Like everyone who loves Israel, whether you are privileged to live here or not, the plight of our people is constantly in the front of our minds – for some of us, it’s all we can think about.
I was just having a conversation with my daughter, and we both came to the realization that since October 7th, we were each doing exactly the same thing, quietly in our own heads. She was getting lunch ready and said quietly, “I wonder if the kidnapped are being fed.” I looked at her and said, “OMG, I have been saying that exact same thing in my head like a mantra before I do ANYTHING.” I quite literally brush my teeth every morning and wonder if they’ve been given toothpaste. I snuggle under the covers at night and wonder if they have a blanket. I play the piano and wonder if they will ever hear music again. I hug my daughter every night and wonder….
I make it a point to see the evening news at night when they announce all the names of the dead released for publication and I look at their faces, read their names, see where they’re from. I feel the need to do that, to never forget.
Never Forget and Never Again.
These are the slogans of my life since I was too young to remember.
I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. It’s so much a part of my identity especially since I bear the name of my great grandmother who was murdered in the Holocaust. In fact, my mother was one of the 2000 babies born in Bergen Belsen after the war when it was turned from a concentration camp into a DP (displaced person) camp run by the British Red Cross. So I grew up on the stories of the Holocaust. Some really horrific stories and some truly heroic ones. Each story had its own lesson to be learned and to be remembered.
I spent many Shabbatot at my grandparents’ home – those weekends were and remain some of my best memories of childhood. While I would sometimes laugh at their heavy Yiddish-accented English and how my grandfather insisted on pronouncing the word “knife” with a prominent “k” sound (why else would it be there?), I was also in awe of their resilience and strength, how they survived the impossible and were determined to start over again in a new strange land with a new strange language. And I was in awe of their unwavering belief in God, even after all that they had been through.
I especially loved to look at their old black and white photos. They had scalloped edges and some were faded and blurry, or folded in half. Several had been smuggled into the camps by my grandfather; my favorite the one of his family surrounding their dinner table at their Purim Seuda right before the war broke out. And their photos post war: their wedding portrait taken in what was a former bunker with my grandmother wearing a dress made from a parachute, that was worn by so many brides following the liberation.
I was somewhat obsessed with the Holocaust as a child – nearly all my classmates were grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and our shuls were run by these kind old men who had such sadness in their eyes. Every book report or book talk I had to do in school was based on a Holocaust novel. At one point my teacher gently suggested I try a different genre. I couldn’t: this was my family’s history, and therefore it was mine.
There’s one story that haunts me until today. My grandmother gave birth to my mom in the DP camp. They had a makeshift hospital/clinic set up for the survivors that was mostly run by the British. But it was staffed by the locals. German nurses. German nurses that were unhappy that their country and leader lost the war. But it was a job, so they did it.
If you have children, then you remember very well the first moment the nurse handed you your newly born baby. She likely smiled widely and proudly presented you the greatest gift in the world like it was an Oscar award. She probably said, “it’s a gorgeous baby girl and she’s absolutely perfect!” Or “what an adorable son you have; look at those eyes!”
I have 4 children and I remember those moments well.
My grandmother told me that the minute my mother was born, the German nurse flung this gorgeous new Jewish life at my grandmother and said, “Just what the world needs – another stinking Jew.”
That was HER moment. At a time when she never thought she would survive, let alone find my grandfather alive after the war, let alone be well enough to get pregnant, and then miraculously not lose the baby. THAT was what she heard the minute she held this miracle in her arms.
This was January 1948.
It’s 2023. We’re a little less than eighty years later and history is proving – unfortunately – that it does indeed repeat itself.
That antisemetic German nurse wasn’t afraid to voice her blind hatred even after the war; she had absolutely no shame or qualms about what she felt about the Jews, and she certainly wasn’t shy about saying it out loud. And today we are now seeing that SAME behavior erupt all over the world – all over the FREE DEMOCRATIC WORLD. All of those Antsemites and Jew-haters are crawling out of their hiding spaces and emerging from the woodwork like cockroaches. They might have lain dormant for all these years, but their hatred was burning inside them all this time. The events of October 7th just gave them the excuse they needed to shout it to the world.
October 7th gave them permission.
It’s now the popular trend worldwide to shout from the rooftops: “Death to the Jews”, or “Gas the Jews”, or “From the river to the sea….”.
Mezuzot all over the world are being desecrated and ripped off doorposts, and Stars of David are spray painted on Jewish homes to make it easier for the Jew-hating mobs to find their targets.
I’m wary of drawing similarities between this war and the Holocaust, because things are different now, in many ways – the most important one being that have our own country – but the parallels to Kristallnacht are eerily similar.
It hurts me so much to see the home where I grew up, Toronto, Canada, turn from a safe haven for all ethnicities to a dangerous place to wear a kippa or a Star of David necklace. And it’s not just Canada, but America, Britain, Europe, Scandinavia, South America…. And the list goes on.
I thought I understood the fear that my grandparents had in the 1930s; I had certainly heard enough stories and read every book published about the subject. But I didn’t really know – I didn’t really understand it until now.
I’m sad, angry, confused, scared and furious that we are forced to really understand this, to feel this kind of terrifying fear deep in our bones, but I will not let my grandparents (z”l) down.
I will remember.
I will never forget.
Because this time, even with all the sadness and anger and confusion and fear, I also have a beautiful country to call my own, a kick-ass army, and I’m lucky enough to be a part of an amazing nation that is constantly seeking to send out light amidst this suffocating darkness.
So to all you Jew-haters out there: you can shout anything you want from every rooftop in the world, but we will not back down. We carry the sacred memories and stubborn spirits of all of our ancestors who were murdered in the Spanish Inquisitions, the pogroms, the blood libels, the Holocaust, and the massacre of October 7th – and we will NEVER FORGET.
And we will take those words: NEVER AGAIN, and we will finally make them a reality.