Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
You Shall Tell Your Children

You Shall Tell Your Children: Holocaust Memory in American Passover Ritual

Liora Gubkin
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    You Shall Tell Your Children
    Book Description:

    Passover is among the most widely observed holidays for American Jews. During this festival of redemption, Jewish families retell the biblical story of Exodus using a ritual book known as a haggadah, often weaving modern tales of oppression through the biblical narrative. References to the Holocaust are some of the most common additions to contemporary haggadot. However, the parallel between ancient and modern oppression, which seems obvious to some, raises troubling questions for many others. Is it possible to findanyredemptive meaning in the Nazi genocide? Are we adding value to this unforgivable moment in history?

    Liora Gubkin critiques commemorations that violate memory by erasing the value of everyday life that was lost and collapse the diversity of responses both during the Shoah and afterward. She recounts oral testimonies from Holocaust survivors, cites references to the holiday in popular American culture, and analyzes examples of actual haggadot. Ultimately, Gubkin concludes that itispossible and important to make a space for Holocaust commemoration, all the time recognizing that haggadot must be constantly revisited and "performed."

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4390-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction: Listening to Voices from the Killing Ground
    (pp. 1-8)

    Be very, very careful, for we are prone to forgetting fast. That which our ancestors suffered in Egypt today has become only a few minutes’ hasty reading of theHagadain anticipation that the matzos dumplings are to appear on the table as soon as possible.”¹ More than a decade ago, these words from an anonymous survivor of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s “experiments” inspired the book you have before you. In this message of warning, the survivor makes a comparison between remembering the horrors endured through the Holocaust and remembering the suffering of the ancient Israelites, the ancestors of...

  5. Chapter 1 Passover and the Challenge of Holocaust Memory
    (pp. 9-33)

    Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival of the Lord…. And you shall explain to your son on that day ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt’” (Exod. 13:6, 8). These words from the book of Exodus establish the Jewish celebration of Passover as a remembrance of when God redeemed the Israelites from slavery. Mishnah Pesachim, a rabbinic text that elaborates on how to tell the Exodus story during the Passover celebration, further instructs that parents should tell their children according...

  6. Chapter 2 Collected Memories
    (pp. 34-61)

    The previous chapter utilized the 1999 filmThe Devil’s Arithmeticin order to set out some of the difficulties involved in talking about the Holocaust to those who did not directly experience it and then introduced Passover’s textual and ritual dimensions. To return to that film once again, whereas Hannah of New Rochelle disdains the seder, Hannah in the concentration camp risks her life to have one. The seder is no longer simply a recounting of someone else’s boring story but a catalyst and sign of her personal transformation, even, perhaps, the source of her own salvation. As we saw...

  7. Chapter 3 Wrestling with Redemption
    (pp. 62-95)

    In this chapter we turn to an analysis of the motif of redemption in the Passover haggadah, especially how redemption impacts commemoration of the Shoah within the Passover ritual. At the Passover seder, Jews are commanded to tell the story of their slavery and redemption to their children, the next generation. As Yerushalmi writes in his compendium of printed haggadot, “Passover is preeminently the great historical festival of the Jewish people, and theHaggadahis its book of remembrance and redemption. Here the memory of the nation is annually revived and replenished, and the collective hope sustained. The ancient redemption...

  8. Chapter 4 Anne Frank, Hope, and Redemption
    (pp. 96-123)

    The previous chapters set forth three major issues surrounding Holocaust commemoration in U.S. Passover ritual. The first chapter explored difficulties that accompany the desire to transmit knowledge of the Holocaust to future generations through communal memory. The next identified impediments to honoring efforts made by victims and victim-survivors to assert their agency within a context of extreme dehumanization. Chapter three presented the critique of redemption in Holocaust studies and demonstrated how the problem is especially complicated given the strong redemptive frame of the Passover seder and haggadah. This chapter shifts to application, examining the placement of one individual’s Holocaust experience...

  9. Chapter 5 Heroism Redeemed: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
    (pp. 124-154)

    If Anne Frank is the most popular representative of the Shoah in American Passover haggadot, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising comes in a close second. Many haggadot that include the Shoah commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising when young Jews, under the banner of the Jewish Fighting Organization, engaged in mass resistance against the Nazis. Commemoration of the Uprising during the Passover celebration seems natural, as the Uprising began on the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943. Moreover, the symbolic force of the Uprising resonates powerfully with the redemptive theme of the seder. This chapter examines six haggadot that are representative of...

  10. Chapter 6 Provisional Conclusions
    (pp. 155-170)

    Chapter one described the seder as a dramatic performance of the story of slavery and redemption, and the first presentation of American haggadot inYou Shall Tell Your Childrenfocused on the emplotment of the Exodus story inA Passover HaggadahandFeast of Freedom. This final chapter returns to these haggadot from the Reform and Conservative movements of American Judaism and examines their performative, rather than narrative, aspect. The language of performance continues the discussion of agency begun in the previous chapter but registers a shift from consideration of the agency of victims and survivors to the agency of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-188)
  12. Glossary
    (pp. 189-192)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-200)
  14. Index
    (pp. 201-210)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-212)