Unless there is some reason for the Second World War to figure prominently in the family histories of Europeans or in the educational curriculum, relatively few Europeans know much about the Holocaust. They may have heard of it, read inscriptions on monuments in the places where they live but without visuals, it is too abstract a concept. However, when some of those Europeans who are government officials, are in the course of a visit to Israel taken to Yad Vashem or any other Holocaust Memorial Museum, they discover that even in those traumatic times, photographers captured evidence for posterity and were somehow able to preserve their negatives for future prints. Some even printed them and were able to smuggle them out of Europe. Today’s ability to instantly transmit images from a PC, laptop or cellphone, did not exist at the time, and it took great resourcefulness and courage to preserve what photographers were able to document. It may be trite to say that a photograph conveys more than a thousand words – but it happens to be true, as seen in some of the photographs taken at Yad Vashem during the visit by Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra. His facial expressions registered the shock he felt as he looked at scenes taken some 80 years ago. Hoekstra was born in September 1975, long after the war was over. It was not embedded in his psyche. But his genuine curiosity prompted him to read inscriptions under photographs, and to look very closely at what his guide pointed out.
He later wrote in the Visitors’ Book “I find it impossible to grasp the colossal evil of the Holocaust, but Yad Vashem gives a voice to those who experienced the horror themselves. It is our obligation to keep their memory alive and to raise our voices against antisemitism, hatred, exclusion and violence.” That and more provides a reason for wider dissemination of Holocaust education. If people remain ignorant of the evil that can triumph over the goodness in humanity – the Holocaust can happen again. Ukraine is not the only place in which we have evidence of that possibility. We have seen it elsewhere in Europe, in Africa, in Asia and in the Middle East despite declarations of “Never again.”
■ JEWISH AND Israeli political and religious leaders frequently speak of Jewish unity, and many non-Jews who are aware of Jewish history and some of the many efforts to annihilate the Jewish people through forced renunciation of their faith and conversion to Christianity or Islam, pogroms, blood libels and other false accusations, burning of synagogues with congregants inside, expulsion and mass genocide, cannot fathom how the Jewish people have not only managed to survive, but also to thrive – religiously, politically, culturally and economically. And yet there is no Jewish unity, except when Israel and diaspora Jewry are under a severe existential threat. There is no magic glue that keeps us together. To the contrary, the epithets which opposing Knesset members hurl at each other, the violence against Women of the Wall and members of the LGBTQ community, the insults to which haredim are often subjected, the lack of respect for the prime minister at memorial services or when he comes to a house of mourning to offer his condolences and the ethnic genie which keeps popping out of the bottle as ammunition for hate mongers who want to emphasize ethnic differences, are just some of the tears in the fabric of unity. The hatred and incitement even penetrates to the entertainment industry, where icons such as Kobi Oz are being accused of betraying their origins. Born and raised in Sderot to Tunisian immigrant parents, Oz, who is the lead singer of Teapacks, like many other entertainers changed his surname to something which is more catchy. His original name was Yaakov Uzan. For some people of North African origin, that was bad enough, though they don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Eyal Golan changed his name from Bitton to Golan. Aside from changing his name, one of the cardinal errors of Kobi Oz was to wish Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Happy Birthday when he turned 50. Oz did so on his Friday radio program on Reshet Bet and afterwards faced a barrage of accusations that he was sucking up to the Ashkenazim. Oz has never forgotten or denied his origins. Quite the opposite. On his radio show in which he discusses numerous subjects with various guests, he has several regulars, nearly all of who are of North African background, including a journalist from Sderot, whom he has known since they were both children. Yes, he does have Ashkenazi guests, because he tries to balance the program line-up, but he gives great credit to North African Jewish traditions. We are so busy fighting antisemitism, BDS and the rift in Israel-Diaspora relations that we have become blind to what needs to be repaired at home. Intolerance is a contagious disease that must be neutralized at its root.
■ OVER THE past year or two, Gay Pride parades in various parts of the world were canceled for fears that they could cause a greater spread of COVID-19. A different kind of fear by way of death threats has resulted in cancellation of the proposed parade in Netivot, which is known to be an enclave of the religiously observant, after organizers received death threats accompanied by a live bullet. Apparently, that’s the current vogue for assuring potential victims for reasons of politics, sexual orientation, religious differences, et al, that the sender means business and will kill whoever disturbs the status quo. Relating to this, Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said: “Those who threaten to murder the leaders of the Pride Parade threaten us all and our freedom here. We will not give in to violence. We will not give in to incitement. We will not give in to those who want to destroy our lives here. Neither the Labor Party nor I personally will stop fighting for the right to love, regardless of gender or sexual orientation and the right to live here safely.”
■ IT LOOKS as if the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and China is going to be a year-long affair. Among the more recent events is an interview given by Chinese Ambassador Cai Run to a researcher of the Institute for National Security Studies in which he said “China-Israel relations are an independent and voluntary choice… and should not be affected by any third party.” Could he have been hinting that countries that have stepped back from Russia, should be rethinking their positions and their interests?
■ AS THE son, grandson, nephew and cousin of numerous famous individuals, President Isaac Herzog has several relatives to look up to. Aside from family members there are also other people to whom he looks up, and this week, he quite literally had to look up to someone young enough to be his son – star basketball player Deni Avdija, who plays for the Washington Wizards and is also a member of the Israeli National Team. Like all basketball and soccer players, who visit the President’s Residence, the 21 year old Avdija came armed with the gift of his personal basketball shirt adorned with his name and number to present to Herzog. It’s somewhat too large in size as there is an appreciable distance in height between the two men. The president barely reaches the hoopster’s armpit, and had to look up when talking to him. If there is anything that presidents of Israel collect during their terms in office, it’s football and basketball jerseys and books. Authors love to present their newly published works to the president, and basketball and soccer players give him the shirts off their backs. Avdija, who was selected in the 2020 NBA draft, was previously the youngest player to receive the Israeli Premier League’s Most Valued Player award.
■ ALTHOUGH IN-PERSON events have made a rapid come-back, there are still organizations that conduct events on Zoom or simultaneously hold events in-person and via social media outlets. One of the reasons is because they want to reach a global audience, and the other is out of consideration for housebound individuals or those with mobility problems who want to enjoy these events but for whatever reason, can’t get to them. Among the organizations that continue to use Zoom is the National Authority for Yiddish Culture which at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24, will provide a concert of Yiddish songs devoted to mothers and fathers and performed by singer Ruth Levin and guitarist Alexey Belousov.
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■ ARITHMETIC WAS never the strong suit of this writer, which accounts for the mistake made on Wednesday with regard to the Swedish Embassy’s commemoration of the anniversary of the birth of Swedish diplomat and Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, who was born 110 years ago, and not as stated on Wednesday.