On the 27th of the Jewish month of Nisan – which is today – the Jewish community stops to officially remember the 6,000,000 Jews and the additional 5,000,000 non-Jews that were killed during the Holocaust. We call this day Yom HaShoah. Yom in Hebrew means Day. Shoah – is our word for the Holocaust – it means catastrophe in Hebrew. When this day of Catastrope falls on a Sunday, the official observance takes place on Monday – as is this case this year. And tomorrow morning in Israel – the air raid sirens will sound for two minutes and the entire nation will stop and stand in silence remembering the atrocity that killed 11,000,000 people
On Yom HaShoah – we in the Jewish community specifically remember the brutal murder of 6,000,000 children, parents, husbands, wives, grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles that were taken away from us – less than seven short decades ago. Yom HaShoah is a day that requires us to remember horrific events that fill us with pain, anguish and despair.
Because of this, many people ask – why remember? Why remember such a terrible time – when innocent men, women and children were humiliated, tormented, tortured, shot, gassed, burned and wiped off the face of the earth by forces of evil? Why not let it go and look toward the goodness in the world? After all, the atrocities happened almost years ago. It is history. Don’t revisit it. It is too painful. Move on……..
But we can’t.
Why do we remember? We remember to remind the world that 6,000,000 of us were killed. 11,000,000 of us were killed. Why? Just because we were different in some way.
For us in the Jewish community – we were killed because of our religious beliefs. For others it was because of their political view, their ethic background, their sexuality, their physical or mental wellbeing. 11,000,000 people were killed, just because they were different. And we can never forget this.
Why? Why can’t we forget it? We all love and accept each other today. Right? We a part of a diverse community – a community filled with people of different religions, races, abilities, lifestyles and political viewpoints. And, for the most part, we all get along.
Look at me – I am a Jew is South Florida – I do not appear to be in any danger. I am accepted. There are Jews everywhere down here – it is almost like we are a majority – even though we know we are not. But, I know that the safe community in which I live as a Jewish-American – it is a little bubble, floating in a much bigger, much more dangerous world. A world that is nothing like this diverse community.
And this is why I remember on Yom HaShoah.
I remember because, of the information contained in the most recent report issued by the FBI on hate-crimes committed in the United States. According to this report – which was issued in 2009, of the 1,575 victims of documented anti-religious hate-crimes:
- 8.4 percent were victims because of an anti-Islamic bias.
- 3.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Catholic bias.
- 2.7 percent were victims because of an anti-Protestant bias.
- 71.9 percent were victims because of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
The majority of anti-religious hate-crimes committed right here in our country – are against me and my people. This is why I remember on Yom HaShoah.
Supporting what the FBI report details, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization committed to combating anti-semitism and hatred in general, documented 1,211 anti-Semitic incidents in 2009, including physical assaults, harassment, threats and vandalism – all directly affecting people just like me – people who are Jewish. And all of these attacks have taken place right here in our country. And this is why I remember on Yom HaShoah.
Things are worse in other countries.
In England, again in 2009, there were 924 anti-semitic incidents that were documented. This is the highest annual total since England began documenting such attacks. Included in these anti-semitic incidents were a record number of violent attacks against Jews.
The number of anti-semitic incidents reported in England in 2009 was 55% higher than the previous number of incidents recorded in 2006. This is a trend we are seeing globally. Anti-semitism has been on the rise globally and remains at dramatically high levels. And this is why I remember on Yom HaShoah.
In France, the 2009 report of anti-Semitic incidents was up 75% from the previous report. Recently, a Holocaust memorial was desecrated. Jewish cemeteries and businesses were destroyed. Individuals have been attacked – even murdered – simply because they were Jewish. And, this is why I remember on Yom HaShoah.
Spain is emerging as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the European union. Attacks on Jews and their property are on the rise. More than 60% of Spain’s university students state that they do not want Jewish classmates. And, so, I must remember on Yom HaShoah.
In South America, particularly in countries like Venezuela – the rise of anti-semitic propaganda is staggering. This hatred is embraced by the government and broadcast on the airwaves and published in the newspapers. And, this, of course, leads to attacks on the Jewish community. This is why I remember on Yom HaShoah.
And I haven’t even mentioned the hatred against Jews that exists in the Arab world!
You see, we must remember the Shoah (the Holocaust) because the hatred that led to it – to the catastrophe that took 11,000,000 lives – is still alive and well…and it does not take much to go from hatred to catastrophe all over again.
Much of the hatred – not all of it – but much of it, is hatred directed towards Israel and Zionism (the belief that Jews have the right to a safe, national homeland in Israel). To this type of hatred, I like to respond with the words of Martin Luther King
“You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely ‘anti-Zionist.’ And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God’s green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews–this is God’s own truth. Anti-semitism, the hatred of the Jewish people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently anti-semitic, and ever will be so.”
Anti-Israel sentiment is high – even in our own country. It was not that long ago that I took part in a peaceful rally in support of Israel in downtown Fort Lauderdale and came face to face with a mob of anti-Israel zealots who threatened us and screamed “Go Back To The Ovens Jews”. Had this not have been captured on film and played all over the country, many would not have believed that such hatred could exist on American soil – especially in Jewish friendly South Florida. But it exists. And this is why I remember.
In Israel in recent weeks, an Israeli family – including children, an infant, were butchered to death in their home – because of hatred against Jews and Israel. A teenager was blown up by an anti-tank missile as he rode home on his school bus – because of hatred against Jews and Israel. A tourist was murdered by a bomb planted at a bus station because of hatred against the Jews and Israel. Missiles continue to be launched into Israel by Hamas – a terrorist organization with the blood of thousands on it hands. And when Israel responds in self-defense to these terrorist missile attacks – the world condemns Israel – because of ignorance, terrible anti-Israel bias in the media and hatred against Jews and Israel.
And, because of this, I must remember the Holocaust.
The epitome of this hatred against my people is expressed by the President of Iran – Ahmadinejad – who has openly stated his goal: to destroy the Jewish State. It is no secret that this mad man would very much like to create a nuclear weapon to accomplish just this. Currently there are about 6,000,000 Jews living in the State of Israel. That is about 43% of the global Jewish population. It is a chilling number when you think that Ahmadinejad might very well have, within no time, a weapon that with the press of a button he can launch and annihilate Israel and 6,000,000 Jews all over again.
And if you think it can’t happen….
In the 1930’s, no one believed that 6,000,000 Jews would be murdered. Sadly, today, very few people believe that 6,000,000 Jews can be killed by an atomic bomb launched by Iran. But the hatred that led the Nazis to do what they did is still there – heard loud and clear in the threats of Ahmadinejad and leading to the rising anti-semitic incidents taking place all over the globe. Combined with the overwhelming ignorance of the world’s population to the potency of this hatred against Jews – the possibility of another Holocaust – that is the obscene destruction of the Jewish community – is certainly there.
And, so, I must remember the Holocaust – and, in doing so, remind the world that it happened and could very well happen again.
Don’t think that we as a global civilization have learned from the atrocities of the past.
All you need to do is focus your attention on Darfur, a region in the African country of Sudan. In Darfur, groups of African farmers and others are being systematically displaced, tortured and murdered because of their ethic, economic and social status by government-supported militia recruited from local Arab groups. The genocide in Darfur has claimed 400,000 lives and displaced over 2,500,000 people. More than one hundred people continue to die each day; five thousand die every month.
It is happening – a holocaust of sorts. And what is the world doing to stop it? Not much. We all need to remember the Holocaust. We know what hatred can do. 11,000,000 lives were lost not that along ago. And we live in a world where hatred is still killing people every single day.
It is happening in Africa. It can happen anywhere.
And therefore, we must remember the murder of 6,000,000 Jews and 5,000,000 other innocent souls – not just on Yom HaShoah – but every day.
We must remember by reminding the world that it did happen. Because by reminding the world, we teach them how dangerous the hatred is – what it can lead to – the damage and destruction it can bring.
My religion – Judaism – has around for over 4,000 years – since the time of Abraham who walked this earth in the in the year 2000 BCE. When you look at the many other civilizations that have come and gone over the centuries – many much larger than the small civilization of Jews – our survival is pretty impressive. Statistically, the Jewish people shouldn’t be here today. The odds have been against us. But, we are here. The fact that we have survived and remain a strong community, even after the horrors of the Holocaust is a testament to our strength and fortitude.
What is our secret? How do we do it? How do we survive despite the struggles we continue to face as a people?
The answer: we remember our past. Not just on Yom HaShoah. No, we Jews we remember our past every week. We do so by reading from our Torah (the Bible) which tells the story of our ancestors. As we read the ancient story each week, we find ways to relate the story to our lives today and, in doing so, we incorporate our own stories into our ancestors’ stories. Thus, our Torah (our Bible) – our story – gets longer each week. Every week we tell the story, we expound upon it, we learn from it and we teach it.
The Holocaust is part of our story. We might not like it – but that doesn’t mean we skip it. We can’t skip the parts of our story that we don’t like. The story of the Holocaust is told – especially at this time of the year – because it is part of who we are. And by telling this dark and frightening tale, by teaching it, by learning from it – we do what we Jews do whenever we tell our story – we survive – we insure that the story is around next week, next year to be told and retold with the hope that it inspires us all to stand up to anti-semitism, to racism, to bigotry, to hatred of all kinds.
The famous Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel once said:
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
The memories of the Holocaust hurt. But, they inspire us to take sides. They inspire us to pay attention to the injustices in this world, speak up for the oppressed and stand up for what is right. The memories of the Holocaust forbid us to be silent. The memories of the Holocaust make us strive to create a better world.
Please, on this Holocaust Memorial Day – this Yom HaShoah – join me in remembering and making a difference.