These are words that we hear at least once a year. For those of us who grew up in Jewish day school or in Sunday school, we heard this motto more often. “Lest we forget.” Lest we forget what? That our people were butchered? That we were led like sheep to the slaughter? That the world stood by and allowed atrocities to occur without speaking a word? These phrases are intensely important, and yet, for many people seem to ring hollow.
Last night, I went to an “alternative” Holocaust memorial ceremony. With some of it, I strongly disagreed, and with some, I didn’t understand the connection to the Holocaust. However, there are a few points with which I was left which I wanted to share with you.
1) What’s with the “second generation,” “third generation,” etc.? When will it stop? If I have my way – never. By considering ourselves as a generation in the line of survivors, we force ourselves to remember. You cannot forget something if you feel a familial connection towards it. Perhaps that is why the average Jew does not feel connection to elements of Jewish history such as the fall of the Second Temple. We do not view ourselves as the Xth generation. It is therefore essential that we continue to view ourselves not in the light of the Holocaust, but as a continuation of those who survived. For we must not forget.
2) What if you’re not connected – you family lost no one? To this, I have a simple answer: since when does Jewish connectivity require every single individual to have experienced the same things? Yet, were there not pogroms in Morocco and Iraq? Of course there were. Did those who did not lose a family member not lose from the loss of their fellow Jewry, their bnei brit? My dear friend Margot, from Leadel, sent me this video of Rabbi Lau, who addressed this very issue, when he discussed his story of survival.
3) Comparisons. We hear the terms “Nazi”Â and “Kristallnacht” thrown around from time to time. Often, we hear the IDF being referred to as Nazis. Last night, at this alternative ceremony, I heard a speaker compare Operation Cast Lead to Kristalnacht. I don’t like the idea of using Holocaust memorial day to address politics. However, I feel that it is necessary to briefly address this. The National Socialist Workers Party rallied their public and, among other things, bureaucratically and methodically slaughtered the Jewish population which they viewed as enemies and subhuman. To those who would compare Israel to such perpetrators of crimes against humanity, I ask: do you truly not see a difference? The Jews were not firing rockets into Nazi controlled territory. The Jews were not calling for the death and destruction of the Nazis. Moreover, as my friend Yoni pointed out, the Nazis did not single out a specific part of the Jewish community and say: we only want to kill Jewish bankers; they went after the entire Jewish population. Israel seeks out terrorists. Surely, a rational individual can see a powerful distinction between the two.
As the siren rang this morning for two minutes at 10:00am, my only thought was: we must not forget. Â We must not forget that we were slaughtered. We must preserve our people. We must defend ourselves against those who would slaughter us. To borrow from Pirkei Avot, if we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? Â How do we prevent such an atrocity from being repeated? We must be ever vigilant. And in order to be vigilant, we must remember. Darkness reigns only so long as a candle remains unlit. We must remember to light that candle.