Remember. Don’t forget. Never again.
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OPINION

Remember. Don’t forget. Never again.

It’s difficult for me to properly express my emotions on Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Memorial Day. The enormity of the loss overwhelms me. The loss of life, love, potential that was stolen from our families and our people. I feel sad, angry, confused, and horrified. Some of us learn the history and can tell you the date the Nazis liquidated their ancestors’ ghetto. Others ponder theology and ask questions like, “How?” “Why?” “Where was God?” “Where was man?” Others quietly light a candle and mourn — yitgadal v’yitkadash — imagining the contours of lost landscapes of Jewish life.

This year, I’m feeling a particular kind of dread. As we look around our sanctuary and our seder tables, we realize that there are so few survivors left in our midst. We know that inevitably, eventually there will be none of them left. I wonder if we will know when that happens?

Several weeks ago, Boris Romanchenko, a 96-year old Buchenwald survivor, was killed in Ukraine by Russian bombing of his home in Kharkiv. A Jewish soul, who endured so much, was taken from the world and his family at the hands of another greedy dictator. But even if they are not taken from us by Putin’s “denazification” efforts, our survivors can’t live forever. Those who are still with us are a precious few — may they live and be well until 120 and beyond. What will change in the world when they are no longer here to share their stories, to serve as living testaments to the dangers of fascism, hatred, and weaponized racism? We will try our best to carry on their stories and their legacy — to remind ourselves of their resilience when times get tough — but it won’t be the same.

The survivors coined certain mantras about their collective experience — “Remember.” “Don’t forget.” “Never again.” But the world has not heeded their call. Not in Bosnia, or Rwanda, or Darfur, or China, where Uyghur Muslims are the victims of hatred and genocide.

My dread is additionally multiplied by the alarming resurgence of the world’s oldest hatred, right here in our beloved goldene medina of America. A recent ADL report shows an alarming 60% rise in antisemitic violence. There’s a growing library of books on the topic — just to name a few recent titles:

• Deborah Lipstadt — “Antisemitism Here and Now”

• Dara Horn — “People Love Dead Jews”

• Jonathan Greenblatt — “It Could Happen Here”

• David Baddiel — “Jews Don’t Count”

• Bari Weiss — “How to Fight Antisemitism”

Even as more literature fills our shelves, ignorance about the lessons of history astound us. A prominent TV personality claims that the Holocaust wasn’t about race, but just white people fighting among themselves. A member of Congress refers to the Capitol Police as the “gazpacho police.” It’s laughable because she confused the Nazi secret police force, the Gestapo, with tomato soup. But it’s no longer funny when you realize that she was comparing the Capitol Police force’s efforts to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol to the actions of the Nazis.

If she had any sense of history, she would know that the Gestapo was responsible for the round-up of Jews throughout Europe for deportation to the extermination camps. This same member of Congress compared covid-19 safety protocols, including mask wearing and vaccinations, to the Nazi regime. “Nazi,” it seems, has become shorthand for someone who is imposing something on me that I don’t like or I disagree with. Meanwhile, extreme groups on university campuses try to justify terror attacks against Israelis and dabble in dangerous antisemitic tropes, claiming that Zionists control the media for propaganda. If these groups had any sense of history, they would know how these kinds of claims lead directly to attacks on Jews.

This is also the year in which a Tennessee school board deemed Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel “Maus” too disturbing for students to read. How can we learn, if we can’t face what happened?

All of this comes against the backdrop of Colleyville, the January 6 attack on the Capitol building, and the Ottawa trucker protests. It is no coincidence that when democracy is under attack, antisemitism is on the rise. And when populism and extremism flourish, Jews are increasingly unsafe.

I think the reason I’m clinging to the remaining survivors and lamenting the day when they finally exit this earth is because their presence has served as a reminder to all of society of its collective responsibility. “Remember.” “Never forget.” “Never again.” They’ve told us their stories, even though it was painful to do so. They’ve rebuilt their lives and made ours possible, even though all odds were against them.

They’ve done their part. Now it’s time for us to do ours.

This Yom HaShoah, each of us must commit again to take on the responsibility they carried and make it our own. We must speak it in the ears of anyone and everyone whether or not they want to hear it — “Remember.” “Never forget.” “Never again.” — because the stakes of forgetting, or worse ignoring, the lessons of history are no less than our lives and the lives of our children.

Ari Lucas is the senior rabbi of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell.

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