Item: The Rialto, Calif., Unified School District asks its 2,000 eighth-grade students (ages 12 to 13) to “research the Holocaust and write an argumentative essay, based on cited textual evidence, in which the students are to explain whether or not they believe this was an actual event in history or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”
Item: Hollywood actress Alicia Silverstone, who is Jewish, explains why she did not have her son circumcised as prescribed by Jewish law, using the argument that “giving her son a brit would imply that his body wasn’t created as perfect as is.”
One wonders whether the country that has provided the freest platform in history for its Jewish community to express itself hasn’t reached the tipping point as some fear the recent Pew Research Center survey of American Jews seems to indicate.
Is it really possible that informed educators in a U.S. public school district really did not realize the negative messages being conveyed by even raising the possibility in the minds of impressionable 12- and 13-year-olds that the Holocaust never occurred?
As noted Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstat wrote in a commentary on this unfortunate decision by the authorities in California, “What this assignment shows is that, at best, the teachers and so-called educators who took part in writing this question have been duped into thinking that there is a legitimate debate about whether the Holocaust happened. At worst, they knew better and looked the other way.”
As for the misguided and misinformed Alicia Silverstone, perhaps she too thinks that the whole concept of a having a covenantal act incumbent on every Jewish parent siring Jewish boys is a devious way of creating income for ritual circumcisers. Maybe when her uncircumcised son, Bear Blu, gets to the eighth grade she could suggest a similar research project for his class. They could ask the students to write an argumentative essay, based on textual evidence, in which the students are to explain whether or not they believe that (a) God’s instructions to have every male Jewish child circumcised was an actual imperative as practiced for the last 3,500 years, (b) a political scheme created to provide an income for those professionals who perform the ritual or (c) a necessary surgical procedure to correct one of nature’s imperfections.
An America that thinks that there is nothing wrong with asking students to research historical facts in order to form their own opinions about a subject whose truth has been well documented or that finds nothing strange about the neutering of centuries-old mainstream religious obligations is an America in need of moral repair.
Machiavelli had it right when he said, “There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt.” Five hundred years later, they remain a warning sign for our times.
Sherwin Pomerantz is a 30-year resident of Jerusalem, a former national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel and president of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm.