As we rejoice our ability to eat bread once more and find ourselves at the grocery store more often than not, we quickly return to our everyday lives. Senioritis is in full swing, and prom is on the horizon. Summer is almost reachable, the end is near. It’s a whirlwind of emotions and nostalgia, and the time is ticking faster and faster as the days go by.
However, now that Passover is over we enter a new time in the Jewish calendar. Things start to slow down. As I write this, thousands of people from all over the world are headed to Poland. They are taking a break from their busy schedules and worries about the future to return to the past. These visitors will tour the various concentration camps throughout Poland, bearing witness to one of the greatest atrocities of all time. This week, everything is on pause. This week, we remember.
These next two weeks throw us back into a past that now, more than ever, we need to remember. This year rocked the boat, with events blowing up around the world that shook our sense of security and threatened the peacefulness of our everyday lives. Israel found herself under rocket fire once more, receiving immense criticism from the international community. Jews across Europe saw anti-Israel activity blur into age-old anti-Semitism, forcing them to make the tough decision between staying or leaving. University campuses are growing increasingly more turbulent, with offenses ranging from defacing Jewish fraternity houses to questioning students’ capabilities because of their faith making national headlines. The past Israeli election created a divide in the American Jewish population, and Netanyahu’s speech threatened the traditional bipartisanship of the issue of Israel’s security in Congress. The United Nations has continued to condemn Israel for violations of human rights and international law with some Diaspora and Israeli Jews following suit.
We’ve entered an age of disillusionment. Europe is starting to forget about the Holocaust, and Diaspora Jews are starting to forget the importance of Israel. Division and debate have splintered the very causes that once united us, and apathy runs rampant.
The international Jewish community faces many challenges, both within Israel and in the Diaspora. These issues threaten to divide us, but to combat this we must remember all that we have endured, all that unites us. For these two weeks, let’s return to our roots. Let’s remember how we got here, mourning our losses and celebrating our triumphs.
It’s 1945. The world is in chaos. The war is over, but its repercussions are not. Europe is a catastrophe, with many historic cities utterly devastated.
The Jewish population of Europe emerges from the concentration camps, sick and traumatized. Two-thirds of the Jewish population is gone. 85-90% of Polish Jewry has been wiped out, and the remaining are hopeless, family-less, and Godless. Children have lost their innocence and their childhood, and must find a way to return to the normal world. Families are ripped apart, with husbands desperately trying to find their murdered wives among the masses of unclaimed refugees.
Some return to their pre-war homes, where they face pogroms and hatred. Others are huddled in Displaced Persons camps, homeless and unwanted. A lucky few head to America, and others make the arduous journey to Palestine.
The future of the Jewish people is not so bright.
Fast forward to three years later. A Jewish state is declared by the United Nations. Holocaust survivors dance in the streets, celebrating this victory for those who could not dance. Still sick and full of despair, they realize the miracle of Israel.
Jewish soldiers guard their borders, with their guns ready to fire at invading armies. They are tough, resilient, and proud.
Families live on communal living villages, very in touch with nature and ready to build something magnificent. From a desert comes flora, and from disaster comes hope.
Ships of immigrants arrive regularly to Haifa, with refugees bringing their sorrows but adding to the sense of optimism throughout the country. This time, they will be okay.
As Arab armies invade Israel, the young state fights back. Three years ago we were weak, but now we stand strong in defiance to the threat of total annihilation. We defend ourselves because we learned that we cannot rely on anyone else to do it for us.
In those three years, a miracle transpired. We were decimated and humiliated. Tortured and alone. While our fate seemed destined and miserable, we rose from the ashes and created a new life. We entered the next chapter of Jewish existence, refusing to be marginalized ever again. From hell came beauty, from hopelessness a miracle. These three years showed us that despite best efforts, the Jewish spirit cannot be broken.
As my friends make their way through concentration camps that once imprisoned our people, they will take the time to repeat history. They, like several of their Jewish brothers and sisters before them, will make the journey from Auschwitz to Birkenau by foot. This was once a death march, in which many prisoners would be killed on the walk or murdered upon their arrival to Birkenau. Today Jews make this journey clad in Israeli flags, singing and showing the world that the Jewish soul is alive and well. They will then make the journey to Israel, celebrating the renaissance of Jewish life nearly sixty-eight years ago.
This beautiful ritual reminds us that both the horrors of the Holocaust and the miracle of Israel are still alive today. In the darkest of times, the Jewish people found hope. Though the issues we face today are divisive and seem never-ending, it is important to maintain an optimistic view of the future and remain passionate. When we stand united, we show the world the story of a people who were persecuted and estranged, but remained a single family with an unbreakable soul.