One Friday night ago, my cousins’ and I played the mind stimulating and entertaining game: “Would you rather”. “Would you rather change the past by erasing the Holocaust from history or not change anything at all,” my cousin asked me challengingly. After several moments of contemplation, I claimed: “Well if the Holocaust didn’t happen, Israel may not have become a Jewish state”. Does that mean that I would rather not change the Holocaust from happening? Of course not. I think that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. The answer to this question is not black or white. It’s gray. It’s black and white combined.
On תשעה באב, one of the most significant fasts of the year, I have sat in shul or at home watching Holocaust movies. The images of their frail, ghastly thin bodies is difficult to look at. The pain that the Jews, our ancestors, had to endure for no reason at all, apart from being Jewish, which is not a real reason at all, is heartbreaking.
Even though I was not alive during the years of 1940- 1945; I have read enough books to envision what it was like to live through it.
I read The Upstairs Room when I was 12. I solely remember the characters being trapped in their rooms for MONTHS. Barely breathing, eating, or living. They would experience life by staring at the window. The window told them what time of day it was, what the weather was like outside, and what season it was. They would stare at the window everyday, and would wish for the day to end. They were not really living. The window was living for them. They were not living, if they desperately wanted each day to be over. Their life was limited to a room of nothingness.
Markus Zusak’s, historical fiction international bestseller, The Book Thief, is about a Jew named Max who hides in a kind German couple’s basement for a time that feels like a lifetime. When everyone hides in bomb shelters during a bomb explosion, Max literally runs outside to feel the fresh air and gaze at the stars in the sky. Can you imagine that Max’s only moment to walk outside was during a bomb explosion? Max could have died, but he didn’t care. He needed to feel what it was like to live again. Even if it was only for a second, it was worth it.
Even though it is heart-rendering and tormenting that our ancestors had to endure a life of misery and lifelessness, in actuality we cannot change what happened. We can only learn from their adversity. Each Holocaust book that I have read rejuvenates a new sense of appreciation within me. I feel fortunate and blessed that I have the freedom to walk outside and gaze at the stars, instead of being trapped in a basement or in a bedroom. I have the freedom of choice to live as I am supposed to be living.
Even though time turners don’t exist, where we would be able to erase this terrible time period, there is one good thing that came out of the Holocaust; the Jewish people have finally established a place of permanence, a place that they can call home. No one has the right to dehumanize us, or kick us out of our households anymore. We are no longer a minority either. We don’t have to practice our religion in secret or in private. We don’t have to separate state and religion either. We are living in a dream land for our past generations. If they saw what Israel is today, they would cry out of happiness. They would sing, dance, laugh, and cherish every moment that they had in Israel. Just to see, giant menorahs being lit all over the country, פסח שמח written on every bus, chametz being covered in every crack and corner on Pesach, each soldier being provided with a תנ”ך as he drafts into the army, and to feel the quietness and lack of cars and public transportation on Shabbos would be enough for them to rejoice triumphantly.