On April 24th Israelis will commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day. This is not the same date as the International Holocaust Memorial Day. This date was chosen to emphasize the place of the Holocaust in the story of the Jewish people.
We do this by first celebrating Passover. One week later, we mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Exactly one week after that is Memorial Day for IDF soldiers and victims of terrorism. The following day is a joyful celebration, Israel’s Independence Day.
This pattern is deliberate. The message is very clear. The exodus from slavery to freedom is an on-going journey. As we acknowledge during the Passover Seder: “In every generation [enemies] rise up against us, to destroy us, and every time God saves us from their hands.”
In other words, our very existence is a miracle.
The Passover story is relevant to our modern experiences. The lessons remain the same. The defiance of those who did not obey Pharaoh was critical but, alone, that would not have been enough to save the Jewish people. The leadership of Moses, alone, would not have been enough to lead the people to freedom. During the Passover Seder, we explain to our children that God rescued us from slavery – the miracles were a personal gift to us. If there is a child who rejects this legacy we are instructed to still teach the Passover story but to explain: “God saved me, me and not you.”
The miracle of survival is very personal. 3000 years later, nothing has changed. On Holocaust Memorial Day we ponder the memories of our grandparents. The children and grandchildren of those who were there are also part of the story. The horrors perpetrated against those who were there were a direct attack on us as well. If not for those who—miraculously–survived the Holocaust, we would not be here either.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a time of reflection and endless questions: How could the most civilized people on earth commit such atrocities? How could people witness terrible crimes and pretend they did not see? Has the world learned anything from the Holocaust? Have we?
In Israel the day is actually called: “Memorial Day for the Holocaust and for Heroism.” I suppose many would assume that this is a day of solemn grief. It is, but it is also a day of pride, a day to acknowledge miracles and to consider the legacy of those who survived – and those who did not.
It took great courage to defy the oppressor: steal a loaf of bread to feed your family, hide your child to give them the possibility of life even though you know you will not see them grow up, to go on living when the rest of your family is dead…
What would you tell your child if you knew that was the last time you will ever see them? Many Jewish parents instructed their children to survive, to grow up to be good people and to not forget their Judaism. Can you imagine the courage that takes? The legacy that leaves behind?
Jewish revenge is something rarely discussed. It doesn’t look the way most people picture revenge. It’s not about violence or punishing those who attempted to destroy us. (In Hebrew the saying goes: “The tasks of the righteous are done by others.”) At the same time, the revenge of the Jewish people is a roar of defiance heard around the world.
Do you know what it is?
Children. Lots of them.
Those who have been to Israel will probably have noted that our children are different. They are laughing, free and loud. They move fast and are everywhere. One child is everyone’s child. Each one is important and precious.
In other countries, it is common for children to be considered something that “should be seen but not heard.” In Israel, the definition of happiness is children. Mothers are cherished because they are the ones that give life. What is more important than that?
I will never forget the soldier interviewed in the middle of the last war in Lebanon (2006) who said he wanted to get home to his mom. Not because he was afraid, just because he missed her and her warmth. His friends didn’t think it was a strange or “unmanly” thing to say. Neither did the reporter who simply asked the other soldiers if they wanted to send a message to their moms too. They all responded: “love you, mom!”
During Passover kids have vacation from school while most parents have to be at work. Many, including TV hosts, bring their kids to work. No one thought it strange that the morning show host interviewed people with his son sitting next to him. A few of the interviewees had their kids with them too.
Our revenge is life.
Those that tried to destroy us would be flabbergasted to see Israelis everywhere – in medicine, science, Hollywood, art, politics, business and academia. Everywhere you turn you will find (at the top of each field), Israelis as well as Jews from other countries.
Those who wished us wiped off the face of the earth unwittingly lit a fire that forged people with a will of steel. Possibly it is by the grace of God that we retained hearts soft with compassion.
We who were once slaves in Egypt see the oppression of people elsewhere.
We who were gassed are sickened by women and children being gassed today.
We who remember those that saw and remained silent refuse to do the same.
Tiny Israel reaches out to people around the world to save them, protect them, heal them, give them tools to make their lives better. We save people from hurricanes and tsunamis, provide medical care to the disadvantaged in the Far East, Africa and yes, to our Syrian neighbors as well as children from other Arab countries. We provide technology to the world, clean water to Africa, California and India. Much of the technology we all use, every day, has at least some element in it that was “made in Israel” or invented by Israeli minds.
We don’t care about race, gender, religion or political affiliation. If we can help, we will. Suffering bothers us. We know there has got to be a better way. If no one else finds it, we will.
We live and live well and the world doesn’t know how to live without us. THAT is our revenge.
Am Yisrael Chai!