Remains of the Day, 6-24-07

This evening, I attended a tribute dinner at my synagogue. It’s a fundraiser but also a way to recognize outstanding congregants: those who’ve given time and energy over the years to the shul as well as the community at large, in their professional lives and so on.

We went because it’s the thing we do. I wasn’t not looking forward to it, but it wasn’t something I’d been anticipating with great eagerness either.

If I’d known beforehand about Professor Deborah Lipstadt, the speaker, I’m sure I would have felt differently.

You can read her bio here, but it does not do her justice. Prof. Lipstadt is a powerful presence and she sets that tone from the get-go: she approached the mike, told the waitstaff to stop serving dessert and apologized, without really feeling all that sorry, to the audience if they had to wait for their cake but it was just too distracting. A friend sitting next to me said, I like her already. And I felt exactly the same way.

Lipstadt when on to talk about David Irving, a Holocaust denier, and the lawsuit he filed against her that charged her with libel, in England, which she won, including all the appeals. It’s a fascinating case, discussed in books and news articles galore, and she did an excellent job detailing how it is that one wins such a case, although it makes perfect sense to me and is what I believe I try to do when confronted with accusations that have no basis in reality: you show how the details have no basis in reality.

But what provoked me most was how she took her experience, and Irving’s existence, and applied it to today. She talked about hard-core denial, like Irving’s, which she believes is waning, and soft-core denial, which she believes is on the rise. And then she told us about how her lawyers prepared her before her trial began, years ago. They advised her to wipe up the mess, eradicate the mess spread by people like Irving, and then move on. But whatever you do, don’t carry it with you and spread it throughout your life and your life’s work. Because then it becomes your life too.

Instead, you must keep on with your own life’s work and agenda, not what someone else wishes they could make your life’s agenda become.

I’m paraphrasing and reinterpreting what I got from her presentation. But it was incredibly powerful.

And that’s what’s remaining with me today.

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