April 6, 2021
by Sondra Oster Baras
Tomorrow night begins Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day of mourning, of memory, of identification with the victims of the most heinous crimes in the history of humanity, the brutal murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany. Restaurants, theaters and places of entertainment close. Memorial ceremonies are held in every community, town and city all over the country and the national ceremony in Yad VaShem is televised across the nation.
Holocaust Remembrance Day was set at this time because seventy-three years ago, during and following the Passover holiday, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up against the mighty Nazi war machine and managed to halt the deportations for a few weeks. It may seem inconsequential in the long run, but for the Jews of that time, it was a major accomplishment, reminding them that they still had freedom of choice, that they could raise their voices, roar like lions and stand up to the Germans. And even though they knew they would be killed in the effort, they were able to choose to die fighting. In that uprising, Jews asserted the freedom that is innate in every human being, that no oppressor, no matter how powerful, can really ever take away.
But Holocaust Remembrance Day is not just about those few individuals who were able to fight the Germans with weapons and force. It is about 6 million Jews who were murdered and some 3 million more who were persecuted, starved, beaten and yet somehow survived. Every day that these people lived, was a day that they fought for life. Every mother who calmed her child as they were marched to the gas chambers, every father who risked his life to smuggle food to his starving children, every man, woman or child who slaved under impossible conditions, trying to live one more day, was a fighter.
When we remember the Holocaust from the safety of our own Jewish State, we echo the well-worn phrase Never Again! Never again will our people be helpless and hopeless, persecuted with no army, nation or government to protect them. Jews had lived in Europe for nearly 2,000 years but overnight they were deemed undesirables. When Hitler revealed his plans for the mass destruction of the Jews, no country was willing to take in Jews and save them from a terrible fate. Even the British, who controlled the Land of Israel at the time, known then as Palestine, refused to let more than a few Jews into the Land.
When we mark the independence of Israel, we not only celebrate the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. We rejoice in our ability to choose our own lives, to defend ourselves and protect our people. And the Law of Return guarantees that any Jew anywhere in the world can come home to Israel and be granted immediate citizenship. Jews will always have a place that will welcome them and protect them.
For the past year, Israel has experienced unprecedented political instability. Just two weeks ago, we went to the polls again, for the fifth time in less than 2 years. While Netanyahu has remained prime minister throughout, he has not been able to form a cohesive government, pass a budget or govern in a calm and consistent way. And this is frustrating for everyone in Israel regardless of their political persuasion. And often in the media we hear people complaining that there is such division in the country, even hatred between various groups.
But in reality, the discord coming from the politicians does not reflect the relationships within the nation. We have suffered through a horrible year of pandemic with its attendant economic crisis. Social distancing has threatened our ability to be with one another and take comfort from human company. But solidarity between people remains as strong as ever. There have been some amazing charitable and volunteer initiatives, reaching out to the elderly, helping neighbors. There is a true sense of brotherhood within the Jewish people that cannot be broken. We may argue politics and religion, which we do often and openly, but we are one family.
The State of Israel is our answer to Hitler, the Nazis and all those past and present who have persecuted Jews. They tried to destroy us but we prevailed. They tried to erase our identity but we stand proud before the entire world as Jews, citizens of the one and only Jewish State, which has been miraculously restored to life after nearly 2,000 years of exile. Even as we argue with one another, we will fight like lions to protect one another. The Israeli Army is our army. It is an army of our brothers, fathers, children, neighbors and friends. Everyone fights for family, and the entire country is family. And when you fight for your family, you will fight well.
There is a Holocaust survivor I know. Every year, his family gathers for the Passover seder. Today, the family has grown into its 5th generation. This one Holocaust survivor has three children, 15 grandchildren, dozens of great-grandchildren and now, even a few great great grandchildren. And as he looks around the table where his descendants and their spouses are gathered he says to his family — this is my triumph over Hitler.
Yes, we have triumphed. Our families, the State of Israel. G-d may have been hiding from us during the Holocaust but He has blessed us since. We must never forget the horrors of the Holocaust but we must always remember that we prevailed. “The Eternal One of Israel will not lie” (I Samuel 15:29).