I am anxious. I am anxious because I am Jewish. I have tried to stay out of this because I am anxious. I can not stay out of it anymore because I am Jewish.
My grandfather, Papa, is a survivor of Auschwitz. I used to run my fingers over his B-1148 tattoo and laugh before I knew what it meant. I used to laugh when he would shove all the diner muffins in his pockets and when he would eat everyone’s leftovers at the table. When I was in fifth grade, Papa came to speak at my school for Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was very proud. Papa told the room that his brother and his father were killed in the gas chambers. My great-grandma found out that her son and husband were dead through barbed wire. I hadn’t known. When I had my bat mitzvah, we left a chair open on the bema for my uncle Samuel. He died before he could have his own bar mitzvah. He had the same face as my brother.
After the October 7th attack, the University of Pennsylvania’s campus went up in flames, as it were. Posters of a kidnapped boy from my high school were ripped down by my classmates. A Jewish student was shoved on the street. AEPi, a Jewish fraternity, was vandalized with the words, “Jews R Nazis.” All these events were eerily reminiscent of Papa’s descriptions of pre-Auschwitz Poland. He called me to make sure I am safe and to make sure I am keeping my head down.
Upon walking to class a few weeks ago, I heard a loud chant down Locust Walk, “FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA, PALESTINE WILL BE FREE!” I tried to stay away from these large demonstrations, but I had to get to class. I saw an adviser of mine standing front and center. She said, “Israel is the epitome of antisemitism…it desecrates the memory of Holocaust victims and humiliates every Jewish person.” The crowd erupted in applause. I thought of Papa. I thought of Uncle Samuel and my great-grandpa (named Israel) who were murdered by the Nazis. Who are these people to weaponize their memories? Their names line the walls of Yad Vashem on the edge of Jerusalem. Israel is their memory. I am their memory. And I am proud.
The Holocaust is not ancient history. My grandfather cannot ride the train because the smell reminds him of the cattle car to Auschwitz. I still have nightmares where my dad and my brother are bald and dead and I am hungry. The Holocaust is not ancient history. When you say “Never again for anyone,” you weaponize a phrase that should be used to remember the victims of the Holocaust — and only the victims of the Holocaust. The loss of life in Gaza should be remembered, but differently because it is different.
To those people who believe that Israel “desecrates the memory of Holocaust victims,” I can say with complete confidence that the six million would be just like us. You would hate them the way you hate us.
To those people who are anxious like me, I can say to you what my Papa says to me and what his mother said to him: Gam Ze Ya’avor, This too shall pass.