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Ilyse Muser Shainbrown

Telling Our Story of Survival – Again and Again and Again

Jewish refugee children in the Chabannes children's home dressed in Purim costumes, March 1942. Pictured: Michel Razymovsky, Georges Sztrum, Arnaud Marcouse, Georges Jacob and Norbert Bikales. Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum #38285 Courtesy of Norbert Bikales

Yesterday I woke up to an alert from the security team at work. Could it possibly be true that in 2023, White Supremacist groups are calling for a “National Day of Hate” against Jews?! I could hardly believe what I was reading. But then my mind went spinning to the vile antisemitism that has been spewing for the last several years. Swastikas and Holocaust and Hitler analogies callously graffitied across schools, hate speech in posted across social and mass media, and violent attacks on synagogues, on Jews simply walking down the streets and worshiping in synagogues. So frankly, I did believe what I was reading. Once again Jews are heading into the Sabbath with a warning to “stay vigilant” instead of joyful and restful.

It was only weeks ago that my suburban New Jersey town held a rally against antisemitism on a Sunday afternoon in early February. The rally was nicely put together and everything that was said and done was correct. Yet I left feeling sad and defeated rather than uplifted and hopeful for a calm future. In the past few years, I have rallied, marched, blogged, posted and spoken out. Yet still, I open email after email from my synagogue, local police station and other arms of the Jewish community with consistency about threats and incidents along with hopeful messages as to why we as Jews will overcome the most recent issue at hand.

It is remarkable to many that in the darkest of times and in remembrance of our darkest times, Jews somehow find a way to be joyous. In the coming weeks we will celebrate the holiday of Purim. We will read the Megillah – telling the story of another time during which we were almost destroyed and instead of being sad and somber, we will rejoice with song, dance, triangular shaped cookies and toasts of L’chaim.

The message of the Jewish survival from genocide in Shushan has rung true for generations. Even in the bleakest of days of the Holocaust we know that the Megillah of Esther was read and celebrated in a secret bunker in the Terezin Concentration Camp, by Jewish children in costume hiding in the French village of Chambon, and treats of mishloach manot were secretly passed around the misery of the Lodz Ghetto. How incredibly remarkable it was that even when facing genocide, Jews were able to gain strength from passed persecution.

Purim is not the most major of Jewish holidays, and asking most non-Jews, probably even some Jews as well, if they know why we celebrate on the 14th Adar, I imagine many of them do not actually know the story. They might know that we wear costumes, eat special jelly filled cookies, and shake something that makes noise. But knowing and understanding that the essence of why we celebrate our almost destruction is probably unknown to most. And in many ways, hard to figure out and understand. One might think, just as we observe Kristallnacht and Yom HaShoah with remembrance and a somber tone, we would do the same as we read the Megillah of Esther. However, it’s the joy of our survival from Haman that prevails and we rejoice in the day.

But here we are again, just days before Purim 2023 and we are flooded with threats to hate and harm the Jewish people, purely because we are Jewish. The story is so repetitive, it has sadly become a repetitive joke, someone seeks to wipe out, they come very close, some of us somehow survive and continue to be Jewish. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

As I write this, in many parts of the world it is already Shabbat. Sundown is looming on the East Coast of the US, and a called upon “day of hate” is looming just as the Sabbath is heading in. As Jews I know we will prevail over this one as well, that is what we do. I wonder though if we can ask of our non-Jewish friends and neighbors to prevail along with us. I am hoping that everyone – both Jewish and non-Jewish can agree to say that there is no room in this world for a day of hate. And hopefully, one day soon, we as Jews will not have to repeatedly retell our stories of survival against those that seek to wipe us out.

About the Author
Ilyse Muser Shainbrown was a former Middle and High School History teacher who now holds a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Over the years she has done extensive research on various portions of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide including, Rwanda, the Belgian Congo and Bosnia. Currently, Ilyse Muser Shainbrown is the Director of Holocaust Education at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest. Through both programs, Ilyse works to ensure that Holocaust education is taught broadly in public, private and parochial schools throughout Essex, Union, Morris and Sussex counties.
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