Monday, April 12, 2010

yom ha'shoah

Upon leaving my apartment in Jerusalem this morning I found myself frozen in place, my eyes darting to follow the movements of a delicate yet majestic humming bird. I smiled, distracted from my task, as I watched it's beautiful black and iridescent green wings flutter and pause, reflecting the morning sunlight as it dashed from plant to plant, investigating. It was a moment of rejoicing in the amazing beauty of the world and remembering my grandfather, who loved humming birds.

But that was not the only time my world froze today. At ten this morning everyone stopped and silently stood as a sirens sounded across Israel. Cars halted in the middle of roads, doors opened, passengers and drivers standing. Talking stopped. Music stopped. Busses stopped. Pedestrians stopped. Students stopped. A frozen 120 seconds as millions of individuals country -wide stood in silent recognition and remembrance of the millions senselessly and systematically murdered by Nazis. Each individual standing in defiance of the Final Solution. Millions of minds simultaneously focused on the collective act of remembrance.

A couple of years ago a colleague of mine commented that he thought holocaust education was 'overdone' and now it's time to study something else. His comment knocked the wind out of me and shook my brain to numbness. Yes, I can understand a level of his sentiment but it seems to me that any logic would undermine it. The world has not learned from the multiple country, continent-wide effort to exterminate an entire group of people and thus, the cycle of mass slaughter and dehumanization continue worldwide. Yes, sadly, there are now other tragedies. However the idea of studying them in lieu of the holocaust seems to be a lesson not learned. What greater example of organized evil and baseless hatred exists? Could we really fathom a cessation of holocaust education in a time when scaringly empowered individuals are calling to wipe Israel, the Jew among nations, off the planet?

As a Jew, of course I'm biased towards remembrance. As an individual, I constantly force myself to look the ugly, evil elements of the world in the eye- form international sex slave trade and devastating poverty to national leaders who punish their people while promoting their own comforts- but why should the world care about the Jews? Why should the world choose to remember in face of active holocaust deniers and passive, simple collective negligence and forgetfulness?

I once read that the Jews are the world's canary in the coal mine. Just as the canary's death when deadly gases start to fill the mine warn miners to exit and avoid the invading danger, Jews are often attacked first, as Martin Niemöller well-known poem "First they came for the Jews" illustrates. From Nazis to radicalized suicide bombers, Jews, and now Israel, often take the first waves and hardest assaults from these destructive forces.

I've also heard people complain about having to hear or read about the holocaust. In comments that stink of "get over it already" many individuals act as if remembering this catastrophe suffered by the Jewish people were a crime in and of itself. With the defensive, "do you think you are the only ones on this planet that suffer?" air, other individuals I have met display an intolerance to learning about such a great loss of human life- each individual a spark with limitless possibilities to contribute to greater humanity. Would some people believe that there is limited space in our human brains to process the suffering of others? Does the act of holocaust remembrance kick out Rwanda or other great catastrophes from our grey matter?

Today I had the privilege to listen to Morris Wyszogrod, a holocaust surviver, tell his story. It was the third time in my life I've had such an opportunity and each time I have been amazingly struck by the vivacity of life displayed in these individuals. When Morris was asked if he told his story soon after leaving Europe and arriving in the United States he said no. Some of the people who lived through it didn't want to hear it and the people who didn't, couldn't believe it was true. As Eisenhower stated upon visiting the sites of destruction and mass murder, "The things I saw beggar description...the visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda. Ohrdruf April 15, 1945."

During Morris' speech, he stopped, overcome with tears and emotion. The tears were not fueled by hatred or revenge, or waves of pain. He was choked up by mentioning his children and grandchildren, who all live their lives as Jews. Tears of pride and joy left him speechless after calmly or even humorously describing the tortures to which he was submitted or witnessed. At the end of his speech, a question from the audience prompted him to mention that the words coming out of Iran remind him of listening to Hitler's rhetoric.

Just as humans are capable of amazing acts of kindness and grace, giving and gratitude, creation and discovery, we too are equally capable of masterminding and executing the most sinister acts of dehumanization, torture and hell known on our planet. To forget or blissfully ignore the destructive capacity of man is just as sinful as failing to cultivate our creative grace.

As the well-known adage states: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

I stand with Israel, with the Jewish people and with the world, if you will have us, in remembering.

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