To read the names of victims of the Holocaust is right. It is an attempt to seek out spiritual wickedness, name it and stop it. Addressing something as serious as the slaughter of six million Jews is something the world needs, purely and simply. Hatred is wrong. Killing is wrong. And there is far too much of both still today.
But every day should be a remembrance day. And I’m uncomfortable that this one — Holocaust Memorial Day, from sundown today to sundown tomorrow — is just for Jews. Eleven million people were victims of the Holocaust, and tens of millions more died in the war started by the Nazi regime. Millions of people die every day. In the 24 hours of name reading, 18,000 children will die of hunger. The world is filled with disaster, and here we are, reading names of six million Jews, “our people,” when a holocaust of children — 6.6 million — die of hunger every year. Who reads their names?
Yom Hashoah — Hebrew for “a day of the Holocaust” — shouldn’t be a singular day, and it shouldn’t be seen as memorializing the definitive Holocaust. If any good can come out of the Holocaust, it is the realization of what Bob Marley reminds us of when he sings, “When the rain falls falls falls it don’t fall on one man’s house / Remember that, when the rain falls, it don’t fall on one man’s house.”
A battered people’s first inclination is to circle the wagons and put up walls. But when such a mentality persists, it becomes infectious. The wagons are pulled too close, the walls built too high. I believe our wounds — those of Jews around the world — have been sufficiently nursed, and I think it’s time we begin to nurse the wounds of others, too. Marley asks, “How long must we suffer, till we just learn these things that we must be united?” It’s time to realize the dangers of ethnocentrism. Humanity is a bigger group, life even bigger, and Being the biggest of them all, and the fact that we’ve yet to learn this is the Holocaust’s greatest tragedy.
Out of my frustration with many of the ways the Holocaust has been treated, and out of the awareness that this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day happened to begin on the evening of April 20, which is National Pot Smoking Day each year, I came up with the completely and utterly ridiculous idea of merging the two. People I spoke with didn’t like the idea very much. But in listening deeply to their discomfort, I learned something about myself and the way I choose to be in the world.
I seek to be a post-relativist absolutist; I believe it is important both to deeply realize that all beliefs are relative and then to stand firm for what I believe to be true and right. On the one hand, as Marley sings, there are “so much things to say,” each justified in a way. But we need to remember “to fight spiritual wickedness in high and low places,” with clarity and passion.
To hold and believe firmly two completely opposite and contradictory truths and not get lost between the two is a great challenge. Too many of us form firm beliefs without understanding that ultimately all points of view are equal. We are understandably not yet ready for complete relativism, because everything can only be recognized as equal in a time when we have successfully fought all spiritual wickedness, when our collective consciousness is so large that we will have become one fluid, shifting, adapting and ever-moving self. Nonetheless we must try to get there.
I am well aware of the negative impacts of marijuana: It can ruin lives, economies and countries. There are those who stop there and denounce marijuana as evil. In a relative world, though, all things both contain and go beyond good and evil. Whether or not one smokes marijuana, one can be open to what marijuana may teach.
Marijuana can help break boundaries, lift things from the places and roles to which they are generally assigned, so we can taste again what it is to see the world as if you are new, as through the eyes of a babe. We may come to experience what it is to be unattached, free; to see the world, as some texts suggest God sees it, when good and evil fade; as richly complicated, frightening, beautiful, awesome, boring, peaceful, warring, all at once and yet stretched across time in a way that everything blends and balances to silence, or “OK,” or Being.
Still, why conjoin Holocaust remembrance with marijuana? I would point to Marley’s 1979 album, “Survival.” Mixed in with the usual messages of love, peace and the power of music, Marley sings of suffering, brutality and trouble, as well as the need for real revolutionaries to emerge, to rebel, to work — not to remember suffering, but to be aware of its existence right now, and to acknowledge our own perpetuation of it, our place in what Marley calls the “Babylon System”: essentially, a system in which the ego sees itself as fundamentally True and acts accordingly in a way that denies the greater and truer Self that encompasses all Being. I am as guilty as — if not more so than — anyone in this false and cruel awareness of reality. A pair of shoes, a nice dinner and my Yale education are all things I purchase for myself instead of using the money to save lives. The “Babylon system is the vampire,” Marley cries, “ … sucking the blood of the sufferers … sucking the children day by day.”
Holocaust Memorial Day, as it has thus far been observed, roots us in the world. April 20, the awareness symbolized by marijuana and sung about so powerfully by Bob Marley, brings us a vision of another world, just as the Sabbath offers a taste of the world to come, a better version of today, where the universe simply wants to be. In fact, it doesn’t even want to be, it just is. While being rooted in the world is most important, I have my eyes set on a redeemed world, and I yearn to live in it even now.
Micah Fredman is a junior in Berkeley College.