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Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel: Something’s missing

With Holocaust Remembrance Day upon us once again in Israel, I thought I would republish a piece I wrote two years ago. I’ve decided not to make any changes because not much has changed and the spirit of the piece remains true to the day.

As a second-generation survivor of the Holocaust, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) has always been of great importance to me; its lessons were etched into my conscience from the earliest times in my childhood memories. The words, “never again” represent the values I was most deeply instilled with. However, those very values, which I once thought were universal, appear to be lost on so many. Perhaps my understanding of the values and memories of the Holocaust differ from others’; never again, not to anyone, ever.

As a child, I received the same Holocaust education as most other Jews. I heard first-hand memories from my grandmother and less so from my mother – both survivors of Nazi death camps. I went on to hear nearly identical stories in Holocaust museums all over the world, one such museum even has an exhibit specifically about my mother. Over several years, I helped my grandmother put her story onto paper and video so they would not be lost once she left this world. The value of those stories remain close to my heart and I am glad that they have been preserved so I might one day pass them on to my own children and grandchildren. The meaning of those stories has helped to shape my morals, values and personal goals. I was taught that they define us Jews as a people.

I was taught that the words “never again” mean never again to anyone. I was taught that the story of survival was about perseverance, not persecution. I was taught that as survivors of one of the most horrific and unimaginable crimes in the history of mankind, the Jewish people were endowed with a special responsibility to prevent such atrocities from ever occurring to any man, anywhere, any time, ever again. However, after living in Israel for almost three years, I am beginning to believe that this education was not universal. Searching through the three major Israeli newspapers on Yom HaShoah, I could not find even one Op-Ed that even resembled these ideas of using the lessons of our own tragedies to help others. Aside from the almost gratuitous articles about a glitch in the siren sounded in Tel Aviv and technical reporting of the day’s events, it seems that not one Israeli newspaper was willing to take the lessons of the Holocaust out of the context of Jewish suffering and to apply it to all persecuted peoples.

In no way do I intend to trivialize the memory of the 6 million Jews who were slaughtered at the hands of the Nazis. In no way do I intend to lessen the importance of honoring their memory. I am, however, shocked that my Jewish brethren are so afraid of using that memory to make the world a better place for all of mankind. That it is trivial to apply “never again” to the helpless people of Darfur (who are being slaughtered as you read this) sickens me. That we use the imagery and memory of Hitler’s crimes to justify war with Iran would make my grandmother turn over in her grave. That we do not see it as our place in the world to be the most outspoken advocate for all threatened peoples makes me question if we have learned any lessons from our victimhood.
 
The Holocaust is one of the most defining collective memories of the modern Jewish people, that we do not use it to make the world a better place for all mankind threatens the memory of all those who perished in the camps and of all those who died trying to save us. Yom HaShoah should continue to be a day of mourning, but just maybe it needs to also become a day of action.

Let us stand today to honor the memory of those who suffered and those who perished. Let us stand today to remind the world that we can never again stand idly by while innocent people are slaughtered because of their race, color, religion or any other reason.
 
Never again means never again.

First published on April 22, 2009.

Michael Omer-Man blogs at conflictedland.com
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