More than 70 years after the Shoah, after the last of the skeletal Jews staggered in the still-haunted camps; after the last stacks of the dead were buried; after the last of the hidden emerged, squinting in daylight, out of barns or forests or attics; we, the living, remain historically, spiritually and culturally bewildered, devoid of adequate response.
We have no response that seems adequate to what happened then, and no adequate response to what is happening now: Iranian missiles inscribed with promises to liquidate Israel’s 6 million Jews; the taunts of swastikas in the Palestinian media and on American park benches; the ongoing ignorance from otherwise highly educated people about Hitler’s use of chemicals weapons; the ongoing political exploitation of the Holocaust seven decades after the war’s end…There is no end.
Each year we designate one day to mark the tragedy of the Holocaust; this year it falls on Monday, April 24. Keeping Yom HaShoah apart from other tragedies around the world may seem overly exclusive to some, while making it a more universal day dedicated to “awareness” or “education” or “tolerance” seems to trivialize the tragedy. Awareness, education and tolerance are only part of what is required to begin to acknowledge the depth of man’s capacity for evil. Two of the most educated civilizations in history were the ancient Egyptians of our slavery and the 20th century Germans, with so many Nazis having doctorates, amidst a culture that appreciated classical literature and music. Yet they were capable of rationalizing and carrying out the ultimate in depravity.
Perhaps Yom HaShoah should be a fast day, not to abstain only from food, though that would be appropriate, but a day to abstain from words that come too easily, a time to reflect on the power of speech and its dangers. Anti-Semitism today has marked differences from the anti-Semitism that came to power in Europe in the 1930s. People who don’t vote like we do are not “fascists.” Unlike then, there is a State of Israel ready to defend itself — and us. Yom HaShoah offers many lessons for us, one of which is a sense of humility, despite — and also because of — all of our scientific and technological advances. With the power to create comes the power to destroy. This Monday, and ideally every day, should be a day to talk a little softer, listen a little more carefully, reflect a little longer, and love the Jewish people a little more.