The Memory of the Holocaust is No Excuse for Inaction
If there is anything that can infuse some meaning into the murder of our loved ones, it is that we will create such unity that will prevent such a fate from reoccurring.
Today, on January 27, 2017, the world is commemorating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today, the world is once again increasingly antisemitic. Today, we can stop a Second Holocaust from happening, because it will, unless we take assertive action.
Shortly before the expulsion from Spain, the Jews eagerly assimilated among their Spanish hosts, wrote the acclaimed historian Jane S. Gerber in The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. Spanish Jewry considered Spain the new Jerusalem, and thought that “the presence of so many Jews and Christians of Jewish ancestry in the inner circles of the court, municipalities, and even the Catholic church could provide protection and avert the decree” of expulsion. They were wrong.
Like their brethren in Spain, German Jews believed that if they assimilated among the Germans, they would be safe from the eternal finger pointing that is the lot of the Jew. Professors Steven J. Zipperstein of Stanford University and Jonathan Frankel of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, write in Assimilation and Community: The Jews in Nineteenth-Century Europe, that a few years after the start of the Jewish emancipation, David Friedlander, one of the Jewish community’s most prominent leaders, suggested that Berlin Jews would convert to Christianity en masse. We are remembering today how this assimilation ended.
For many centuries, whenever Jews tried to abandon the tribe, their host nation would punish them heavily. For centuries, Jew-lovers and Jew-haters alike were baffled by the survival of the Jews despite their constant persecution and extermination. Author Mark Twain pondered Jewish survival in his essay, “Concerning the Jews”: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Strangely enough, even Adolf Hitler wondered how it is that the Jews have survived thus far. In Mein Kampf he wrote, “When over long periods of human history I scrutinized the activity of the Jewish people, suddenly there arose up in me the fearful question whether inscrutable Destiny, perhaps for reasons unknown to us poor mortals, did not, with eternal and immutable resolve, desire the final victory of this little nation.”
The nations cannot solve the riddle of our survival; only we can do this.
Why Are We Afflicted and Why We Have Survived
We Jews are unlike any other nation. We may want to be, but the fact that the entire world criticizes us every day, that the UN Security Council debates almost exclusively about Israel, and that Jews are the main target of hate crimes not only in Europe, but even in the US, proves that we are by far the most hated nation on the planet.
Donald Trump’s inauguration as President may give us a hiatus from overt Jew-hatred, but if we do not respond correctly to the opportunity, the backlash will explode in our faces, quite literally. Even if President Trump vetoes all the anti-Israel UN resolutions, this will not abate the hatred that the nations feel toward us. Sooner or later, he, too, will have to reconsider his position. So, to avoid another Holocaust, we must understand our unique position in the world and act accordingly.
“The Jews Are Responsible for All the Wars in the World”
Mel Gibson’s infamous 2006 rant, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” like General William Boykin’s statement, “The Jews are the problem; the Jews are the cause of all the problems in the world,” reflect a gut feeling that to some extent, the entire world shares. Worse yet, the more unsolvable the world’s conflicts become, the more the world blames the Jews for them. Consciously or not, humanity remembers that immediately after we committed to unite “as one man with one heart,” we thereby became a nation that was tasked with being “a light unto nations.” Even if people cannot verbalize it, they feel that the light we are to bring to the world is the light of unity and peace, that unique union we had achieved at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Therefore, as long as there are hatred and war in the world, there will be antisemitism.
But to bring peace, we must understand its meaning. When our sages spoke of peace, they did not refer to absence of war. To avoid war, we can simply avoid contact. The word shalom (peace) comes from the Hebrew word shlemut (wholeness). To make peace means to make whole. It is to take two conflicting opposites and unite them in such a way that they make a new whole. It is an entity that is neither, yet is the offspring of both, a creation that could not have been made without both and which they both love dearly. Just as a man and woman together create a child who is neither the mother nor the father, but who is the beloved creation of both, peace is the resulting wholeness that two opposite, conflicting views create.
The book Likutey Halachot (Assorted Rules) writes, “The essence of vitality, existence, and correction in creation is achieved by people of differing opinions mingling together in love, unity, and peace.” Abraham taught this special unity to his disciples and descendants, and Moses taught this to the entire nation until they united in their hearts and thus became a nation with a mission to complete Moses’ work and convey this wisdom to the rest of the world. Ramchal wrote in his book, The Commentary of Ramchal on the Torah: “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time, but he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way.” We are still suffering from the corruption—it is the baseless hatred that is tearing us apart and presenting us as “a darkness unto nations” rather than their light
To understand in what way we should unite in order to become that light, think of our bodies. The diversity of organ functionality in our body ensures our health. The liver, heart, and kidneys work very differently, and all require blood. If we did not know that these organs complement each other to maintain our health, we might think that they are vying for the same resource. Yet, without each of them we would die.
Just like our bodies, “humanity” is not a generic name for “many people”; it is an entity of which we are all parts. When we view ourselves as separate beings, we have to fight for survival. But if we rose above our petty selves just for a moment, we would discover a very different reality—where we are connected and mutually supportive.
In his essay, “The Freedom,” Baal HaSulam writes that “when humankind achieves its goal of complete love of others, all the bodies in the world will unite into a single body and a single heart. However, against that, we must be watchful not to bring the views of people so close that disagreement and criticism might be terminated, for love naturally brings with it proximity of views. And should criticism and disagreement vanish, all progress in concepts and ideas will cease, and the source of knowledge in the world will dry out.”
“This,” continues Baal HaSulam, “is the proof of the obligation to caution with the freedom of the individual regarding concepts and ideas, for the whole development of the wisdom and knowledge is based on that freedom of the individual. Thus, we are cautioned to preserve it very carefully.” Peace, therefore, is possible only when we are different, yet mutually supportive, when we unite above our differences. If we do not convey this principle to the nations, they will not find it on their own and they will blame us for their wars.
Philosopher and historian, Nicholai Berdysev, wrote in The Meaning of History: “The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions and the fateful role played by them in history; all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny.” But what Berdysev cannot know is the specific nature of our fate, the meaning of being “a light unto nations.” If we want to avoid another round of genocide, we must begin to do what we were meant to do.
I lost almost my entire family in the Holocaust. But I understand that merely remembering them does not excuse us from action. Remembrance will not bring them back or prevent a repetition of the horror. Only our unity above our differences, precisely as described above, will establish peace among us and make us a role model for the rest of the world, “a light unto nations.” If there is anything that can infuse some meaning into the murder of our loved ones, it is that we will create such unity that will prevent such a fate from reoccurring.