Today is twelve days, which is one week and five days of the Omer. הוד שבגבורה, Hod ShebeGevurah, Splendor of Power; prophetic judgment. Today is also Yom HaShoah, the Jewish day to remember The Catastrophe, when one-third of our people were slaughtered by their neighbors.
It is the Catastrophe. It is not an offering to HaShem completely consumed by fire, therefore it is not Holocaust. Shoah means Catastrophe. Holocaust is the Greek translation of one of the types of sacrifices my ancestors burnt at the Temple. I choose Shoah because there is no ultimate meaning or goodness from murdering babies, children, young people, parents, and grandparents for being Jewish. God does not want martyrs. God does not want humans to sacrifice their lives. HaShem is the Living God. She wants us to live. Neither lies about science claiming Jews aren’t people nor lies about human survival, claiming the economy is more important than human life are reasons to sacrifice humans.
Stripped naked and tormented through the streets. Raping mothers in front of their children. Bashing babies against the sides of building. Sending children to gas chambers, then to crematoria. Entire societies were complicit in murdering my people. Not just Nazis. Citizens of occupied countries tormented their Jewish neighbors. A small match lights the fire, turning Jew hatred into Jew murder.
Jew hatred and Judeophobia
A pseudo-scientific sheen on Jew hatred: Antisemitism, a fake word created by a Jew hater. I choose plain words that plainly convey their meaning. A Jew hater is a person who hates Jewish people. Judeophobia is the fear / hatred of Judaism. Christianity was created and propagated through Judeophobia. The Catholic Church encouraged Jew hatred in the years preceding the Shoah.
These statements should not make you think I hate Christians or Christianity or the Catholic Church. I have deep respect for the depth of meaning people find in their religious traditions. The intellectual histories of our peoples are deeply intertwined. The plain historical facts remains: Christian churches and Christian political leaders throughout history have stoked the flames of Jew hatred to consolidate their power.
Choosing a living Jewish tradition
See, we Jews do not have any complete sets of Talmud from before the Middle Ages because Christian rulers were so thorough in burning our books. Our Talmud is vilified because it is the proof text that Jewish life continued and evolves beyond the plain meaning of the Hebrew Bible. Further, our understanding of our Bible has always been different and distinct from a Christian interpretation of that text.
The Jewish imperative: Choose life.
It is quite simple: choose life. Choose human life above all else. Choose life before restarting an economy. Humans are not sacrifices to elite wealth. Humans need to transform the social contracts within which we live while we battle the Coronavirus. Choose life.
This is the most important Jewish wisdom I wish to impart: choose life. One must set aside every single aspect of living as a Jew in order to save a life. It is possible to step into the pools of meaning within a single human being and recognize the face of HaShem shining back towards you through the other’s soul. Choose life.
Am Yisrael Chai
The People Israel Live. Our oldest collective name is Hebrews. Then came Israel, the one who wrestles with the Divine. Collectively, separate from our political affiliations, all Jews are Israel.
Specifically, the modern nation-state fulfills one aspect of our collective identity — we have always been a people. The state of Israel does not speak for all of us. Not all Jews are Zionists.
Nevertheless, Zionism is the collective will of the majority of Jewish people. Our nation exists to support our continued existence. To be clear: I am not Israeli. I am an American Jew.
On Zionism and Israel
Zionism is not a dirty word, just as Jew is not a dirty word. To use those labels in the pejorative is to be racists against Jews. The hatred of Jews is not rational. It is not solely based on theological differences. Throughout time, Jew hatred is about having an Other to blame things on. It is about distinguishing Us from Them. And it is about placing blame for all bad things on Them, the Jews.
Our collective response to two thousand years of oppression was organizing a collective social and political identity, i.e. Zionism. It is one important facet of Jewish identity for the vast majority of Jewish people. Not all Jews are Zionists. Yet, Zionism is intrinsically related to most Jews’ identity as Jews. When I was younger, I actively participated in anti-Zionist “peace” activities. I did not root my activism in a deep knowledge of history. My activism grew from a surface level understanding of human rights. I had to break free of internalized self-hatred before I could actually davenn Birkat HaShachar, the morning blessings. I had to get over the internalized hatred of the word “Israel,” and realize it was ultimately the collective name for me and all of my family by birth.
Remember the Dead, Honor the Survivors
Remember the people murdered in the Catastrophe. Singled out systematically like no other people murdered by the Nazi regime. Understand the Final Solution was about murdering Jews, not every undesirable person in the world.
And we must remember them as individual Jews. Anne Frank is important not because her diary is universally appealing (note that her Dad removed the sexual ruminations from the original publication). Anne Frank is important because she was a human being. More than recognition as an author, Anne Frank desperately wanted to live.
Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira was a brilliant spiritual leader. He is important not because it is easier to remember him as the Warsaw Rebbe or because he was murdered by the Nazis. Not because he chose to stay with his people in the Warsaw ghetto rather than allowing himself to be rescued. His writing has had a profound impact on me. He has articulated exactly the level of rigor and intensity, compassion and commitment that I seek in creating a conscious community. Even if he had done none of these things, he too should be remembered. Because he was a human being. And his neighbors slaughtered him for being Jewish.
9.5 million Jews lived in Europe before World War II. Thus, 3.5 million European Jews survived attempted murdered by their neighbors. More than just the famous ones. More than just the ones who published memoirs. Take some time to learn their stories at Yad VaShem, the world Shoah remembrance center. Or explore some of the survivor interviews from the Shoah Foundation.
The Jewish experience in WWII was unique.
Stop reminding your Jewish acquaintance of how many other people were murdered by the Nazis. We know they were murdered. We also know that no other group was systematically singled out, required in every occupied territory to register, wear badges, and be deported.
World War II was not the first time we were forced to wear yellow Stars of David. That honor goes to England, who persecuted us, stole our property and our money, pushed us off the island, then refused to let us leave, starving us along the way to eliminating Judaism from their midst.
The Splendor of Power I honor today is Jewish Wisdom and Jewish Resilience.
I always have trouble consolidating my thoughts on the Shoah. The Shoah is not at the core of my Judaism, nor is any aspect of the history of Jew hatred. I love the living tradition. It brings me so much joy and inner fortitude. Yet, I know that our resilience rests on generations of persecution.
The trauma of the Shoah both brought about the global conditions for recognition of the state of Israel and guided the actions of the leaders of Israel over the course of its history. And that is why Israel chose to place Yom HaShoah between the celebration of our political freedom from bondage, Passover, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Isreal’s Independence Day.