[On] your behalf my heart says, ‘Seek My Face!’ O Lord, I seek Your face.
We have seen that the dominant theme of post-Holocaust theology has been that of the eclipse or hiddenness of God, whether as a function of the mystery of divine activity or of human freedom. But Jewish theology has also wanted to say that its God is an accompanying God, going with the assembly of Israel, even in its exile. Theologies of divine hiddenness (qua desertion) do not keep faith with that wandering, deported God whose presence establishes and maintains community wherever Israel finds itself. Such theologies ignore how community was not only destroyed by the Holocaust but also sustained. Most particularly, such theologies ignore both new and traditional forms of community sustained by women.
In a letter to the Jewish feminist artist Judy Chicago, Vera John-Steiner, a survivor, wrote: ‘Although I am reluctant to make great generalizations about women during the Holocaust … nonetheless, I believe that it is the rootedness in community that is ontologically fundamental to Jewish culture, and it is the effort to maintain community that can be specifically seen in the female Holocaust experience.’ 1 John-Steiner’s view is far from atypical: the evidence for sustained relationship constitutes a considerable literature in itself. It is the record of women’s efforts to sustain relationships of care in Auschwitz and other camps (whether heterosexual or lesbian) 2 that offers the post-Holocaust theological reader a textual insight into the presence of God among them; of their having carried God aloft through Auschwitz. In the previous chapter I looked to see how women might have prepared the way for divine presence by keeping the world fit or ready for God. In this and the next chapter I look to see how that presence could be disclosed.
There is no doubt that sustaining or developing relations of care in Auschwitz could have been a survival strategy beneficial to both parties; an act of pragmatic solidarity rather than an ethical or spiritual response to the suffering other. But that this was often the case does not exclude the possibility that care also signified more and other than the survival of the self or family for its own sake. 3 By ‘more’,