The necessity of light

There are not enough words or time in our lives to fully experience  the calamity that was the Holocaust. We experience it in so many ways; emotional, spiritual, academic and philosophical capacities, but the totality of such an impenetrably vast loss is impossible to capture all at once. So we say “Never Again”, and we try to mean it, even if parts of the world make that promise nearly impossible to keep. Yet we live in a world where the atrocities of mankind against another play out across almost every continent; so many places and so much pain it’s hard to fathom. When it comes to public awareness of modern inhumanity and even genocide, we know very little. So many people in the United States are completely unaware of the now almost daily occurrences of brutal and mass killings of innocent people across the world. As President Obama considers the value and fate of our Jewish future with the flick of his pen on a deal with our enemy, Jews everywhere see the parallels between remembering the Holocaust and preventing the one that might be on it’s way.

Yes, the Holocaust is a dark and barely distant memory; it’s impossible to consume the full meaning of it in one day of remembrance, or to stomach that today we face such threats with no certainty of our personal protection. It is somehow fitting, considering the world we live in, as tragedy is reported by the hour, and the deeply rooted knots in our stomachs about the reality of “Never Again” squeeze tighter as the reports of danger press on.

So as is the Jewish way, in spite of all this darkness, we look for hope. My hope is wrapped up in the extraordinary irregularities of history and in life; I’ve always leaned toward the esoteric and even the fantastical. Any survey on the miracles portrayed in Holocaust survivor stories teaches us that greatness can be found in those narrow, shadowed spaces of unrecognizable perfection; a wrong turn taken in a hallway that became the difference between escape and the gas chambers, an illness that kept a prisoner from work, that single day when everyone was shot dead on the work yard. These stories are our major points of perseverance, and perhaps the reason we have any survivors at all.

I have no illusions about the intentions of Iran or any friend to Iran, or the reliability of my own country to protect Jewish life. I pray that the United States will recognize Iran, Russia, Syria, Armenia and all allies of terrorism for what they are, and act accordingly. I have a growing unease about the commitment of the United States to its long-standing allies like Israel, and i say this as I remember the Holocaust, I  look back at how the United States stood by while 3 out of 4 of European Jews were wiped off the face of the earth.

So I look beyond the borders of my immediate reality, well past the United States and most of Europe. To protect something as important as the fate of Jewish life, we have to think globally and creatively , and identify every single point of hope on the map. Some 7,000 miles away from my home in California is a friend to our community; a small, but critically meaningful nation that faces enormous threats and danger while heroically protecting and celebrating the lives of Jews. What a dangerous line Azerbaijan walks, situated uncomfortably between Iran and Armenia, both enemies to Israel, Jews, and perpetrators of genocide. Azerbaijan has thwarted the disastrous qualities and impacts of her neighbors through the impenetrable and lasting vision of tolerance and peace that has protected and strengthened the country for thousands of years. The imperative of multicultural respect and peace has made Azerbaijan a lesson to the world and no doubt a meaningful factor in the growing success of its economy and diplomatic relationships.

So as we remember the Holocaust, it is certain that this kind of fluke inspiration; a brave Muslim nation, built on peace, matters as much or more than the countless tragedies taking place today. On one side of the border, Iran depicts sickly offensive cartoons of Jews, publicly threatens a genocide of Jewish people, and surrounds itself with historical allies to the Nazis. On the other side, in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, a statue depicts the countries most celebrated war hero, a Jewish tankist named Albert, who lost his life protecting his homeland, a country that had always protected him. The stark dichotomy of terrifying hatred on one side and a Muslim nation celebrating a Jewish warrior on another is nothing short of inspiring. In Azerbaijan, a reality exists that supports as fact that somewhere in this world, the concept of Never Again is palpably actualized.

It’s hard to understand, yet critical to absorb. If you put the two scenes side by side; a Muslim nation that echoes Hitler and a Muslim nation that actualizes Jewish-Muslim utopian co-existence. Yet part of what characterizes the remembrance of the Holocaust is the unusual nature of it in all respects, the banality of everything that happened, the extremity of darkness and the penetration of light, that light which rescued and enabled survival. Without the illuminating force of the heroic anomalies of the time of the Holocaust, very few of us would be here in the world to remember that it happened. We have to figure out how to embrace the miracles that we enjoy every day to protect and see them thrive , and with that commitment and strength, secure that the Holocaust truly remains in the past. Every hope for our future depends on our ability and sense of obligation to grab on and hold tight to the bold opportunities of light that stand tall, looming bright against and despite the darkness in our world.

About the Author
Raised in Jerusalem, New York City and Paris, Rabbi Barouk completed Smicha and Dayanas at Yeshivat Or Elchonon. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Rabbi Barouk frequently visits New York and has close family in Jerusalem and Paris.
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