Remember growing up as a kid you'd go through this "I wish my father was a..." phase of life? As in: "I wish my father was an astronaut", "I wish my father owned a hamburger joint", or "I wish my father played for the Cubs". Me? I went through a "Gee – I wish my father had a number on his arm, like his friends from the New Citizens Club with whom he played 'kaluki' (an East European version of gin rummy – by the way, we were forbidden to play cards for money, but they played for gelt, so that's different)?"

Let me say right now: If you don't think this was weird – that's weird!

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I knew there was a war, camps and a catastrophe – but no one really told me anything about it. So finally I asked my father straight out: "Dad, how come you don't have a number on your arm, like Rabbi E.?"



He looked me in the eyes… but I have no idea what his inner reaction was to such a question coming from his American-born child. He just said, gently as possible, as a parent helping his child get over a disappointment in life: "By the time I got to camp they no longer put it on your arm". He saw that I wasn't happy with the answer so he added: "I had a number, but it was on my shirt".

 I didn't know my father's story until decades later: he had been a slave laborer for two years, under the Hungarian army retreating from Moscow by foot all the way to Austria – where he was turned over to the S.S. and marched to Mauthausen. My mother, born in Poland, had been exiled to Siberia – which was a life saver. It was my mother who gave me the book Night, by Eli Wiesel, when I was in seventh grade – and just said: "Read this, it's important".

But my exposure to the Holocaust actually came years before, only I didn't realize that until I passed age forty. I had a discussion with a psychologist who claimed studies show that second generation people, born to Holocaust survivors, have a natural gift of empathy to others.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because they've learned from an early age that there can be terrible suffering in this world, therefore they're more able to feel empathy with those that suffer," she said.

"But my parents didn't talk about their experiences," I exclaimed.

"Didn't they tell you about it?"

"No."

"Well sometimes they told you in a roundabout way."

"I don't remember anything like that," I insisted.

"What about screams and nightmares – did your parents have nightmares?" she said gently. Then I remembered, I hadn't thought about it for decades – but she jolted my sub-conscious memory and I recalled clearly: I would sometimes hear my father screaming in the night, but never understood why.

"You see", she gently continued, "you've absorbed it almost directly to your sub-conscious, but it's there, and it gives you the gift of empathy. Use it well."

That was a revelation for me. It gave me a gift, a talent that I received unearned by me – but that I could and should use to help others.

There are those that live in the shadow of the Holocaust. For some, especially on the far left, it is the motivation for an uncritical sympathy for Israel's enemies, by mistakenly comparing Israel's actions to the evil actions of the Nazi regime. Some become all defense and security-minded, often to the point of seeing huge clouds behind every silver lining, thinking more of what must prevented from happening again, rather than what should happen in a positive sense. Both seemingly suffer from an exaggerated type of generationally-passed-on post-traumatic reaction.

Israel should never take foreign dignitaries to the Holocaust Museum, as if to say: "Support us, so there won't be another Holocaust". We should take them to Hebron to see the Cave of the Patriarchs, as if to say: "These are our roots, this is our homeland!" The message shouldn't be "We fear the dark! So don't forget!" Rather it should be: "Remember the light! Yearn for a great light that will lift up the entire world." Indeed let us leave the shadows, and say in the words of the Lord: "Let there be light" in the world! And let this light shine from the Jewish state of Israel.

 

  

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