at all: it was one girl’s experience with one family, which miraculously became a story for the ages.

    And if, afterwards, you were left with an even stronger connection to your Jewish identity, and the freedom to wear your Jewishness on your sleeve (or, er, head), isn’t that monumental enough a reaction?

    Yasher kochacheych. And b’hatzlacha isolating the location of a place for M and CK that will undoubtedly become known as Beit Jewlicious.

  • Laya, I have a similar stopover on my upcoming trip, but only 5 hours between flights. I was just going to hang at Schipol, but now I am inspired to trek into the Dam and visit this place. Is there enough time to do so in your opinion?

  • Let us not forget too, that poor old Anne was TURNED IN by her Dutch neighbors. Over 35,000 dutch joined the SS. Holland was nice to Anne and Co. for a while, but her whole story obfuscates the entire Holocaust. Ann Frank’s story has helped and hurt. Survivors wanted us to know about the Holocaust, but it did little to help people want to be Jewish.

    And hey, Laya, next time don’t diss the Heineken Factory.

  • funny, you’re saying >>I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t feel more. Did I not dwell long enough in each room? Did I not contemplate the overall significance enough?

  • … the rest: I had the same feeling in this house this august, I don’t know what made me feel, that I didn’t feel anything. prolly people who didn’t read the book feel more? why, I wouldn’t know.

  • Esther- her singularity struck me also. So many thoughts are on her, but she’s just one of millions, and her story is nothing when you consider all the stories that never got told.

    I don’t know if i left with a stronger jewish identity, per se, actually, i don’t know what I left with.

    Jobber, 5 hours is plenty of time. The train from the airport into the city takes about 20 minutes. You’ll have about 3 hours to safely explore.

    Rabbi Yo – Heineken factory will have to wait for next time, But we are agreed that the holocaust is a piss poor basis for a Jewish Identity.

    Jakob, I wonder if that’s true, that people who havent read the book feel more. For my own part, I have to wonder how much of my non feeling was a subconscious act of self preservation. I think Anne Frank’s story has found such world wide appeal in part because it is easy to take. But the thought is sorta, if i let myself feel this, where will it end? The depth of pain of the holocaust is so great that it could ruin and cripple any otherwise sane individual.

  • Maybe Muffti is confused, but why does the holocaust make a piss poor basis for Jewish identity? Perhaps it makes a piss poor basis for being the entire basis of Jewish identity, but why aren’t significant events in a people’s history a part of their identity?

  • Is that a serious question, Muffti? I thought you were a philosopher or something. Are you really having trouble parsing what Laya said?

    Laya didn’t say the Shoah wasn’t part of our historical experience, that it wasn’t important, or that we should forget about it. She said it made a piss-poor basis for Jewish identity. That is, one’s identity as a Jew shouldn’t be based upon the fact that a lot of us got murdered by anti-Semites while the world stood around and watched.

    I mean, take your pick:

    1) The basis of Jewish identity is that we have a covenant with Hashem.

    2) The basis of Jewish identity is that the goyim hate us.

    Which would you pick?

  • Ephraim, not to answer for our esteemed philosopher-in-residence, but I think that if those are the two choices, the atheist to whom that question was posed would be forced to go with #2…

  • Laya, I know what you mean–I had the same feeling when I visited Treblinka. I should have felt more, but everything was so…sterilized? Hard to put it into words. I am also rather off the death-centric version of Judaism. The best memorial is a living, growing, active Jewish world.

    So, I knew Michael was coming to Israel, but CK too? What gives?

    I

  • Well, I pity our putative atheist, then. That choice would essentially validate Sartre’s contention that the Jew has no independent or objective existence but only exists in the imagination of the anti-Semite (and Sarte fancied himself a philo-Semite! Gevalt! Thanks but no thanks, chaver). In that case, he might as well just jump off a bridge and end it all now.

    Yes, a principled atheist would be forced to choose #2 if these were the only choices available. However, these are not the only two choices, of course. I am sure that the Grandest of All Grand Mufftis will come up with (at the very least) a third choice.

    Still for every Jew the question is basically the same:

    “We are Jews. How do we make sense out of this?”

    Looked at from one perspective, every single construction of Jewish identity is developed to address this one simple question.

    Of course, you could always take Sinatra’s position: “I’m for whatever gets you through the night, booze or religion.”

  • Muffti likes to dabble in philosophy, it’s true. He certainly never claims to be a textual studies kinda guy though 🙂

    Anyhow, what Muffti was asking about was why what you are presenting isn’t an instance of a false dillema? Why shouldn’t we have a complex basis involving both a covenant with hashem, bagles and lox AND a history of being treated as the other, hated and often persecuted? Muffti thinks there is a presupposition that you base your identity on something simple and procede onwards: that may be true but he isn’t sure he understands why.

  • Thanks for answering for the Muffti, Esther, but he wasn’t really trying to enforce his atheism. He was really just curious about, even if you did believe in a covenant with the all powerful, all mighty flying spaghetti monster God why you couldn’t have an identity that is more complex than simply that.

  • A covenant with Hashem is the best basis for a Jewish identity, since every other basis/source of Jewish identity is either something external to the Jews themselves (e.g., anti-Semitism) or something ephemeral and vaguely cultural, like a certain kind of music, a certain kind of in-crowd lingo that the goyim can’t understand, and various versions of The Kugel/Cholent/Hamin Mom Used To Make. (Lox and bagels is OK, although I would also have to include a nice braised brisket with lokshen, chicken soup with knaidlech and various other things. Delicious, but a pretty poor second to Torah and mitzvot.)

    The other things you mention are components of Jewish identity, I agree. Some are quite important. The Shoah, and what we can learn from it, is important, it is true. As is Israel, Hebrew, etc. These things just aren’t really (or shouldn’t be, anyway) the basis of Jewish identity, that’s all. (Of course, a very strong argument can be made for an Israeli/Hebrerw-based Jewish identity.)

    YMMV.

  • a)What does YMMV stand for?
    b) Perhaps Muffti is misunderstanding…it doesn’t matter what the best basis is; asking after the basis is asking an empirical question about what in fact does the role of being the basis. Anyhow, truth be told, Muffti doesn’t really know what the difference between a basis and a component so perhaps you could explain that.

  • YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary (i.e., you might not agree)

    I am not schooled in the technicalities of philosophical discourse so I don’t really understand b), Muffti, although it seems that you are saying that what should be the basis is irrelevant, we should rather look towards what actually is the basis. Am I understanding you?

    Honestly, you do not see the difference between the basis of something and a component of something? I guess it is my turn to be confused now. It seems quite obvious to me.

    The basis of something is that without which that thing cannot exist, like the foundation of a building, without which the building will collapse. A component of a building is, let us say, a verandah. A building may be enhanced by a verandah, but it does not necessarily need to have one in order to exist. I dare say that Jewish identity can exist just fine without the Shoah, thankyouverymuch.

    Those aren’t the only two choices, Middle. I was taking issue with Muffti’s question as to why the Shoah was a poor basis for constructing a Jewish identity, and chose to illustrate it with an extreme example.

  • I think for many morality is that basis of their ‘religion’. The G-d part cannot be explained in words really, so why try? People usually get that morality is quite important, the G-d part is totally warped at to how it is presented and understood. I keep that part on a low burner. It’s there, just too much to handle on a day to day basis, even on Shabbat.

    Then again, it depends on what role you feel ‘spirituality’ plays in the Jewish religion and what your definetion of that is.

  • Bottom line – The Jewish religion has laws that govern the culture, but beyond those laws the Jewish people cherish their culture and use it as a foundation for their community much like other groups, Asian Americans etc.. do. Especially with conservative and orthodox jews, they often form tightly-knit communities that are tightly tied to their unique culture.

    Judaism is a religion, and if someone identifies himself as Jewish, you have to assume religion. The culture goes along with the religion unless he specifies that he is culturually but not religiously Jewish.

  • BTW, I love this pic. it shows a weary world traveler having been up all night on a plane, unable to sleep or do anything constructive, then have to wait close to an hour for luggage, trains, busses, trams.

  • Conservative Jewish Culture = Vote Democratic ALWAY; Lox and Bagels; Constantly repeat the 5 yiddish swear words you remember from bubbie until people can’t take it anymore;

    make money. be in de-tox; nose job; struggle with losing 20 (to 40 if you happen to be of the female persuasion) pounds your whole life.

    Give to STUPID charities that don’t change the world.

    Hate Orthodoxy…just because.
    Automatically accept any shiksa fake convert no matter what.
    Freak Out and wonder what you did wrong if one of your children happens to become Orthodox!

  • Sigh.

    Trust jsirp to screw up what was on the way to becoming a pretty interesting discussion.

    Just bugger off, OK?

  • *sigh* Ephraim get a life, dude!
    1000s of words on blah blah blah. Yeah, that’s INTERESTING to generation blue tooth…

    And anyone who uses the term “bugger off”…well, ummm EXC– USE ME FOR SAYING SO, BUT…WELL, PUHLEEZE!

    And Jobber – before you jump in – AND ALLA — USE GUYS, PICKING ON ME…. may I suggest lightening up a teensy weensy bit?

    If you’re that lonely and hard up, well, give Chuztpah a call!

  • Muffti sees what you have in mind now. The distinction is really between something mere and essential parts of the identity. Muffti thinks it is rather difficult to tell between what aspects of Jewish identity are essential and which one’s aren’t. Partly it depends on what you are countenance as Jewish identity (which was Muffti’s point in asking the diff between what jewish identity is based on and hwat we could/ought to base it on).

  • I don’t think anyone takes sirpicco seriously anymore. I don’t mean to be attackful J, but your post there on Conservative Jews is just a terrible example of a shallow, empty rambling mind.
    Maybe examine what you have against people who think and behave differently than you.

  • If I’m not mistaken, doesn’t stuff like this – you know, the lashon ha’ra kinda stuff – get you into the wrong side of God’s ledger?

    Jus’ askin’.

    Cuz you know we don’t want you to have an accident.

    On the other hand, we also don’t want nasty gratuitous attacks.

    Well, maybe upon Mobius.

    But on a serious note, how about not making nasty attacks where they aren’t warranted and that way we can all continue to see our esteemed Chutzpah visit us. Because she’s fun to have around. ‘Kay?

  • Oh, OK. Fuck off, then. Better?

    And that’s spelled “youse”, not “use”. You must have been Hooked on Phonics or something. If you’re gonna fake a Brooklyn accent, get it right.

    And I’m supposed to care about what’s interesting to something called “Generation Blue Tooth”? If the subject is boring to you, feel free to go to the local Starbucks and drink a nice hot cup of STFU.

    Sometimes you can be amusing. But not every thread is just another venue for your one-note schtick.

    Yes, that’s what I was getting at, Muffti. And, yes, what is essential to a Jewish identity is a very good question. Inevitably there will be differences of opinion. The Shoah is, undoubtedly, a very big part of the consioussness of post-Shoah Jews. How could it not be? But I certainly don’t think that one should base one’s identity as a Jew on it, especially when there are so many other positive things from which to choose.

    Re: the “being Jewish means being a moral person” approach. Personally, if I were a goy, such an approach would piss me off. It smacks of Jews trying to arrogate morality to themselves and themselves alone. Goyim can’t be moral? I submit they can be and are. Trying to stake out “morality” as special Jewish turf is pretty damned insulting to the rest of the world.

    And I suppose that the philosphical corollary to that would be: if being moral makes one Jewsih, then are all moral people Jews? Obviously not. So I don’t see it as a good basis for a specifically Jewish identity at all.

  • Ephraim – oh, you’re right. The posts are for YOU to bore us all! Plus you’re super mean spirited, you know that?

    My remarks may be well, okay, STUPID sometimes, but they are said, generally (UNLESS YOU’RE A HUMORLESS DOLT LIKE YOU AND JOBBER AND THE OTHER GUY, WHAT’S HIS NAME FROM BEFORE????) you know, to lighten things up, amuse the masses and all that

    Plus – I don’t comment on every string. And hey, who said it wasn’t a free country (for Canadians out there…FREE SPEECH does NOT have to be PC…duh! – Just in French!

    Midboy- Chutzpah can’t keep away anyway…and it was funny! Gosh. So serious. “Youse guys,”

    Jobber? Excuse me…ummm, when did Jsirpicco EVER say to take him SERIOUSLY you weirdo.

    Well, then, fine. Good-bye.
    (You’ll see…you’ll miss me when I’m gone. I may even stay away for AN HOUR OR MORE THIS TIME!!! I don’t need you guys. I don’t need anyone, see! I’m JSIRPICCO! I am a ROCK. I am an Island. You think I don’t have friends? Well, I do! More than you, Jobber. Way more than you, Ephraim fart boy! I’m outta here.

    Serious thread….pheh!

    (see new post a jsirpicco.blogspot.com ) 🙂

  • Apparently, “disagree with ” and “censor” mean the same thing nowadays, Middle.

  • Phray baby- what disagree? You called me NAMES! I was referring to my BRILLIANCE not going on the “latest” post board.

    Still. I’m taking my toys and — uh on. THEY’RE HEAR AGAIN…SHOOT!

    PRAY FOR MEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

  • I didn’t call you names, I told you to go away because you were hijacking the thread for your “LOOK AT MEEEEEEE!!!!!!!” shenanigans.

    And learn to spell, would you please? “They’re hear again?” What is that supposed to mean?

  • Yeah, the ‘being moral’ approach to Judaism would piss off most atheists who aren’t moral nihilists. Muffti sees your point: there is a bit of an equivocation, however, between notions of ‘identity’. There is an individual notion of identity, where an individual can align herself with some aspect of Judaism and base her identity on that. There is another sense, in which there is a collective identity that we share and are a part of. And Muffti was thinking that we don’t get to choose what composes that/what that is based on. It’s just the collective set of things that shape our character as a group.

  • Ephraim sees your point. If we accept the proposition that there is a definable set of things, whatever they may be, that exists outside of and independent of individual Jews which defines “Jewishness”, then I am willing to concede the point that each individual Jew has no control over this set of characteristics. I’m not sure I believe that, but Ephraim can see Muffti is getting at.

    However, the Jewish identity, at least for Jews, is self-created. (Let’s ignore how the goyim define us for a moment.) By deciding on what to emphasize, the organs and institutions of the Jewish community (schools, for example) can actively create the kind of Jew they want. My personal belief is that the unhealthy emphasis on thr Shoah is actively detrimental to the nurtuting of a healthy Jewish identity and that the institutions of the community should, while not ignoring the Shoah, concentrate on other things.

    Each individual, of course, will shape their Jewish identity as they see fit. Personally, I prefer blintzes to genocide, but that’s just me.

  • You have either a belief and practice in G-d and by extension the dictates of the Torah, or in answering to no higher authority than personal choice. One could say something similar about science, which ultimately has no higher authority than the collective peer judgement of scientists.

    Freedom comes with uncertainty, obedience with false certainty.

    I have not been positively impressed by neo-pagans, because it seems to me that they are not intellectually serious–they’re just dressing up and playing roles out of a Renaissance Fair.

    Especially what is put out by much of the Kiruv movement, a kind of lite jazz w/ out any soul. It’s like, hang out w. us here not w ‘them’ over there.

    In a nutshell, one has to run away from Kavod, that is the foundation of Judaism imo. Everything positive stems from that.

    Wishing all my Holy Brothers and Sisters a Shabbat Shalom UmoVorach.

  • As I sat here and read every comment and reply trying to truly understand what is being said, for I am not Jewish, just one person who loves the Lord God and has a heart for His “chosen people”. I can’t even begin to comprehend the devastation and heart ache that has been going on with His people since the time of Abraham when the covenant was made. What I do know is that God made that covenant, but no where did He say that being His people would be easy. You are all special and have a special bond with God that NO ONE can take away even if they try (holocaust). Don’t let anger, bitterness, or even not understanding what God is doing get in the way by trying to figure out what man-made Jewish identity is supposed to be. The only identity needed is that God’s chosen people and you are special. I have my name written in the Book of Life because I accepted Jesus into my heart, but you all have so much more—-what a blessing that is!!! Please remember that our ways and our thoughts are NOT the Lord’s ways or thoughts. God bless to you all!!!

  • Laya, when I visited the Anne Frank house, I was more shocked by the size of the whole thing.

    As the ladies have once said in my presence: “Oh my God! It’s huge!”

    From her diary, I was expecting a sweatshop like structure, with 20 ppl crammed into one or two rooms. I get there, and it’s ilke the Biltmore Hotel, with private suites. Sure, they suffered under Nazi rule and cooked until nighttime, but they could still choose to eat among four different dining rooms.

  • Jobber (and anyone else)
    if you visit amsterdam, make sure not to be in the back of the train on the way back to the airport, or if you are, to move up before you get to Schippol. It’s a short platform and some of the end cars doors don’t open. . .and you’ll find yourself going all the way to Leiden and back like my friends and I did. Twas a close call. Good thing the plane prefered to wait for us rather than take our bags off the plane, gotta love Israeli security.

Leave a Comment