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Teaching our teenagers how to live:
Strippers in the shadow of the Holocaust

Zur Nachricht "Nach KZ-Besichtigung Stripper bestellt"
ein Kommentar aus haArez

Jerusalem (AFP) Auf einer Klassenfahrt nach Polen haben sich israelische Schüler zwischen den Besuchen deutscher Konzetrationslager Stripper ins Hotel kommen lassen. Die Schulleitung des Gymnasiums Ofek bestätigte den Vorfall, der in Israel großes Aufsehen erregte.

Die etwa 60 Gymnasiasten hielten sich nach diesen Angaben vor zwei Wochen in Polen auf. Einige Jungen bestellten sich eine Stripperin ins Hotel. Daraufhin wollten die Mädchen ihnen nicht nachstehen und buchten einen Mann, der sich für sie auszog. Der Direktor des Gymnasiums kündigte eine Bestrafung der Schüler an, die aus verschiedenen galiläischen Kibuzim (Nord-Israel) kommen.

By Avirama Golan

"For the past 12 years we have been sending youth delegations to Poland," declare officials of the Education Ministry, "and we have never before encountered an incident in which a stripper has been invited to appear in a hotel room. The youths who participate in these delegations are given a thorough briefing before their departure." According to the ministry, the students of the Ofek high school who invited the strippers to their hotel rooms traveled to Poland in a privately run program that did not receive the ministry's official sanction. But why all the fuss? The link between the Holocaust on the one hand and sex and kitsch on the other has already been documented in both literature and cinema. Even the circular letter issued by the director-general of the Education Ministry that warns students what not to do is an eye-opener: Apparently, thousands of Israeli high-school students who travel to Poland go wild, scream at the top of their lungs in public places, indulge themselves in various forms of entertainment and, at times, show no restraint whatsoever.Oded Cohen, the ministry official in charge of the delegations to Poland, has recently published an article titled "The journey to Poland as the apex of a national, educational and social process." In the article, he explains that the high school trips to Poland have three main goals: "First, to learn about the spiritual and cultural richness of Jewish life in pre-war Poland, and about its scope and vitality. Second, to experience and to attempt to understand the profound significance of both the extermination of the European Jews and the destruction of their entire community. Third, to experience and to attempt to understand both the moral abyss that the Holocaust represents and the ultimate in dehumanization, as expressed through Nazi atrocities."

Cohen quotes from a study by Ronen Friedman titled, "Israelis and the Holocaust: Youth delegations to Poland in the 1990s." According to Friedman, Israeli Jewish teenagers view the traumatic past of the Jewish people as an integral part of both their national history and national consciousness. This perception exists at various levels: personal, communal, national and religious.

Although 17-year-old Israeli Jews have not yet fully developed their own personal identity, they are already being asked to define their national and cultural identity in an extremely severe form. Do they have the necessary historical knowledge, human perspective and emotional capacity that adult Jews use when they are forced to handle the psychological confrontation with the wall of death, the torture cells and the gas chambers? Is this brutal, voyeuristic exposure to atrocity in a place where humanity reached the very depths of depravity the most effective tool - or, in fact, the only tool - that can be used to enable Jewish youth to develop their personal and national identity in an Israel that has already marked a half-century of independence?

The officials of the Education Ministry obviously think so. "Most of the teenage participants in these delegations," notes Cohen, "believe that the experience of journeying to Poland played a key role in the formation of their Jewish identity and gave unique significance to their compulsory military service in the Israel Defense Forces and to the fact that they are citizens of the State of Israel."

There is a danger here in this extreme delimiting of the parameters of Israeli Jewish identity. Civics teachers complain that high-school seniors, especially those who have made the journey to Poland, view the State of Israel as being the direct product of the Holocaust. Apparently, the Polish strippers primarily exposed the confusion and dilemmas of our Education Ministry, which prefers sending students off to Poland over teaching the students what it means to be an Israeli Jew in the present era.

In the 1950s, Holocaust studies in Israeli schools consisted, on one hand, of depictions of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and, on the other, of tagging Holocaust victims as "sheep taken to the slaughterhouse." In the 1990s, Israeli teachers are no longer able to justify Zionism, and thus the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is erased as a value. Instead, the Israeli educational system sings the praises and admires the beauty of Diaspora existence.

One must ask, however, if the Diaspora was so wonderful and the Jewish community in Poland so stunningly creative, what possible claim to legitimacy does Zionism possess? After all, Zionism always insisted that the social structure of the Jewish community in the Diaspora was disastrous and that it must be abandoned in favor of a normative society. Except for ultra-Orthodox Jews, no one misses the tiny Jewish village in Poland that existed in the mud of poverty.

Concerning the "remnants" of "glorious" Poland, Matetyahu Mintz, who has studied Polish Jewry and who was himself part of that Jewish community, argues that all that remains of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw is a cemetery. In order to view the last remnants of the ghetto's wall, you have to enter the heart of a crowded neighborhood. Each year, these remnants are visited by the 3,600 Israeli Jewish high school students whom the Education Ministry has chosen to participate in the "delegations to Poland" program.

The remnants are also visited by thousands of other Israeli Jewish teenagers who travel to Poland within the context of tours organized by individual high schools. For the price of $1,040, these youths are exposed to the dubious experience of coming into close, abrasive contact with the enraged residents of this crowded neighborhood. On the one hand, there are the proud Israeli Jewish teenagers, waving the Israeli flag, while on the other there are the Polish day-laborers who respond to the visitors with anti-Semitic sentiments. (In fact, the encounter with the Poles dulls in comparison to the confrontation with the Germans.)

Thus, in addition to being taught to long for the Diaspora of the past, the students who visit Poland are taught to develop the xenophobic sense that "the whole world is against us, the Jews." Is this the foundation on which they must build their lives in a country that is an occupier of another nation's land and which still has not learned how to live in peace with its neighbors?

As we try to transform Israel into a sane and civic nation, it would be far better to stop investing millions of dollars in these organized tours to Poland and to instead channel these funds into tours of the places in which Israeli society lives today. I am not, of course, advocating that we dispense with the courses given at Massua or at other outstanding educational centers. But if the Education Ministry is afraid that our youth might be deprived of "values" if they are not sent to Poland as "delegates," maybe the ministry's officials should start thinking about values such as social solidarity, knowledge of and respect for the law, and so forth.

Perhaps the Polish strippers have served to remind us what the instinctual needs of our youths are. Instead of teaching them about death, perhaps we should be teaching our teenagers how to live.

haGalil 23-11-99

Die hier archivierten Artikel stammen aus den "Anfangsjahren" der breiten Nutzung des Internet. Damals waren die gestalterischen Möglichkeiten noch etwas ursprünglicher als heute. Wir haben die Artikel jedoch weiterhin archiviert, da die Informationen durchaus noch interessant sein können, u..a. auch zu Dokumentationszwecken.

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