Forwarded mass e-mails trivialize Holocaust victims by Neil Rubin

In recent weeks, one particularly offensive e-mail has arrived again and again.

The e-mail concerns Yom HaShoah, which starts Monday at sunset. It is sent by well-meaning Jews unaware of the ridiculous even noxious — nature of what they do.

It reads in part:

"Send this message to everyone you know who is Jewish. This message symbolizes the six million (6,000,000) people that were lost during the Holocaust.

"If we reach the goal of six million screen names (or six million forwards), we will fulfill and give back to God what God gave to us: people that are Jewish that still live today."

I wouldn't be surprised if tens of thousands Jews have received this e-mail recently.

The first time it came my way, I shook my head and pressed "delete," sending it to the trash along with bad jokes and transcripts of White House briefings.

On Monday when I received the e-mail for the fifth time, I sent out this reply:

"I fail to see how forwarding an e-mail helps remember the depth of tragedy of the Shoah. Let's stop wasting our time with the e-mail equivalent of a sound-bite. Go talk to a survivor, read a book, watch a documentary, attend a talk or memorial ceremony. Don't for a moment waste anyone's time by believing that through the forwarding of an e-mail memory is perpetuated."

I'm glad I sent it.

To entertain that forwarding an e-mail is an appropriate response "to give back to God what God gave to us" is beyond theological and philosophical comprehension.

To believe that forwarding an e-mail symbolizes the brutal murderous system that took 6 million Jews and millions of others is absolute trivialization.

Contrast this with the noble attempts by many schools to collect 6 million pennies or soda tabs. In that way, kids over an extended period attempt to comprehend the vastness of 6 million.

But 6 million e-mails that are quickly deleted, along with solicitations for unreliable investment tips and bad motivational seminars, don't have an impact.

I'm angered because of the serious nature of the task at hand.

I was born a symbolic 18 years after the Shoah's end. My generation became a bridge to ensuring that the Holocaust's memory transcends the natural death of the survivors themselves. Fortunately, "memory" is no longer the immediate challenge. Its framework is in place with outstanding museums, educational curricula, civic ceremonies and even Academy Award-winning movies.

Our task today is to create a moral legacy. To truly memorialize it, the Shoah must be made applicable to daily choices. How must it shape the Jewish response to broad human suffering? Where is the Holocaust in the context of Jewish history? Can our theology make the Shoah a part, but not all, of who we are?

In wrestling with such questions, we must embrace that Judaism is perpetuated not for the victims of the Holocaust, but because the religion and the culture it has spawned keeps offering the world a positive moral compass. The prism of the Holocaust, its searing wounds still so tender, is a modern layer on the vast, living archaeological tel of Jewish experience.

Believing that genuine memorialization is as simple as hitting the "reply" button to a banal mass e-mailing is offensive.

I write this not to upset survivors and their families, but to find lasting ways to honor the lessons of their lives while advancing post-Holocaust thought.

A powerless and flawed e-mail is an unwelcome response. Opening our arms to the struggle of building Jewish lives, in all of their modern choices, is a correct response — as is the continual study of Holocaust-related issues.

At the heart of all this is grappling with the meaning of Jewish memories, ancient and modern. The effort is ill-served by forwarding something destined for 6 million electronic trash piles.