Monday, April 8, 2013

We Are Not Victims

Monday, April 8th, 2013 ~ 28th day of Nissan, 5773
70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Today is Yom Ha’Shoah…the Day of Holocaust Remembrance. This is not a happy kind of holiday, or even an official one on the Jewish calendar since it’s post-Biblical, but it’s a national holiday in Israel and Jews around the world mark it with a variety of observances.

Last night, at sundown, flags were lowered to half-staff. In Warsaw Square at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, 6 survivors light 6 torches to represent the 6 million. The president and prime minister both made speeches.

At precisely 10:00 AM, the sirens blare…and all of Israel stops. Cars stop on the streets and highways. Trains stop. People stop. Commerce stops. People stop what they are doing. They stand at attention, perfectly still. For two minutes. The entire country stops. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you stop. Don’t believe it really happens? Watch this:  Yom Ha'Shoah - 2011

At the same time all Israel is stopping to remember, belligerence continues on the other side of the world. In North Korea, little Kim Jong-un continues to rattle his saber at South Korea and the West. He has closed the border to the workers who work in a manufacturing site shared with the South. He has told all other nations to remove their embassy and consulate staffs because he cannot guarantee their safety in a time of war. He has pointed missiles at South Korea, Japan, and the US …and threatens us all with the delivery of nuclear devices.

Real life video game
People are concerned and rightfully so. As I speculated a couple of weeks ago, this is a kid jerking the world’s chain…but with intent. He does need foreign aid and he does need a Marshall-type plan. To get it, he cannot afford to lose face, so what would be wrong with  blackmailing the West? So far, it's is working. Warships are in the area, everyone’s on high alert waiting for him to make the next move. He is the star of the show...exactly where he wants to be.

There has been significant troop movement and positioning, including the arrival of US naval vessels on the South Korean Coast. Even China, North Korea's only significant ally, is taking a strong position, apparently telling Kim that this is not acceptable behavior… even for a child.  As for the rest of us, we are left to speculate what will happen should a missile be fired in the direction of any of the allies.

Wanna know what won’t happen? No one will tell the Unites States to stand down and do nothing. No one will to criticize the US Navy's decision to move warships into the East China Sea vicinity. And no one will tell the US not to respond to a missile attack (G-d forbid!) whether or not it reaches US territory.

So why is it okay to tell Israel not to respond to a missile attack?

I was born after the Holocaust and after the birth of the modern State of Israel. I don’t know a world without Jews living on kibbutzim and moshavim, in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzlia, Eilat, and Jerusalem. When I was in Israel in 1969, I went to the Wall and to Yad Vashem, to the Golan and even deep into Sinai. At every turn, our communal history confronted me. Rachel’s Tomb, Machpelah, David’s Tomb, the graves of Isaac Luria (d. 1530) and Yosef Karo (d.1575) in Tzfat. Clearly, we’ve been here for the whole time and we’re not going away.

And just as South Korea, Japan, and even the US have the right and the duty to protect their citizens, Israel is not exempt from that responsibility.

Once upon a time, no one thought anyone had the responsibility to protect Jews when they were attacked. History is full of examples. The Holocaust changed that. We were not defeated. We did not all die in the ovens. We did not emerge a defeated  people.  We emerged victorious in our very survival. A scant few days after the liberation, Rabbi Herschel Schacter (z”l), a chaplain in the US Army, held Shabbat services for the prisoners of Buchenwald. These people are emaciated, starving, perhaps a little disbelieving…but they are celebrating Shabbat with their liberators as free people.

For those of you who notice these things, the date moves on the English calendar, but not on the Jewish one. Yom Ha'Shoah is always on 28th day of Nissan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising...the day the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto decided they were not going to be victims.
We will remember the ones who survived because they were far more than just our witnesses; they are our mothers and father, grandmothers and grandfathers, our teachers, our rabbis, our mentors, our friends. We saw their scars and memorized their numbers. And we understood that because of them, we are stronger, more resilient, and incredibly tough.

Never again is not a slogan. It's a way of life. 

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