I first learned about the Holocaust as a high school student. No, not at school, silly! Oddly, every American and world history class I had in public school conveniently ran out of school year before the chronology reached World War II. I now suspect that happened in junior high because our American history teacher was a WW II vet. (My father, also a WW II vet, was never inclined to talk about his experiences; I learned what little I know about his service long after he had passed away in the early 1990s.) I’m not sure about the high school teacher, but he could have been a vet as well.
So, no, not a word at school about WW II, nor even about Hitler, as I recall. Possibly I have just forgotten that; it’s really been a while since then! But definitely, no lessons on World War II. I remember being puzzled about that even as an eighth-grader. There it was in the book, but somehow we just weren’t going to get there in time.
My mother was the prototype of the “life-long learner”: a school teacher with undergraduate, masters, & doctorate degrees, plus course work for a masters in history. She loved all her books. I remember Dad building huge bookshelves in the basement for her various school collections, as well as novels and other general interest books and non-general interest books and other books and more books — it seemed endless! She had a saying: “If you hide a book behind a book, you lose a book forever.” So Dad built shelves across maybe 20 feet of wall, shelves floor to ceiling, all filled with books seemingly as soon as he put down his hammer.
The basement was cool in the summers, and I was rather fond of books too, so I often browsed down there. One day I opened up a new-to-me book and discovered the history of the Holocaust.
I was appalled. For the first time in my sheltered life, I knew beyond any doubt that evil exists and walks among us. And I was furious: how could anyone let this happen? How could we Americans have let the hatred in Germany build to such a point without having done everything in our power to stop it before it erupted into the Holocaust; or if stopping it was not possible, to intervene and get the Jews out of there before all hell broke loose? How could everyday Germans live with themselves, knowing that they had at least colluded in barbarity?
My sixteen-year-old heart made its choice: I will always stand with Israel, and I will always stand against those who hate the Jews. I vowed that a holocaust would not happen on my watch.
[An aside: Melodramatically, at the time this meant to me that I, a Protestant girl, should grow up to be a rabbi. Hey, I’m not saying I was filled with common sense! However, since now I was going to be a rabbi when I grew up, I bought a copy of the Haggadah in Hebrew and English. That book was a prize possession; it was among the few books (dictionary, French dictionary, Haggadah) that went off to college with me. And my freshman year in college, my Jewish roommate and her friends needed a copy of the Haggadah for the first Passover they were to celebrate away from home. Guess who had it?! I was so pleased that I could loan it to them, and eventually I gave it to my roommate (having realized long since that I had no intention of converting or being a rabbi). I hope that she or her sons still put it to use.]
My way-older-than-sixteen heart still makes that choice: I will always stand with Israel. Jews, like all humans, have a right to live, to work, to thrive, to prosper; to live freely and without fear for their lives; to live in dignity and peace. And Jews have a right to Israel: to live, to work, to thrive, to prosper in Israel.
Israel was the answer to the European hatred of the Jews, by returning to the Jews their traditional homeland, so that there is always one place on earth the Jews can live freely and with security. But Israel’s existence is daily threatened by the Muslim hatred of the Jews, which in our so-enlightened 21st century is abetted by European (and, alas, American) anti-Semitism that never died out. Anti-Semitism won’t die on its own, because the haters will never neglect their hatred long enough to let it die. We must hold watch and steadfastly resist the soothing voices of anti-Semitism. Of course Israel has a right to protect herself; of course Jews have a right to protect themselves. If the Jews do not have that right, then you & I do not, either. It’s all humans or no humans: you cannot be for “human rights” and be against the Jews.
Of course Israel has a right to protect herself: that means naval blockades of Gaza, including boarding ships that try to bust the blockade; that means incursions into Gaza to stop the nearly incessant shelling of Israeli towns; that means air strikes in Lebanon; that means checkpoints — until such time as Israel’s Muslim neighbors recognize her right to exist and completely disavow stated intentions to kill all Jews, and prove they mean it.
Of course Jews have a right to live, work, prosper in Israel: that means, homes can be built anywhere in Israel; that means Jews can freely and safely live and travel everywhere in Israel and especially in Jerusalem.
To me, unhappily, this looks like the 1930s all over again. But perhaps more of us will speak up this time. We need to say, again and again, for as long as it takes:
Muslim Jew-hatred is caused by militant Islam, not by Jews. Similarly, Muslim America-hatred is caused by militant Islam, Islam that still intends to establish the Caliphate; it is not caused by America, Americans, or American actions.
We owe militant Islam nothing! We owe ourselves and our children the most steadfast, vocal, unyielding — and even (if necessary) violent — resistance to militant Islam that we can muster. We must never give up, nor can we accommodate. Adapting will not be sufficient, only victory will save us, all of us, Jews & non-Jews.
I will always stand with Israel, and you should too.