Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Victory Dance

Last week I found myself bopping to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. Now, ordinarily, if I heard this tune pop up in Pandora or my radio I would turn it off.  It DOES NOT reside in my iPod. This time was different:  I was smiling.  I was watching the video-gone-viral:  “I Will Survive Auschwitz”. It features 3 generations: a holocaust survivor, his daughter and his grandchildren dancing their way through Auschwitz, Trezin, Lodz, Dachau and other holocaust sites. The score is Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”.  It ends with the survivor declaring how incredible and “historical” it was for him to visit the camps with his grandchildren. Their dancing prowess leaves much to be desired, but that’s not the point.  The video is about celebrating life.

When I first saw it (thanks to David Bryfman for calling my attention to it on his blog I was admittedly taken aback for the first few seconds.  When I realized what was going on, I was spellbound. I watched the family cavort in front of concentration camp gates, memorials and train tracks, and remembered…

Five years ago my dad, a survivor of Birkenau-Auschwitz (he was 15) brought my mom (who spent her 8th and 9th years enduring the ghetto of Budapest), my wife, our 2 daughters and me on our own “March of the Living”.  We ended up at the gates of Birkenau where my dad said “This is my victory. I beat the Nazis. And I’m with my granddaughters”. We didn’t dance.  We said kaddish for my dad’s parents and sister instead.  But it was a celebration nevertheless.

The “I Will Survive-Auschwitz” video had engendered much reaction. There seem to be 3 type of responses:  there are those who think it is a travesty and the ultimate in disrespect for the memory of those who died; there are the Neo Nazis and other anti-Semites who use the film to attack the “dancing Jews” and draw the obscene comparison between Auschwitz and Gaza; and then there are those who look at it as I do: as an affirmation of victory.

In my own very unscientific survey of reactions, I found that 2nd generation children, like me, understood the message and liked the video.  My parents had a different take:  they understood what the video was trying convey, but their objection was that the camps are cemeteries (for their parents) and as such are not appropriate places to dance.  I wonder if this is a generational perspective. Those of us once removed from the trauma may deal with it differently. I do.

My take is that the last thing that Rudolph Hoess (the S.S. Kommandant of Auschwitz) expected or wanted was a bunch of Juden dancing in his death factory.  It is an act of laughing in the face of Nazism and racism.  When we think of the Shoah we need to remember and memorialize the lives of the individuals and the communities that were lost. But we must also celebrate the fact that we are still here and Eichmann isn’t.   I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but I’m going to quote Gloria Gaynor: “I've got all my life to live, I've got all my love to give, and I'll survive, I will survive.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Worshiping at the Alter of Innovation - For Members Only?

I write this with love for Jewish innovation and ROI.

This is actually an account of what my mind has been coming up with while the ROI summit has been taking place in Israel this past week. For the uninitiated, the ROI Summit is the brainchild of Lynn Schusterman, the Center for Leadership Initiatives and Taglit-Birthright Israel, and is officially described as The ROI Community for Young Jewish Innovators. Its vision is to create and harness the energy of a “global community of outstanding creative individuals who have a personal vision about how to make the Jewish world a better place.”  The organization helps fund initiatives that could transform how we live Jewishly today and tomorrow. I’ve been following it religiously on twitter at #roicom as well as on the ROI website.

At the beginning of the week, as attendees began arriving, the tenor of the tweets was joyous:  Acquaintances being renewed and newly formed; folks retelling their stories of who they met on the flight.  One participant even tweeted: “guy next to me on the plane was reading a dossier on "the obama agenda" from misrad habitachon. creepy.” Sounds great.

During the course of the summit tweets described how everyone was being inspired by the goings-on. I was trying to find content:  what were the sessions about, and what did the facilitators have to say. I lurked the ROI website trying to glean what was being taught.  I was annoyed (let’s be honest here) that prominently placed on the right side of the page is a member login. Now, I don’t know about you, but I happen to find member logins supremely uninviting.  I’m a Jewish educator.  I thrive on creating innovating environments for my students – be they kids, parents or other adults.  So to be denied access to resources because I’m not a “young Jewish innovator” is frankly, and pardon my French, fucking annoying. There were a couple of videos that gave a taste, but that is not a meal.

At one point I (@redmenace56) did tweet my hope that we will learn from ROI so we who did not have the privilege to attend could apply these lessons.  Others (@Jewishtweets) reiterated that call. And references to progress kept being tweeted.  But no specifics have been revealed.  

On Wednesday ROI had its first “community [global] brainstorm”. One tweeter commented on the “focus on concrete and implementable ideas”. What does this mean?  How can I use it? Another tweet went like this: “Actually excited about a great idea @chicagoleah and I cooked up with Ben at #roicom” And the idea is?  There were a few tweets commenting on the role of Orthodoxy in the “Jewish Peoplehood category”.  @jchickrock tweeted: “325 challenges posted.127 solutions. 42 action posters created. let's get it on” Huh?  Can we in the Diaspora get a hint as to what is being alluded? @JewishTweets posted the following: “Will the results of the community brainstorm this morning be shared?” The response from the “official tweeter” (insofar as there is a concept of officialdom in this Brave New World), @ROICommunity, responded: “don't worry - we'll reveal all soon. well, not "all," but at least "some." :)” I was disappointed by that comment and what it implied. The Jerusalem Post published a description of the goings on. Not enough. We Jewish educators in the Diaspora need to get to work.  We need ideas now, even if we are not in the demographic that are invited to attend ROI summits.

I know I sound like I’m whining.  Maybe I am, but it’s because I feel shut out.  I know it’s not intentional.  At one point I got frustrated and googled “ROI grants 2010.” It took me here. The mother-lode. Stuff I can use as a Jewish educator.  Why isn’t this ROI’s homepage?  Why is it buried? It needs to be accessible. I’m pretty computer savvy for a 53 year old, but it should be easy.  Those of us in Jew-biz yearn to learn from the fresh creative minds that attended ROI. If you investigate the ROI website, you can find the newsletter and other nuggets. Buried.  It needs to be out there - accessible for us Digital Immigrants.  As our students join our ranks as Jewish educators and engagers, we all need to be in the same loop.  This ain’t highschool with its cliques and passwords. It isn’t Members Only.  It’s more important than that.  As weird as it sounds, the future is our teacher.  We need to learn from it. Please…share.