As I walk through the streets on this surprisingly chilly night in Jerusalem a breeze blows Israeli flags and blue and white streamers that line the streets. You see, the irya (municipality) has already began putting up decorations for next week’s 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence. However, tonight all of the flags hang at half-mast because it is Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Holocaust — or the Shoah, as we call it here in Israel — is a distant memory for most. But for less than .05% of the world’s population the Holocaust is something we can never forget. Unfortunately, it is built into every one of our beings as it is one of the largest, and probably most well known, attempt to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the Earth. Living in Israel, almost everyone I know has contact with someone affected by the Holocaust. I am one of the lucky ones. My great-grandparents escaped an anti-Semitic soviet union before it was too late. My relatives made it out before the Holocaust.
Six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Say it out loud to yourself. Six million. It is a fact that I will never be allowed to forget, nor do I want to. But from the attitudes of many of those outside of my Jewish bubble, I don’t think the majority of the other 99.95% of the world really remembers, or at least they don’t seem to understand.
Similar to the majority of people in the world, I grew up with little-to-no Jewish upbringing. Yes, I learned about the Holocaust in school — in history class, just as I learned about many other events in history — but I don’t remember it being emphasized or spotlighted in any way. Fast-forward to my Judaic Studies classes and my increased involvement in the Jewish community during college and the picture was painted very different. It became vital to recognize those we lost, those who risked their lives to try and protect us, and to hear the testimony of those who were lucky to have survived.
Suddenly “the Jewish question” was always in my face. Where do the Jews go when they can no longer stay in a given place? The clear answer, at least for me, is Israel.
Now, I’m not one for making assumptions about people’s knowledge/lack of knowledge. I like to give them the benefit of the doubt. But here me out. Time and time again I find myself defending the existence of a singular, tiny Jewish state; A place that is the one true refuge for a population of people who have faced oppression and attempted destruction for centuries and across continents.
From exchanges on the streets at anti-Israel protests to debates in Facebook comments, the one thing I can’t stop thinking is, why is it so hard for the rest of the world to see that Israel must exist for the Jewish people?
The consequences of Israel not existing are much greater than those if another country did not exist. Number of Arab countries: 22. Number of Christian countries: 15. Number of European states: 27.
Number of Jewish countries: 1. And it takes up just a mere 22,770 square kilometers on this earth. With countries left and right complaining about refugees from Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, and other conflict zones, where do people imagine the Jews will go if they do not have Israel?
So, when I try to contemplate the answer to why they can’t seem to understand Israel’s existence, all I can come up with is, they must not know. They must not have truly grasped the gravity of what happened. They must not be aware of the anti-semitism that not only still exists, but is actually rising, across the world.
That is why every Yom Hashoah I urge people to not only remember, but to also educate. Educate those around you who may not truly know the horrors of the Holocaust. Take them to hear a survivor. (We are the last generation who will get to hear these people’s stories in person.) Take them to a Holocaust remembrance ceremony in your community. Tell them the stories of your friends, family, or anyone’s story you have heard. Touch their heart and soul with it so they might finally understand.
And this year I’ve decided to do something else. I’ve decided to stop apologizing for Israel or defending its existence. Israel does exist, and I am so grateful for that. And I have faith that Israel will continue to exist as long as people like me live and thrive here. If the Holocaust has taught us anything, it is that the Jewish people are resilient, literally beyond belief. So let the haters post their propaganda on Facebook, and chant with their signs in the streets. Let the UN continue to attempt to erase our connection to our holiest sites, and AJ+ misuse terms like genocide and apartheid as they preach to millennials on social media. Let everyone else who doesn’t know better question us, because Am Israel Chai – the People of Israel live. And we will continue to live, unapologetically, in our tiny little state, whether everyone else likes it or not.