Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thoughts on Yom Hashoah

National Gevurah
Interviewing a current Orot student for a public relations piece that I'm working on, she described a trip that she participated in to meet educational figures in action. Among the people who met with the group was Rav Sharon Shalom, who among the many other hats that he wears, is a lecturer in history at Orot. In addition, Rav Shalom is the Rav of Kehillat Kedoshei Yisrael, a shul founded by survivors of the Holocaust in Kiryat Gat.
Rav Sharon is an impressive person: a rabbi, scholar, Talmid Chacham and an academic. Oh yes - he's also Ethiopian.
Discussing her experience of listening first to a Holocaust survivor tell of his experiences, and then hearing from his forty-year-old Ethiopian rabbi, the student spoke about the powerful emotions she felt. Where else, she wondered, but the State of Israel, could someone who lived through the Shoah speak with pride about his black rabbi, who walked from Ethiopia to the Promised Land?
Where else, indeed?
Yom Hashoah is of course about the destruction and devastation. But it's that's only half the story. It's really Yom Hashoah V'hagevurah. As we note the massive loss of the Holocaust, we should also mark the bravery and strength of Am Yisrael to get up off the mat, look at the world squarely in the face and rebuild itself yet again, in its ancestral homeland, into a country for all Jews, no matter their country of origin or the color of their skin.

Never Again? No...and Yes.
The Memorial at Dachau
Even more than six decades after the fact, Yom Hashoah is a very frightening day for children (if not for adults as well). My son's school screened the film adaptation of "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", which left him somewhat jarred. (I'm not a personal fan of the film or the book, which is, according to IMDB, "a story seen through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-year-old son of the commandant at a concentration camp." Sorry, but only Hollywood would try to see the Nazis' side of the Holocaust, so that we should feel sorry for their innocent children.) In any case, the film led to a discussion about the Shoah and whether it could happen yet again. It's scary to watch a depiction of Jews marching towards their own deaths in the showers of a concentration camp. Bezalel, my twelve-year-old son, felt that the Holocaust could indeed happen again. If no one rose to protect the Jews of Europe, what assurances do we have today?
Moreover, Bezalel added, the Jews can lose. He's learning Navi, and noted that Jewish kings fought and lost wars against their enemies. So who is to say that even in Israel, even with the strength of the IDF, that we're safe?

I agreed with him. It could indeed happen again. Indeed I feel that the Jewish efforts (and the tens, if not hundreds of millions of Jewish dollars spent) to ensure "never again" seem naive and short-sighted. After all, who could have imagined that it could happen in Germany? No one believed it possible, even while it was happening. Moreover, there indeed are no shortage of people trying to kill us. After all, just last month we enjoyed yet more family time in our protected room, as our Arab cousins to the south shared some of their homemade and imported rockets. (Thanks!)
No, there are no guarantees. But, I told him, there is a critical difference. Something has indeed changed.Today, even as our enemies attack us, we stand up and fight. Indeed, we may (God forbid) lose and suffer a terrible defeat. But at least if we go down, we will go down fighting.
No one can say that never again will an enemy of the Jews rise to power on a wave of hatred, racism and fanaticism, hoping to exterminate the Jewish people. It's happened before, and probably likely to happen again, sooner than anyone would like to believe.
But we can say a different type of "Never again."
As long as their is a Jewish State, we will never again walk placidly to our own deaths without a struggle. We will "never again" allow an enemy of the Jews to kill us without a fight.
Of that, we can indeed be sure.