Today is Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust. In Israel a siren rings throughout the country for a moment of silence. Here in America we add special prayers to our services and hold programs and vigils. This year the day has special resonance in the wake of the horrific attack against a synagogue in California that killed one congregant and injured others.
The Anti Defamation League published a report showing that anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 were the third highest since 1979, although the number declined from the previous year, which just shows how bad 2017 was. We have now had 2 shootings at synagogues in the past 6 months and the climate in our country and around the world seems to be getting worse.
Yom HaShoah is a day to remind ourselves where anti-Semitism leads. What might start out as jokes and mockery or stereotyping and prejudice can eventually result in radicalization and violence. The Nazis took pre-existing anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany to create an environment of hatred and fear which allowed the Holocaust to happen with virtually no protest from the German people.
Today’s anti-Semitism also desensitizes people to the destructive nature of the ideology. Famed Nazi hunters Beate and Serge Klarsfeld see the rise of nationalism in Europe and America, and the rise of anti-Semitism that goes with it, as “an atmosphere like the beginning of the ’30s”. They worry that the western world is moving down a dark path.
Who knows where this hatred and bigotry will lead. The world today is different from the world of the 1930s. Israel exists and Jews in America have a great deal of power and are less afraid to use it, but we cannot take these facts for granted. We must continue to educate and stand up to hatred, not just against Jews but against any marginalized group as well.
An interesting essay was published recently in JTA by an Israeli whose family comes from Arab countries. He writes about the disconnect he felt toward Yom HaShoah and the Holocaust because it didn’t happen to his people. His mother told him that the day was important because Jews are “one family” and pain to one part of that family is pain to all, but still he had trouble feeling a personal connection to the tragedy.
The author of the essay notes that the experiences of Jews from Arab lands have often been ignored by Ashkenazi Jews in Israel and America. Just as we learn about the destruction of the Jewish communities in Europe, we should also learn about the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to leave their homes in the Middle East.
The Holocaust was a unique event in Jewish history, but it did not come out of nowhere. Anti-Semitism has been around for millennia in all corners of the globe. While we may not be able to eliminate it for good, we can at least push it back down into the fringes of society where it can languish and hopefully do less harm.