The pandemic and Yom Hashoah

This week was certainly not the kind of Yom Hashoah that world Jewry has ever experienced. At the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where learning, remembering and acting upon the lessons of the Shoah is our core responsibility, we wanted to give voice to our heroic, aging Holocaust Survivors to thousands of people of all ages, stuck in their homes during the pandemic. It is they who carry the message of perseverance, hope, and renewal to our younger generations.

Each week our educational arm, the Museum of Tolerance, where in a normal year facilitates personal dialogue for over 50,000 individuals with a Holocaust survivor, has masterfully re-produced the experience through weekly Zoom conferences, available each Wednesday.

For years, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has been working with wonderful people such as Rabbi Moshe Lans, the current Brigade Chaplain of Fort Drum located in upstate New York, to collaborate on Yom Hazikaron programs for their military personnel. When looking for keynote speakers, the criteria set is having an individual who will ensure a memorable and impactful experience, usually from a Holocaust survivor, that will stay with the soldiers throughout their careers and beyond.

We must all in this time of crisis seek out heroes who will inspire all of us and our children to give renewed meaning and relevance to “Never Again”.

Looking at my own family, I remember just last year the impact that Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah’s Yom Hashoah program had on my son as he approached his bar mitzvah, and yet this year, such opportunities cannot exist. However, as we all struggle daily with health and economic issues that this terrible pandemic has brought upon us, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s incredible team of researchers and professionals are working around the clock to impede the efforts of bigots looking to take advantage of these unsettled times to sow the seeds of hate.

We intuitively know that when crisis arise, finger-pointing and scapegoating all too often throughout the millennia are pointed at Jews. A lesson for us from this Yom Hashoah is that we must remain keenly aware of the impact of economic hardships Germans experienced though the Weimar Republic which helped the monstrous Nazi’s to come to power. So, please make time to sit together with your children and grandchildren to watch the moving tribute to survivors that the Simon Wiesenthal Center put out for Yom Hashoah which in the first six hours after its release had over 5,000 views. If our children are going to continue to be proud Jews and continue fighting hate in the years that come, they must first understand our past.

Just this morning allies of the Simon Wiesenthal Center shared with us a social media post on a Rockland County based site actively looking for a “call to arms” against those responsible for spreading the virus – Jews. History has shown us time and again that when they say they are coming to do us harm – believe them. Keep in mind that this post was circulating in a community that just saw Joseph Neumann die as a result of his wounds from the anti-Semitic hate crime attack against a Monsey synagogue just four months ago as he was celebrating the Chanukah holiday.

So, let us work together, all generation to make “Never Again” more than a slogan.

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About the Author
Michael Cohen currently serves as Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Mr. Cohen additionally serves on the Englewood, NJ City Council where he was recently elected to his third term. Mr. Cohen has previously held senior staff positions on Capitol Hill and in NYC and NYS governments for over 15 years. Mr. Cohen has also served as Director of Political and Strategic Affairs for a top NY lobbying firm.