Monday, April 13, 2015


This coming Thursday, April 16, 2015 (the 27th of Nissan of 5775) is Yom HaShoah, the Jewish observance of Holocaust Memorial Day for the Jewish community. This is not to be confused with January 27, the annual world-wide International Holocaust Memorial Day. During this week there will be many ceremonies, special services and memorials as well as inspiring and horrifying speeches for us all. As happens every year, our area’s Sunday paper marked this timing with an article about the reunion of the survivors of Buchenwald and their U.S. liberators on the specific anniversary of the liberation of that concentration camp this past Saturday/Shabbat in Germany. As with all such ongoing and present reminders of this profound atrocity, the article was difficult to read and as always when thinking about this horrid catastrophe of our lives, so hard to put behind me once read.

In the same Sunday paper was a piece entitled “West Looks Past Islamists’ Persecution of Christians” (authored by Nina Shea) in which there was a horrifying account of how Christians have been the target of Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia for too long, while the reaction in the West is often minimal at best. The article describes the methodical selection of victims and how “black-clad al-Shabab militants” broke into Christian religious spaces to carry out their slaughter in the name of Allah. This reading goes on to ask where is the West and where is the outcry while too many Christians are murdered without thought just for believing as they do. The Kenyan slaughter of this past week is highlighted while it is also listed along with the one-year anniversary on April 14 of the kidnapping and disappearance of 219 Nigerian schoolgirls; the March 15 blowing up of a Catholic and a Protestant church in Pakistan, the attack in early March of 33 Khabour River villages in Syria and so much more. We are all aware of the recent flight of UN peacemakers to Israel when their lives were in peril trying to bring relief to those who are suffering in Syria. Interestingly enough, none of this is about Israel. Rather, it is about extremists deciding who should live and die and the growing threat of this element in our world today.

Here is yet another horrifying chapter in our world history of extremists determining who is acceptable to them and who is not, including Moslems who do not believe as they do. So should we care? Should we read these articles too, watch these videos as well and consider the ramifications as we observe and remember the horrible affront to the Jewish people for just being Jewish a mere 70 years ago? Or should we only focus on and be concerned about “our own” as more than a few members of our community suggest?

I would submit, that on a very profound level, we need to think of all of these people who are persecuted and threatened as being “our own.” Further, yes, we MUST be concerned about them and the threat to their lives and well being; just as we should be mindful about commemorating ALL victims of Nazi Germany during the slaughter of so many at their hands seventy years ago. Remember the message of Maurice Ogden’s chilling poem, The Hangman. If you wish, here is a presentation of it.

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks consistently reminds us, we must all stand together as people of faith and work to protect and bolster each other. This is all the more true in this troubled time of ours with much too much extremism that chokes the good name of legitimate religion and honest belief. We all stand to lose much too much if we do not heed this message. Consider the message of Passover that we have just completed. Thirty six times, we are enjoined in our Torah to “remember and not oppress the stranger” and care for them; for we know all too well what it meant to be a slave in Egypt and a prisoner in Auschwitz, and persecuted in too many other instances.

There are many programs of commemoration that have reunited liberators, Righteous Gentiles and those they have saved throughout the years. At Yad VaShem, one of the many powerful elements is the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, in which we give honor to those who risked their lives as human beings to save Jews during this unspeakable chapter of our collective history. What are the message and the questions left for us to consider at these observances as we carefully consider that there have in fact been others who have taken risks for us just as there have been those who sought to destroy us?

What have we learned about being UPSTANDERS and not merely bystanders from the difficult and horrifying stories we have heard? Are we paying attention today to others who are suffering from genocidal actions? When we say “Never Again,” it is so clear that we are referring to the terrible challenges of Jewish history and attempts at annihilation of our people. That being said, we must say this as human beings and stand and protect all those at risk in our world or the message of Ogden’s poem could, G-d forbid, come to be.

The article about Christian persecution by extremist Islamists ends with the simple sentence “So far, the West looks away.” Let us all stand together this Yom HaShoah and scream as loud as we can, NEVER AGAIN! Not for us nor any other good honest people in our world! NEVER AGAIN! And let us learn the important lessons of the Righteous Gentiles who saved our families and friends and do the same for others. Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah – let one Mitzvah of rescuing the captive from which we have benefited lead us to take it on for the sake of others.

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