Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and the number 6 million killed and the phrase “Never again” will be mentioned several times. But aggregating the 6 million (which does not include POW’s and other Nazi victims not to mention the military and civilian casualties, estimated at over 70 million) into a single statistic strips the victims of their humanity. They were each a person with a name, a family, and an individual life story who bears recognition and remembering, as they bear witness to examples of humanity at its’ best and absolute worst moments.
In addition to the lives that were lost or forever changed, vast amounts of intellectual capital was destroyed, as many artists, scientists, professors and other intellectuals had their lives and/or careers cut short, unable to further develop their talents and make new discoveries, or share their knowledge with other people. A whole way of life was nearly eradicated as well, a culture steeped in studying Torah, living with Jewish values at the forefront, in communities who cared for one another, bound together by shared goals and ideals, striving to become a light onto the nations. While there are still yeshivas and centers of Jewish learning now, many links to the traditions have become irreplaceably lost, as has their mindset, a firm belief in their purpose that was greater than themselves.
We must use this sense of loss to build bridges within the Jewish community and stand together, unified against hate. We must see the Divine Spark within each Jewish person and show them love and respect. Orthodox Jews should not denigrate Conservative Jews and understand that it’s very hard to struggle against the modern world when it surrounds you, and Conservative Jews should not label Orthodox Jews as archaic and should show respect for all their efforts in preserving Judaism in as authentic and undiluted way as possible. We need each other to survive- JCC’s, kosher restaurants/supermarkets, Judaica stores etc. are not specific to any one denomination. We are only 2% of the US population and 0.25% of the world population so we cannot bicker among ourselves, especially when we have bigger issues to combat.
We also need to reclaim the declamation “Never Forget!” and repurpose it to say, “Never Forget That You are Jewish”. Never forget who you are, where you come from. Never forget your Jewish identity, covered with the blood of our ancestors who have fought long and hard to win even small victories and ensure continuity of their communities. The proper response to anti-Semitism is first to support communities affected, and second to become even MORE Jewish, and display your Jewish identity even more proudly.
We should carry our inspiration from Pesach forward to perform more mitzvahs. Say Shema, say a Psalm, give Tzedekah, show kindness to someone else. But do not do it because “you’re a good person” or “it’s the right thing to do”, do it because you are Jewish. Do not think of your Jewish identity as something that belongs in the past. If we are embarrassed to be Jewish, then the anti-Semites are winning the battle because we are letting them into our heads and making us doubt ourselves. Think about what being Jewish means to you, recognize what amazing freedoms we have in being Jewish compared to our ancestors. No heavy taxation, no forced labor and deportations, no limitations on education or employment, etc. Think about the people who gave their lives being Jewish, who put themselves in harm’s way in order to save others. What can we each do to show that we stand with them, that they were not alone in their struggle, and that their memories won’t be forgotten?