A rallying cry: What does 'never again' really mean? - opinion

"... Never allowing evil people with murderous motives to pervert Christian ideology"

Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)

Yom HaShoah begins this week on Wednesday evening, April 27.  

First officially commemorated in the Holy Land in 1951, its observance was enshrined in Israeli national law by the Knesset in April 1959.  Held annually on the 27th day of Nisan, unless that date coincides with a Sabbath, this day of mourning and memory honors the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, known as the “Shoah” in Hebrew.

For almost a century, the words “never again” have been used as a rallying cry for those who belong to or stand with the Jewish people.  As Emily Burack of JTA explained in a 2018 article, “never again” carries deep meaning when one considers the tragedy of the Holocaust. 

Among others cited in her piece, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said in 2012, “’Never Again’ becomes more than a slogan: it’s a prayer, a promise, a vow… never again the glorification of base, ugly, dark violence.”

The JTA article quotes former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in 2010 when he said, “I promise, as head of the Jewish state, that never again will we allow the hand of evil to sever the life of our people and our state.”

Burack explained that Isaac Lamdan, the Hebrew poet, may have initiated the current use of the phrase when he wrote “Never shall Masada fall again!” in 1927. 

The power of these words is not limited to Israel.  

Illustrating that this phrase carries worldwide significance, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in Paris in 1948, contains the words, “the international community vowed never again to allow” the horrible atrocities of World War II.

As part of its modern observance, many have seen videos of the entire nation of Israel coming to a halt for two minutes each year on Yom HaShoah.  Having witnessed the eerie silence in person, I must say that hearing the siren blast and then experiencing the ensuing quiet was a powerful and memorable moment, even for non-Jews and non-Israelis like me. 

I was privileged to be invited several years ago to one of the most important events of Yom HaShoah, a ceremony held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  Among the many powerful moments of Holocaust Remembrance Day in general and the state ceremony specifically, maybe the most striking is when now elderly Holocaust survivors light six torches in honor of the six million men, women and children brutally murdered by the Nazis simply because they were Jewish.  What a symbolic and appropriate image: torches set alight to honor lives that were extinguished decades ago. 

 Never Again. 

In our time, believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must ensure that the word “never” retains its power. My generation must learn from our senior citizens how this unspeakable tragedy could have occurred and then pass those lessons on to my kids’ generation.  

As we observe anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli hate in today’s media and politics, my generation must acknowledge that we still have a lot of work to do to ensure that “never again” is a promise kept.

In 2015, Abraham Foxman of the ADL wrote “that as much as the Shoah is commemorated -- through a day, through education, through observance -- the world does not take seriously enough the modern-day threat to revisit those terrible days.” 

“Never” must remain a promise to stand for innocent life.  

“Never” must be a vow to speak out against the unfounded hatred of the Jewish people.  

“Never” must be a refusal to allow Israel to be vilified relentlessly in international political bodies.

 “Never again” ultimately means never allowing the mass murder of Jews as the world stands by in silence. 

 “Never again” can also mean never forgetting the stories of the victims and the survivors.  

“Never again” must mean never allowing evil people with murderous motives to pervert Christian ideology to advance their antisemitic propaganda.

How can God’s people work together in these days to ensure “never” really means “never”?   We can start with understanding and trusting the God whose Bible says “never” many times, especially in the Book of Psalms.

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; in Your righteousness deliver me (Psalm 31:1).

Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (Psalm 55:22).

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken (Psalm 62:2).

I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have revived me (Psalm 119:93).

As we observe violence and evil in our culture, Jews and Christians alike can be tempted to wonder what the sovereign Lord will allow next.  How can we find peace in a world torn apart by war and hatred and suffering?  While we pay attention to the pain in our culture, we can all look for solace in these words.

The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him" (Lamentations 3:22-24).

On this Yom HaShoah, Jews and Christians should mourn the senseless death of millions.  

We should promise to detect and denounce antisemitism in private and public arenas.  Most importantly, we can pursue the hope found in the Lord whose loving kindnesses never cease.

Never again.

Trey Graham is a pastor and radio host in Texas who leads unique tours of Christian pilgrims to study the Bible in Israel. Learn more at www.IsraelByTheBook.com.