‘Antisemitism – the hatred of difference – is an assault not on Jews only but on the human condition, as such,” said Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l (of blessed memory).
Most Israelis and Americans mark the end of what we commemorate on Yom Hashoah as 1945, yet the incidents of ugly antisemitism continue around the globe. Here in Boca Raton, Florida, messages of antisemitic hate were distributed on January 15, 2023, terrorizing Jewish residents and causing their non-Jewish neighbors to question the state of the world. A day later, a swastika was projected onto a building, nearby in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In the midst of this trend, January 27 – the day we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day – could not be more critically important to recognize.
Even as some people continue to trivialize Yom Hashoah, marking when nearly one-third of the Jewish population perished, others deny its very existence. Public awareness and acknowledgment – or lack thereof – are trending dangerously. Antisemitism is at its highest levels since World War II, with attacks on Jewish centers and synagogues, and acts of assault, harassment, and violence on the upswing globally. This troubling wake-up call means that the current climate needs to change.
Even as we face dwindling numbers of aging survivors, the Shoah remains a contemporary issue. It is a critical time for the lessons of Yom Hashoah, which require the confrontation of a number of emotionally and intellectually difficult questions. In a world where prejudices are still being manipulated and amplified, going largely unchallenged, discrimination must not be allowed to flourish. We cannot allow a people’s very existence to be threatened ever again.
George Santayana said, “He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill used similar language as part of a speech in the British Parliament in 1948, the year Israel was formally established by the Israeli Declaration of Independence, an irony not lost on us.
Yom Hashoah education belongs to everyone, from parents and religious institutions to Federations, Jewish Community Centers, and schools. We are facing urgent challenges in how remembrance and education will be engaged. For example, did you know that there are three days designated to commemorate the Holocaust?
If you answered “yes,” can you name them and how they are significant?
If you answered “no,” they are International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau; Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, held since 1951. It recognizes the approximately 11 million people who perished and the heroism of survivors and rescuers. As well, is the Jewish fast day of Tisha Be’av. It is a day of mourning for all Jewish tragedies, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and more.
How to be an ally
With January 27 upon us, what can you do to “never forget,” to be an ally to the Jewish community and/or to demonstrate your allegiance to tolerance and an inclusive, safe society? Begin with actions of understanding. We invite you to take the simple steps of reading about history, lighting a candle and saying a prayer. Claim personal responsibility for understanding the magnitude of what needs to be acknowledged so that we need not ever suffer this terrible lesson again.
Matt Levin is the president and the CEO of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County; Roneet Edrich is the director of March of the Living Southern Region USA at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County; and Rabbi Josh Broide is the director of community engagement at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, the director of Boca Raton Jewish Experience and an outreach rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue.