At 10 this morning, I left my apartment and walked the block to Dizengoff Center. There, I witnessed the entire country stop what they were doing, get out of their cars, and stand perfectly still, frozen in time for two minutes; while the memorial siren penetrated our bodies. This marked my first Yom Ha’Shoah in Israel.
Yesterday, myself and four other MA students accompanied a delegation from IDC’s International School to the Yom Ha’Shoah Memorial Ceremony at Yad Vashem. The delegation, 35 students strong, consisted of mostly BA students, from countries far and wide such as India, France, Germany, and Singapore. Our MA delegation had three American born Jews (myself being the only Israeli citizen), a Kenyan and an Italian.
As we arrived at Yad Vashem, the wind had already started to pick-up causing many of us to seek shelter from the cold – having just come from Tel Aviv and Herzliya, and 90 degree heat, I doubt most people were prepared for the blustering wind and cold night that lay ahead of us.
We were ushered through security and left to our own devices for over three hours, while we watched other members of the audience and distinguished guests arrive. The mood was jovial; making jokes, catching-up with old friends we had run into, deciphering military ranks and units, trying to figure out how to keep warm. Blankets appeared at the entrance to the tekes in an attempt to warm the audience who, likes us, had not come prepared for a night of wind and 40 degrees. And as the sun set over Har Hertzl, we settled into our chairs, like huddled masses, and listened to the amazing voice of Corporal Guy Peltz lull us into attention.
I didn’t want to discuss the anger, shame, and disappointment I felt as Prime Minister Netanyahu took the stage and launched into his political rhetoric, that Iran is the new Nazi threat, trying to annihilate the Jewish people; but I feel as if I must. As many articles over the past few months have pointed out, Bibi’s use of Holocaust rhetoric when discussing Iran needs to end, and todays article in the Times of Israel by Stuart Winer, discussing Elie Wiesel’s disapproval of Holocaust to Iran comparisons, echoes my thoughts on the matter perfectly. Yom Ha’Shoah is a day when we remember the six million Jews who perished; we honor them and keep them in our memories, as the few survivors who are left won’t be around to educate the next generation with their own words. Iran and political rhetoric, in my mind, have absolutely nothing to do with the Holocaust and they should have no place in a memorial ceremony. On a day when we mourn our brothers and sisters, our family members, our heritage; war mongering to allow for the future mourning of sons, daughters, mothers and fathers should be kept silent. This is not the story to tell, this is not how Israel will survive.
As the survivors and their relatives took the stage for the torch lighting, the screens began to play each survivors story. At the age of 23, I still find myself crying while listening to survivor testimonials. With the wind chilling us to the bone, huddled together for warmth with blankets thrown around our shoulders; I felt as if we were transported back to 1941. Is this how my family felt as they were huddled together in Austria and Romania, waiting for deportation to their death? With tears rolling down my frozen cheeks, huddling for warmth between my friends, I saw my families history flash through my mind; crying out while being held at concentration camps, being murdered simply because they were different, they were Jews.
In his speech last night, President Shimon Peres summed-up the lessons we need to take from the Holocaust;
“My friends, a million and a half Israeli citizens are not Jewish. We are obligated to make sure that none of them are ever discriminated because of their nationality or religion. This is the essence of the existence of the State of Israel. Israel is a defense shield, a safe haven and a great spirit. Had the State of Israel existed during those days, I am convinced that things would have been different. We have paid a high price but we have not lost faith. We have gathered unusual capacities, which emerged, from the depths of the Holocaust and from the peaks of our legacy. We have a commitment towards the betterment of the world and respect for humanity.”
This is the rhetoric that should be spoken, this is the lesson we need to learn, this is the story we need to tell our children. This is our answer to “never again”; this is how Israel will survive.
– Translation of Shimon Peres’ speech was acquired from The Ministry of Foreign Affairs - full translation text can be found there.