3. Redefining the Sacred: Spirituality and the Crisis of Masculinity among Children and Grandchildren of Survivors
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65 3 Redefining the Sacred Spirituality and the Crisis of Masculinity among Children and Grandchildren of Survivors The research on ritual, as elaborated in the previous chapter, highlights the ways in which children and grandchildren of survivors negotiate their responsibility for culture-bearing through the construction of new ritual forms and the reclamation of a suppressed religious culture. With regard to the spiritual worldviews among the descendants of the Holocaust, the findings reveal that, like ritual spaces, the realm of the sacred has become a site of transformation. As evidenced by the accounts of the participants, spirituality among children and grandchildren of survivors reflects a move away from institutionalized religion in favor of a more individualized approach to religious beliefs and spiritual orientation. This trend among descendants suggests that in the aftermath of genocide, succeeding generations seek a “break with the old order” (Berger 1967) through a reimagining of the divine outside the boundaries of patriarchal Judaism. In exploring the ways in which gendered notions of God are transformed by the social relations of ethnic/religious violence, this chapter considers the multiple meanings of “Godwrestling” within contemporary Jewish culture (Plaskow 1990). Beginning with a discussion of the religious culture in which the respondents were raised, the research explores the construction of a spiritual sense of self among descendants whose parents and grandparents often expressed a troubling and conflicting relationship with the biblical God of their Jewish ancestors. 66 | Redefining the Sacred Survivorship and the Intergenerational Transmission of Religious Beliefs The research on religious beliefs among survivors of the Holocaust offers a wide variety of theological responses to the trauma of suffering and genocide. While the post-Holocaust debates among Jewish theologians and clergy tend to address the larger metaphysical questions of the existence and nature of God (Maybaum 1965; Jacobs 1993; Goldberg 1995; Cohn-Sherbok 1996), survivors of the Holocaust bring their own worldviews to the experience of survivorship that inform the meaning systems from which their children and grandchildren develop a spiritual sense of self. Previous studies suggest that while survivors of the Holocaust hold varied and often conflicting sets of beliefs, four responses to survival tend to be most prevalent: a continued and unchanged belief in the patriarchal God of biblical Judaism; a strengthened belief in God; a loss of belief in God; or a defiant belief that poses challenges to an abusive God (Marcus and Rosenberg 1988; Carmil and Breznitz, 1991; Blumenthal 1993; Waxman 2000). Further, the research reveals that within these varying religious responses, survivors express a broad range of emotions surrounding their feelings about God, including rage, a sense of abandonment , and gratitude for survival (Marcus and Rosenberg 1988). As for to the narratives of descendants, respondents report that among their parents and grandparents, and especially their fathers and grandfathers, rage toward and fear of God were among the most predominant emotions that were conveyed in the post-Holocaust family. Typically, rage was expressed over questions of God’s existence. In the following account, a daughter who was raised in a nonreligious home describes the anger with which her father addressed questions about God: “I would talk about God and my father would talk about science. I think science for him was like a religion. He doesn’t really talk about God a lot and when he does it is in a mocking way that sometimes leads to anger in a way that he really relished. I mean you could just tell he was just like reveling in his anger when the topic of God came up.” Respon- Redefining the Sacred | 67 dents from more religiously traditional homes reported the confusion they experienced over a parent’s or grandparent’s rejection of God, even as he or she insisted upon strict adherence to religious law within the family. A participant in his early fifties explains: “It was weird mixed messages. [My father] was so nonreligious and pissed off at God and he couldn’t believe any of it, yet he felt like he had to keep me in the yeshiva and be a member of the synagogue. And I always felt like, What are you talking about? You are saying this and you are forcing us to do that.” This participant referred to his father’s beliefs as a kind of “religious schizophrenia ” in which God was simultaneously denied and feared. In this case, the responses of the survivor parent vacillated between a belief in the nonexistence of God and fear of God’s punitive...


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Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Psychological aspects.
  • Holocaust survivors -- Psychology.
  • Children of Holocaust survivors -- Mental health.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Social aspects.
  • Intergenerational communication -- Case studies.
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