I was recently reminded of “What Was I Thinking,” a clever piece written in the 1990s by New York City singer-songwriter Christine Lavin. In a series of verses, Lavin documents some dumb choices made by various people that lead into a chorus that variously asks, “What was I-he-she thinking?”
The song came to mind when news surfaced about a fashion photo shoot that was held here in Ottawa at the National Holocaust Monument.
On August 12, Montreal-based designer Michèle Beaudoin posted a photo on Instagram of a model at the National Holocaust Monument wearing a rather revealing dress. She credited the model, the makeup artist and the photographer, and promised more photos to come.
The Instragram post was deleted later that same day after several irate people who witnessed the photo shoot contacted the media. Community leaders – including Rabbi Reuven Bulka, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, and Mina Cohen, director of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship at the Max and Tessie Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies at Carleton University – spoke out about how absurdly inappropriate it was to do a fashion photo shoot at what must be regarded as a sacred place.
What, indeed, were the designer and her associates thinking? In response to an Ottawa Citizen enquiry, photographer Richard Tardif told the reporter via email, “After further consideration, we decided to end the session and discontinue the project. Also, all material has been deleted.”
That sad incident in Ottawa was not the only inappropriate event related to a Holocaust site that day. Two young Israelis, on a school trip to Poland to learn about the Holocaust, were caught on video dancing naked at the site of the Majdanek concentration camp, where an estimated 78,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
A statement from Israel’s Education Ministry said it views “with great severity any behaviour that could harm the status and values represented by the trips to Poland. In the case in question, due to the students’ improper and inappropriate behavior, disciplinary actions have been taken against them to the fullest.”
Surely, one would think that Jewish students, studying the Holocaust, would know better. What were they thinking?
Corbyn and Trump
Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, observers have been attempting to understand the hold that Donald Trump has over his right-wing base. No matter how outrageous, offensive, or even racist Trump’s statements and actions have been, his base has remained fiercely loyal.
Watching the steady stream of revelations about anti-Semitism in the British Labour Party, particularly as it relates to party leader Jeremy Corbyn – who might well be the United Kingdom’s next prime minister if the polls are correct – one begins to understand the hold that Trump has over his base. Corbyn, whose left-wing populism seems to parallel Trump’s right-wing populism, has a similar hold over his base.
No matter how disturbing the revelations are about Corbyn’s associations with Hamas, Hezbollah or Black September terrorists. No matter the revelation that he has appeared on the Iranian government’s propaganda TV station to denounce the BBC for recognizing Israel’s right to exist. No matter the revelation that his principal secretary advised his supporters not to vote for candidates who have appeared in Jewish newspapers – the list of examples grows longer by the day – Corbyn’s base sticks by him with unwavering loyalty.
In late-July, the United Kingdom’s three Jewish newspapers jointly published front-page editorials declaring that a Corbyn-led government would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life” in their country.
Historically, most British Jews have found a political home in the Labour Party. But, now in 2018, Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said, “It’s like Jeremy Corbyn has declared war on the Jews.”
It is a frightening situation for the Jewish community in the U.K.
On behalf of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin staff – myself, Eddie, Patti and Matthew – I extend our best wishes for a sweet and Happy New Year.