Several years ago, I wrote these short posts on observing International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is observed today. As you will see, I have had some conflicted thoughts about how we as a Jewish community should think about it.
In 2015 I wrote:
When is the right day to memorialize the victims of the Shoah? The day Auschwitz was liberated? Yom Hashoah? Tisha B'Av? Asarah B'Tevet?
To me, it doesn't really matter. My relatives were killed in Krakow, in Plaszow, in Tarnow and across Polish Galicia during the Shoah. My brothers and sisters across the continent, killed every day of the year for more than five years. And over the dark ages of our persecution on the blood saturated streets and fields of Europe, Every place, every month. for over a thousand years.
So for me, every single day is Holocaust Remembrance Day, and every consideration of the Jewish present and the Jewish future is encumbered, like it or not, with that memory.
But if there is one thing that memory does for me, it is to draw out the stubborn, stiff necked, and even jubilant response.
MIR ZEYNEN DU! We are here! Every Jewish child, every hour of Torah learning, every Jewish camp, every Birthright trip, every Jewish song or celebration, every wonderful chuppah or brit or Bat Mitzvah is a resounding victory and a rebuke to not only the foul persecutors and murderers of the past, but also to the Jew haters of the present, as well as their enablers and their apologists.
So, while every day is a remembrance of the Shoah, every day is also a celebration of the victory over those who failed, yet again, to end us, and an opportunity to reinforce our commitment to Jewish values, Jewish continuity, Jewish ingenuity, Jewish innovation and Jewish strength.
זאָג ניט קיין מאָל, אַז דו גייסט דעם לעצטן וועג,
כאָטש הימלען בלײַענע פֿאַרשטעלן בלויע טעג.
קומען וועט נאָך אונדזער אויסגעבענקטע שעה –
ס׳וועט אַ פּויק טאָן אונדזער טראָט: מיר זײַנען דאָ!
Never say this is the final road for you,
Though leaden skies may cover over days of blue.
As the hour that we longed for is so near,
Our step beats out the message: we are here!
And in 2016 I wrote this, somewhat more stark, message.
“It’s not my Holocaust Memorial Day, dear world, it's yours. Mine is every day; or, at least, on a day chosen religiously, like Tisha B'av, or nationally, like Yom Hashoah. Chosen. By Us. And we will draw the necessary conclusions from our national experience, from our history. No. Today is about YOU. Europe, the UN, the US, Canada, it's about what YOU learn from our horrific experience and loss. Or, as it seems more apt, it's about what you haven't yet learned, what you quickly forget, and what you are prepared to countenance among others with murderous and hateful agendas. I hope that some of you will pardon our low expectations. Scholars of the ten commandments will know that the corollary of Zachor - remembrance, is Shamor - guard and observe.We will always remember, and never drop our guard.”
In the wake of Pittsburgh in 2018, of the wave of antisemitic violence here in 2019, of the onslaught since 2021 which has only grown -
In the wake of America’s complicated reckoning with issues of race and identity -
In the wake of a climate of extremism across the world -
In the wake of the war in Ukraine and the murderous agenda it exposed -
These messages resonate still. I still feel every Jew is justified in expecting acceptance, tolerance and support, and we are also justified in being unsurprised when that support is lacking. But I also recognize that we do have allies who indeed speak up and stand up with us. I recognize that we have an important role to play in bringing about change in our environment, and it starts with education and dialogue. We at Federation work with educators, legislators, media, policymakers, officeholders and other non-profits every day to pursue a society that recognizes Jewish identity and the indelible effects of age old persecution and discrimination - and works for a safe welcoming community for all..
When I began working more than 20 years ago in the advocacy field, confronting antisemitism and anti-Israel agitation, I recall a conversation I had that impacted how I address these issues today - and I believe it is valuable for you to read as well. The CEO of a national organization I was working with told me that the hard core antisemites and anti Zionists shouldn’t be the target of dialogue, education or discussion. The likelihood of changing their minds was miniscule. They had to be confronted, and their actions, if they violated the law or the regulations of a campus or business, should be fought with all of the strength our community could bring to bear. He also shared that I didn’t need to “convince” those who were already strong supporters of the Jewish community. I had to appreciate them, thank them, and stand up when they needed solidarity, but I didn’t need to convince them of something they had already internalized. No, he said. I needed to focus my advocacy on the 90% who didn’t have any reason to care, who didn’t relate to our experience. I needed to give them reasons to care, to talk about shared values, and most importantly tell the stories that truly build lasting conversations.
This ethic of communications is even more meaningful today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is vital to share our collective story as broadly as we can, even though in doing so we pick at wounds that never truly heal. So as we mark this day, let’s be realistic in our expectations and earnest in our efforts to share the lessons of the Holocaust with our fellow citizens. #weremember