With one Syrian grandmother, two American grandfathers, and one grandmother from Israel, I never felt affected by the Holocaust. While I’m as Jewish as it gets (just look at the nose), none of my grandparents went through concentration camps, pogroms in Europe, or faced anti-Semitism during the Third Reich. And I’d always assumed the least affected was my grandma, who was living in Jerusalem during WWII. Although named Palestine at the time, it was the predecessor of the Jewish state. The dream for persecuted European Jewry… maybe after America, of course.
Experiencing Holocaust Remembrance Day (or Yom HaShoah) in Israel, however, has only taught me otherwise. Ceremonies and memorials are held throughout the country in cities, communities, schools, and among families still mourning their losses. Following all other “holidays” on the Israeli Jewish calendar, it starts the evening before and extends to the next day. The State of Israel commenced with an opening ceremony at the country’s Yad Vashem (Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, museum, and education center). I was lucky enough to attend the ceremony with my ITF group, where we heard from “headliners” such as Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, President Ruvi Rivlin, and the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau.
Putting aside my general thoughts on Bibi, I will acknowledge his acumen for pointing out the following irony in his speech: (along the lines of) Anti-Semitism gave birth to Zionism, for if the Jews had a home they would no longer be unwanted refugees across the globe. And yet, in 2016 it is this very Zionism that is breeding the current wave of anti-Semitism in the world.
With anti-Semitism still blossoming and movements such as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) gaining traction, the only logical question I can ask the world is how could you have already forgotten? We say “Never Forget” but this is simply not the case because the struggle has yet to end.
An even greater irony hit me as I went to school today and sat through my student’s own Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. I am a Jew living in America, the Diaspora. Never before have I done more than “like” a Facebook post about Yom Hashoah in the past or commemorated in my community beyond what I learned in World History in high school or Hebrew school. And yet, here I am in the Jewish state, the only place where I am wanted for being a Jew… and it is here that the commemoration is ubiquitous. At 10 AM, a siren sounds for two minutes throughout the entire country in remembrance—with reverence so strong that pulls people out of their cars on the highway. Even public places of entertainment have to be closed by law.
With an emphasis on family breakages during the Holocaust this year, Yeshurun put on a series of skits, dances, and musical performances, woven together by commemorative speeches, videos, and poems honoring the day. I was truly blown away by my students’ talents and to see the interpretation of Yom Hashoah at Yeshurun. The school was in the auditorium, and the 10 AM siren prefaced the ceremony.
As I head off to Poland one week from tomorrow, I am going in with a more personally-orientated frame of mind. While none of my ancestors may have stepped in the gates of Auschwitz, or risked their lives in hiding, Jews of the world and Jewish state are still not freed of blind-hatred, negative propaganda, and ignorance. More than 12 million people lost their lives in the Holocaust and estimates of 80 million people died in World War II, either fighting for or against Nazi principles, or those caught in-between.
I am curious to see how the Polish communities of Krakow and Warsaw were affected by the Holocaust...but even more so, I am interested to see how the communities persevered and to witness their presence today.
So let's never forget the Holocaust. But let's also remember that "never forgetting" is an active process that is more than just lighting a memorial candle for victims. In order to never forget, it is a constant battle to educate on the situation, remind of the past, and prevent future devastation.