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Kauai Day of Remembrance

2019 May 15
by Carol

Day of Remembrance

Kauai Day of Remembrance

In honor of Day of Remembrance (Yom HaShoah), JCK received a request from PMRF to speak at an event they sponsored on May 3, 2019. Inette Miller graciously agreed to represent the Jewish Community. We are so grateful for her poignant and powerful speech which we include here for you. Thank you, Inette! Your words are so important and inspiring; may they spur us all to action.

Day of Remembrance

Here is Inette’s passionate presentation:

For the offspring of the biblical Abraham and Sarah – any man, woman or child carrying that Jewish blood – there can be no hiding. Not behind a neutered name. (My Grandfather was so neutered at Ellis Island, where his Simkowitz became my Miller). Not behind a head of bleached and straightened hair nor blue contact lenses. It has never been enough to not look Jewish, to not sound  Jewish, or to adapt every visible trait, habit and dress of the dominant White Anglo Saxon Protestant of our nation’s “founders.” It has never been enough. In the Baltimore where I grew up, that was not enough to buy a home in the exclusive Roland Park neighborhood or to join (despite wealth or accomplishment) the beautiful Baltimore Country Club. I fear that it will never be enough. I look lovingly at my five year old granddaughter, Ramona, the child of my eldest Jewish son. Her mother is an Irish American Christian; Ramona looks the image of her mother.

In Nazi Germany – just a few years before I was born at the crest of the baby-boom – my beautiful, lively, intelligent granddaughter would have been gassed to death. What she carried in her DNA was enough – enough rationale to heap her bones on the bones of my ancestors. I am here to say this. It is not enough. It is not enough to memorialize the dead six million Ramonas. It is not  enough to cluck our tongues or wear a button that says: “Never again.” Because clearly, “Never again” had no lasting moral potency. Clearly, “Never again” prevented neither the political atrocities in Cambodia in the seventies, nor the ethnic massacre in Bosnia in the nineties, neither the religiously prompted murders in Paris in 2015 nor the anti-Semitic ones at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October. Bumper sticker morality is not enough.

I guess my message is two-fold, bifurcated. First: to the Jews here among us, remember this. The German Jews under Hitler were the most assimilated, well-off, educated, successful subset of the population. If asked, their answer was, “I am German first and foremost.” They were rightfully shocked that their nation (their patients, their students, and even their German families) ultimately saw them as the other. Saw them as Jewish as opposed to German. Assimilation is not an excuse for hiding – for hiding the truth of who we are – from ourselves most of all. If after the Holocaust, we learned a single lesson. It was this: “We cannot hide.”

I’ve always been exceptionally proud that to own my Judaism, I am required neither to observe rituals nor attend synagogue services – but I do both. One can call himself Jewish and still, in the same breath, call himself an atheist. This is hard for Christians to understand. To claim the cultural lineage – we need only carry the blood and cherish the values that define the tribe. But we must claim it; we must say it aloud, “I am Jewish.” To refuse the heritage is to (self protectively?) disown the piles of Ramonas.

And what are those values? Now I direct my message to those in this audience who are joined here in compassion for the other – but are not members of the tribe. Here is what we, the Jewish people, share. Here is the lesson that my brethren have taken from “the gift” of the Holocaust. If the Holocaust has turned our people into victims then it has failed us. What it has taught and re-taught is this. We must never be blind to oppression of any people, in any place, at any time. That – the insistence that we speak and act in the face of the oppression of any people, anywhere – is where we carry our lessons of the Holocaust. This is where my people shine. Tikkun Olam means in Hebrew, “repairing the world.” It is the Jewish siren call for social justice and as a people we have responded. We were and are among the first alongside African Americans in the civil rights movement. We are among the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union. We are among the most philanthropic peoples in America.

And now I choose to turn this message to the personal – and to the local. I live on the Hawaiian Islands for one single reason: the man I met and married twenty-one years ago is a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner – a Kahu. If we were to make a life together, clearly it would have to be here. In making that choice, I was asked to relinquish many things that I counted as essential to my former life: a successful career, a spectacular hilltop home in Portland, the proximity of so many friends and family. What I was not asked to surrender was my Jewish identity.

In these many years of writing and speaking about my husband’s Native people and culture, I have been asked a variety of questions that sound something like: “What’s a nice Jewish girl doing…?”
I explain. I am not Native Hawaiian – I am a malihini, a guest, in my husband’s culture. And like so many of you, my mother taught me how to be a good guest – a respectful guest.

‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani is the Hawaiian. Only he speaks of the spirit of his culture, of the ancestors who guide and inspire his every move. I am the Jewish woman – deeply connected to  another ancient culture. And because I am steeped in another wisdom tradition, I am able to understand much of what the kanaka maoli know and value. At the most primal level, we share (and treasure sharing) the similarities: the essential faith; the divine connection that lies in our breath; the inviolability and power of the vibrations sent to the ears of God on our ancient languages. We share, too, a reverence for ancestral lineage, ritual and traditions. From the get-go, ‘Iokepa (who was equally ignorant of my traditions when we met) insisted that I stay the path, live my culture and observe my rituals. I have done just that. He’s been at my side for Yom Kippur; I’ve been at his, at ancient heiau. We share the deepest respect for the antiquity and vitality of our spiritual traditions. We look for places where they meet – but we don’t overstate them or pretend that we are who we are not. In this lies an enormous power. We believe that the reach across the divide – that could separate strangers of decidedly different backgrounds – is where the divine on Earth resides.

I am a Jewish woman whose people have known thousands of years of oppression, and a fairly recent effort to exterminate every last one of us. I repeat here what I’ve said time and again. “If there is a single gift of sustained oppression, it can never be the willingness to claim oneself as a victim. Rather, it’s our simple refusal to countenance oppression in any form to any people.” So that’s one attribute of my Judaism. I see with eyes that refuse to accept a lie,  the degree to which ‘Iokepa’s people have been tyrannized by a colonizing culture. I see the poverty, the ill-health, the addictions, and the dysfunction that accompanies these almost two-hundred years of oppression – and I refuse to ignore, romanticize or contribute to the Hawai’i State office of Tourism fiction. ‘Iokepa and I are each descendants of indigenous cultures. We come together across that seeming insurmountable divide of culture and spirit. We solemnly aspire to live within our marriage and within our hearts an alternative to the cultural demand that we draw fixed borders around our differences – or even worse – asks us to surrender the solemn gifts that define our differences. And because my role today is to remember, I will offer words to that effect from my Native Hawaiian husband.

“They made you wear identifying badges. They marched you onto cattle cars. They tattooed the survivors. They murdered six million of your people. Even though, you exist. And still you invite the stranger into your home and feed them.

“So many peoples have lost their culture – have become homogenized. But with your people there is a knowing, a recognition of one another. What I have always admired about your people are the rituals passed down, alive in the Torah. You’ve assumed and carried out an immense responsibility to hand these values down from generation to generation.” Our rabbis in recent decades have cried out their greatest fear: That assimilation like that in Germany – that intermarriage with non-Jews – will destroy our culture – even as the Holocaust failed to do. ‘Iokepa and I choose to live to the refutation of that fear. There can be no hiding.

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