Whoopi Goldberg Affair Exposes the Deep Flaw of Holocaust Education | Opinion

ABC News has suspended Whoopi Goldberg from "The View" for two weeks because she made ignorant and insensitive remarks about the Holocaust. She said the Shoah was not about "race" and that she, as a Black person, sees the murder of six million European Jews as a matter of strictly "white" concern.

More than anything, Goldberg's historical illiteracy reveals that "Holocaust education," despite its ubiquity, is severely flawed. There are more than 80 museums and memorials dedicated to the Shoah throughout America. There are school curricula. And Hollywood seems to churn out an award-winning movie on the Shoah every year.

Yet, more than 75 years after the Shoah, and decades since the establishment of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation's capital and the release of Schindler's List, Goldberg still doesn't get it at all—and probably never will. She seemingly has no idea that the Shoah, at its core, was about race. Hitler's central contention was that an "Aryan race" was superior to all others—including, incidentally, Blacks.

Goldberg's surname, by the way, is a stage name. Goldberg was born Caryn Johnson. She claims part of her family is Jewish, which is how she justifies the adoption. It's also rumored that her mother believed the name Johnson wasn't "Jewish enough" for her daughter to succeed in Hollywood. That means Goldberg's stunt was "cultural appropriation" at best, and antisemitic at worst.

The failure of Holocaust education must be acknowledged, first and foremost, by Jewish organizations that have invested tens of millions of dollars in this area for more than half a century. Still, by virtually every measure, antisemitism has increased in the United States in recent years.

Consider also what is now happening on campus. Vassar has offered a Holocaust course since 2002, and several other of the college's departments have incorporated "Holocaust awareness" into their offerings, while Claremont-McKenna sponsors a center for the study of the Holocaust. Yet student governments at both Vassar College and Claremont-McKenna-adjacent Pomona College have still voted for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Whoopi Goldberg arrives to "The Late Show
Whoopi Goldberg arrives to "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" in Manhattan on January 31, 2022 in New York City. Robert Kamau/GC Images

In all, 11 campus student governments voted this past year for BDS despite the increased prevalence of Holocaust studies curricula on campus. Similarly, University of California, Irvine widely promotes a Holocaust exhibit on its campus and proudly heralds that its Holocaust course regularly attracts the maximum of 120 students. Lo and behold, its student government passed a BDS resolution by a 19-3 vote.

Money needs to be directed away from the lackluster status quo, and instead toward inculcating a more robust Jewish identity in young Jewish Americans through better Jewish education. According to a recent Pew survey, one-third of American Jews born after 1980 say they have no religion. Four-fifths of this group marry non-Jews. Only 8% rear their children to be Jewish. The majority report little or no attachment to Israel.

The purpose of education is partly to transmit knowledge for its own sake, and partly to impart useful information for the living. Young Jewish Americans need to know far more about their heritage, religion and culture. It is not inspiring to grow up being singularly taught, for all intents and purposes, that the whole of your identity is six million of your ancestors being herded like sheep to the slaughter.

Moreover, this myopia has spread beyond the Jewish community, implanting in millions of minds the image of the Jew as the quintessential patsy—easy prey. For example, it has given the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes of the world the talking point that America's shelters for illegal immigrants are no different than Nazi concentration camps. It has resulted in Godwin's Law, which posits that online arguments eventually devolve into adversaries calling each other "Nazis." It has led to COVID-19 vaccine skeptics wearing yellow stars, as though government pandemic mandates were somehow indistinguishable from systematic genocide.

Learning about the Holocaust is essential, but that learning must be instilled alongside knowledge about the walls of Jericho, Gideon and his trumpets and 300 men, Kings Saul, David and Solomon, and the teachings of prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Young Jewish Americans must also understand the compiling of the Talmud and be reasonably versed in the teachings and academies of Rabbis Akiva, Hillel and Shammai, as well as the great Torah commentators and codifiers, such as Rashi, Maimonides and Yosef Karo.

Alas, mainstream Hebrew school education provides essentially none of this. But it is this, not the Holocaust, that gives meaning and pride to being a Jew.

Rabbi Dov Fischer is western regional vice president of Coalition for Jewish Values.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.