Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yom HaShoah - Never Again

Tonight begins Yom HaShoah. Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's easy to get lost in the details - how many Jews were murdered, how were they murdered, the different death camps, those in charge, those who passively resisted, those who actively resisted, those people who were bystanders within Nazi borders, the World who stood by... all important information to be aware of - but not the most important detail. The Why. Why were we murdered?

We were murdered because we were Jewish. Whether secular or religious, city folk or shtetl folk - the Nazis saw us as Jews. Period. That's what they saw and all they cared about.

The Jews brought G-d given morality to the world. There is "right", there is "wrong". That every human being has a purpose, that no one is disposable - not even the disabled that the Nazis made sure to rid themselves of - the basic idea that we can make this world a dwelling place for G-d, a Holy Place. The Nazis wanted nothing of it.

Seventy four years later, since the beginning of World War II, we find ourselves left with a slogan "Never Again". We have ongoing trips to Auschwitz and other death camps for ourselves and others to remind us all of the atrocities which occurred not so long ago. But to what end? Sure, we must remember what happened to our People - but this is not the first slaughter of Jews in history, in fact it is one of many. What is special about this Shoah is that it is the first one that the World as a whole could have done something about and did absolutely nothing. What is special about this Shoah is that while we talk about "Never Again" the Jewish assimilation numbers are scarily high - that Jewish affiliation to any Jewish causes, Temples, synagogues and even Israel is waning.

The problem stems from people's perception of "Judaism" - bagels and lox, whitefish, Sunday morning Hebrew school, memorized bar/bat mitzvah Torah readings. There is no inherent significance given to the Torah or Torah concepts - not that anyone is necessarily "against" the Torah, it's just not relevant to today's life, or so some think. Shabbat, kosher food, mitzvot (commandments) - all old school, for only those who are "orthodox" to care about. There is no real thought about any of it at all, none of it is even a small blip on the radar screen of most Jews.

That is the sad thought. It's not even that most Jews have debated the concepts and decided that it isn't for them - rather that it isn't even a thought that has crossed their mind. At the Passover seder we say the Ve'hee Sheh'amda paragraph written hundreds of years ago,
And it is this that has stood by our fathers and us! For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in each and every generation  they rise against us to destroy us - and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand! [emphasis mine]
Why does this keep happening? One would think that even this simple question might get the ball rolling - why the Jews? What is so special about Judaism that might have brought on this hatred?

I hope that on this evening of Yom HaShoah that we all seriously consider our personal commitment to our Judaism. That "Never Again" should mean more than standing aside as bystanders while a genocide is occurring - we should also not be a bystander while our own spiritual genocide is going on as well. What does Judaism mean to us personally? What do we want it to mean to our children and grandchildren? Why does it mean so little to us when others are willing to murder us because of it?

Have a thoughtful and meaningful Yom HaShoah.

Anne Frank's Stepsister
Holocaust Studies

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