Yom HaShoah 5774 is coming to an end. We return tomorrow to a short week of routine, until next week when we observe Yom HaZikaron, (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen), followed by Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).
Last night our nationwide commemoration of the Holocaust began, as it should, with a moving ceremony at Yad Vashem, our foremost national memorial to the Shoah. Both President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at the National Commemoration about what happened to us in the most profound tragedy of our people. While I was moved by the tribute, as I am always moved by our unified rites of remembrance, it struck me how one-dimensional our understanding of the Holocaust has become. That feeling was concretized by Prime Minster Netanyahu’s speech.
Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered the same address he has given almost every year. This speech has one singular theme– In every generation there has always been some entity – some Amalek – who wants to kill us, and in this generation, that “Amakek” is Iran. While I do not belittle the threat Iran poses, I believe standing up to Iran or the “Irans of the world” must not be the only lesson we learn from the Holocaust.
Netanyahu continued, reassuring the country asserting that as Israel’s Prime Minister he will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure that no Holocaust will never again be perpetrated on our people. This was without question an incredibly appropriate message. However, I was deeply struck by what was missing from the Prime Minister’s message. Netanyahu included nothing about any suffering of any other people; nothing of the genocides that have occurred in the world since the Holocaust; nothing about the nearly 200,000 who have been murdered in Syria these last two years – less than 40 miles from our borders.
We in Israel certainly cannot be the world’s police force. We certainly cannot be those who stop the killing, or the use of gas and chemical weapons against our neighbors. We could not have done anything in Rwanda – or stopped the killing in Sudan. However, we cannot be the ones who are silent. We can at least add a voice of moral clarity in the world against forces of genocide.
The Zionist movement is – without doubt – one of the most successful movements for National Liberation in the world’s history. Its founders knew something terrible was afoot in Europe and the only solution to the “Jewish Problem” was the creation of a Jewish State. Tragically, the movement reached its fruition too late to save the bulk of European Jewry, though it ultimately provided a safe haven for the survivors. The nation the Zionists created, Israel, is a nation like all other nations. It is not a nation without faults. Israel certainly has its challenges. Having a State of our own however, has turned us into a strong and independent nation. There may be those in the world who would prefer us to be dead. However, Israeli Jews of 2014 are not the same as European Jewry of 1939. We are strong now and the strong need not constantly repeat that fact. The accomplishments of the IDF and IAF all speak for themselves. It undermines our strength to continually flaunt it.
The time has come for us to understand that if we believe that Zionism has succeeded, (as it indeed has), then it is time for us to take the lessons of the Shoah, and apply it to the world – beyond ourselves. On this day of all days it’s our responsibility to speak out against the genocide and slaughter that are taking place anywhere in the world. We will know that the world has truly learned the lessons of the Holocaust when the massacre of the all innocents is ended, wherever it takes place. We are strong. We must always remember our overpowering loss. Yet, in out of our strength must come a greater responsibility to look beyond our borders and our narrow interests. We must understand that a strong Jewish State must be a State that – at least rhetorically – defends all those in the world who cannot defend themselves.