The sirens of memory
I am sitting next to my roommate in the Holocaust Research Institute in Haifa. It’s just a 10 minute walk away from my apartment; but in this library, in this underground cave of history, in this computer and book-lined room of documentation, I am so far away from the comforts of my sunny room. Once ashamed of the Holocaust, dumbfounded and then obsessed, I now sit here totally mindful of the fact that it’s 2015 and the Kristalnacht is viewed as a day in history.
These dust-covered history books about the events of Hitler’s rein mock my ignorance of my people’s pain. I try to picture it. I imagine myself back in Berkinhau on my Poland trip two years ago. I knock my forehead against the table attempting to shove the memories into focus. I reread my journal from my Poland trip. Reading about the thick smells of the cattle car. The story of Jean, the lone surviver of her family and grandmother of my friend. Praying the afternoon Mincha services in the Warsaw cemetery. The sewer covers with small stars of David, marking the underground escape path from the ghetto. I squint trying to decipher my hurried handwriting recording my chilling excitement inspired by heroic stories. The pages totally fangirling on Yanish Korchak and his righteousness and on his unconditional love he gave to all these children that he saved. I turn a few pages and my eyes drown in sorrow.
I am proud of my connection to the Holocaust. I am 100% certain that I personally won’t forget. Nevertheless, Holocaust Remembrance Day is feeling like a solitary event reminder that toggles the refresher in my digital memory. How can it become just a notification on our screens? A blink of recognition before going back to our routine. Is it just a day my Facebook wall takes some time off from Coachella photos?
I turn a few pages in my orange and teal notebook. How did we allow this to happen? How did we willingly walk into the ghettos? Vicky Berglas’s answer is quoted in my pen. “It felt like independence to the Jews.” We were so desperate for independence that the illusion of autonomy in the ghetto trapped us into acquiescing.
Yom HaShoa is the anchor to our chain. It’s the siren that brings us back to the ship, united and fully aware of our vulnerable indestructibility. It’s the number counting, storytelling, generational tie to our painful survival. It’s the snowy walk through Treblinka and the flag of Israel wrapping around our shoulders. It’s Joe’s story that I share, remembering his eyes fighting the grief of being the only survivor of his town. It’s the grandchildren wearing IDF uniforms. It’s our nation crying together. It’s our nation fighting to stop Iran from continuing Hitler’s plans. It’s our same necessity to be independent. It’s my blue eyes and light colored hair screaming that I am a Jew. I am the Jew that wants to go back in time to whisper to my people to fight and scream at the silent endorsements of the world. Why does remembering feel so passive?
When the Holocaust ended, when we lost a third of our people, when we were liberated from the the death camps and shoved back into reality, we started building. We initiated that drive for autonomy of our people that welcomed us into the ghettos and chose to build our home. Our reaction to death is life. We summoned the lines of might to steer us into our self-determination. Now here we stand 70 years later, still figuring out how to balance our sails. We stand here 70 years later, counting 23,320 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of terrorism. Our answer to the Holocaust is far from a Happy Ever After. It’s the all too familiar pains in our chests, the short breaths of despair in our national survival. It’s the 116 soldiers that were killed this year. It’s Hadar Goldin z”b, and his fiancé trying to figure out how puzzle pieces could dissolve from existence. It’s Sean Carmeli z”b and Max Steinberg z”b, and their understanding that serving Israel isn’t dependent on place of birth. It’s the 2,000+ orphans. Its Eyal z”b, Naftali z”b, and Gilad z”b.
I sit here next to Chen. She’s organizing the books shelves and recording the numbers. In the background plays a documentary about the tattoo numbers from concentration camps. If only we had an Israel to run to back then. If only we were secure on our own terms. The siren sounds and I stand, thinking about Hannah Marks and Joe Getz. I sit down and thank G-d that I live in Israel. Six days later, I stand at the Yom Hazikaron ceremony in Haifa. I think back to all that has transpired since last year’s ceremony in Ofakim. Before the kidnapping. Before the war. Before my second year of National Service. Before deciding on studying Law at Bar Ilan. Before understanding that my path here in Israel has some loose bricks that will cause me to trip. This siren brings on damper eyes than expected. I sit down and thank G-d that I am Israeli.