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We Are All Survivors

06/06/19 05:13:24 PM

Jun6

Remarks at Yom Hashoah Community Holocaust Commemoration May 1, 2019

“I used to sing a song to my children, a song that my father sang to me when I was a child. “Hashem is here,” I would sing, using a Hebrew name for God, pointing with my right index finger to the sky. “Hashem is there,” I would sing, pointing to my right and left. “Hashem is truly everywhere.” That finger I would use to point out God’s omnipresence was taken from me.”

With these words of R. Yisroel Goldstein in our hearts, we raise our index fingers. We come together in a shul – an embassy of Jewish sovereignty through space and time.

Last Yom Hashoah in a synagogue much like this one, next to you might have sat one of the following people: Lori Gilbert Kay, Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger. 

They perished in a synagogue like this one. This Yom Hashoah, in this shul, we remember them. Our presence testifies to our people’s permanence, as our fingers testify to Hashem’s omnipresence.

The US House of Representatives Majority Whip James Clyburn said seven weeks ago: “There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’” He used these words to disparage the experiences of survivors’ children. If we hear these dismissals while we are still blessed to have survivors among us, what will happen when we are not so blessed? What will we do?

We will answer from within a synagogue, thinking of those who might have sat beside us today. We will answer, “WE ARE SURVIVORS.” We are not victims. Survivors look to the future; victims become lost in the past. We know that we are targets; we know that our holy places and holy days are targets; but we will not abandon them and we will not be dismissed. Not this Shabbat, and not ever! Within these our sacred embassies, we will not abandon our posts. WE ARE ALL SURVIVORS.

For us to be survivors and not victims, memory is essential. These memories are specifically important now. We open our hearts not just to our people’s stories; we allow these memories to inhabit and become us. These stories are not just for history books; they are who we are and who we will be. Before Pittsburgh and after Pittsburgh. Before Poway after Poway. “WE ARE SURVIVORS.”

The nature of Yom Hashoah has changed. In the past, we feared that the world would not remember the Holocaust. Today, the risk is not that the Holocaust will be forgotten, but that it will be stolen. Some already try to make our memories into metaphors that they can manipulate to their own political ends. They label their own causes with the moral weight of words like ghetto, Holocaust, gas chamber and Nazi. They look at the color of our skin and declare us white – so that they might group us among the pharaohs and the pariahs in THEIR dualist mythology. They look upon our success, and cry out as Pharaoh once did, “Jew will not Replace Us.”

Our task this Yom Hashoah is to not let anyone steal our memories – We will not be maligned, manipulated and molded into props within someone else’s narrative. We are free. We are masters of our memories and our embassies. Now more than ever – we must not simply remember; we must own our story.

This is not the first time that the world has borrowed a Jewish story. The freedom story that we told around our Seder tables looms large in Western thinking. We spoke of deliverance from suffering and oppression. Almost all modern revolutions have been imagined as an enactment of the Exodus – by Jew and gentile alike.

We do not frown upon people learning from our stories – be they the Exodus or the Holocaust. These stories are primarily about our national story – but we recognize our role as leaders – we have been and we will be a light unto nations.

Therefore, when religious men and women find in our texts not only a record of God’s actions in the world but also a guide for God’s people – us AND THEM – we should cheer. Yet, in sharing our story with others, we can sometimes forget our story’s ongoing relevance to us, its original and true protagonists. We cannot allow today’s revolutionaries to make us into tomorrow’s pharaohs and hitlers. If we see a world in which oppression still exists – in which we too still seek redemption - then we must be among those who make our world truly more free. We must – as we always have – speak the language of life and liberty. 

Let us commit to fend off those who would rob us of our memory. We will not allow our identity to be abused, by those who would like to cast us as villains for their diabolical purposes. We can do this by identifying as Jews, gathering as Jews, speaking up as Jews, and acting as Jews. We will not hide, we will not be silent, and we will act with, to quote Lori Kaye, radical empathy.

We remember what it was to be a slave and a prisoner. We work for a better world, where through justice, righteousness and kindness, God bestows freedom upon all people. As Jews, we help others gain their freedom, as we continue to achieve our own. Remember, Jews stand for freedom.

There was a time when Yom Hashoah was about the past. There was a time when a Jew could hide her Jewishness and try to get along like everyone else. There was a time when a Jew could be apathetic to Jewish survival and leave it for someone else. That time is no more. If we are to survive, we must engage. We cannot go through life like everyone else. We must act as Jews in every place and at every time – we must advocate for ourselves and for ALL people – we hold fast to freedom or freedom will be stolen from us.

We will do it. We will speak and march. We will be free. WE ARE AND WILL BE SURVIVORS.

Sat, 14 December 2019 16 Kislev 5780