To be honest, I have not wanted to read Dara Horn’s People Love Dead Jews: Reflections of a Haunted Present. I have Holocaust educators in my family and it has been dwelled into my head to never forget. I also am astutely aware of the rise in antisemitic attacks in the United States. At the same time, to read a book with that title makes me recoil. It is the same reason I have not been able to bring myself to go on the March of the Living, although I do plan to go when the COVID numbers go down. I finally purchased a Kindle copy on Amazon and will read it. I’ve learned from the Institute of Jewish Spirituality about the importance of acknowledging one’s fears, especially what makes him/her recoil, yet concurrently having the courage to face them.
What concerns me most about this book knowing not much more than the title is how we want to perceive ourselves as a Jewish people. Do we want to be loved as martyrs, as victims of antisemitic hate crimes, or do we want to be loved because of all of the joy, positivity, learning and spirituality that Judaism has to offer? People Love Dead Jews won the National Jewish Book Award in 2021 and the positive reviews abound. At the same time, in his book review entitled KEEP JEWS INTERESTING: IT’S TIME TO STOP BEING DEFINED BY ANTI-SEMITISM, Professor Shaul Magid quotes Professor Salo Baron z”l who wrote “All my life I have been struggling against the hitherto dominant lachrymose conception of Jewish history because I have felt that an overemphasis on Jewish sufferings distorted the whole picture of the Jewish historic evolution and, at the same time, badly served a generation which had become impatient with the nightmare of endless persecutions and massacres.” Do we want to be defined by antisemitism, by pogroms, persecutions and Jew-hatred, or by who we are as the Jewish people and all that we offer. Magid ends his review by quoting Jacob Neusner, “If the Jews can’t somehow get beyond the Holocaust they will survive. But they just won’t be a very interesting people.”
Interestingly Dara Horn, as quoted by Haaretz, said about her book that she “wishes people liked it a little bit less, because that would make its depressing points less true.” Horn’s accounts certainly have veracity to them and on one hand it’s important for people to know how strong antisemitism is in the United States. On the other hand, I certainly do not want my work as a rabbi to be defined by antisemitism.
As I have not yet read the book, but intend to over the weekend, I will comment more after I read it about its specific aspects. I hope to finish it before Adar Rishon, a month in which our joy is supposed to increase, not to be in denial of the truthtelling that I am certain it contains but rather to be able to focus on bringing joyful Judaism into Bet Shira and South Dade, while concurrently being vigilant and aware of the antisemitism in our midst.