The cardinal imperative of Holocaust Remembrance Day is, as its name indicates, to remember.
To remember the murdered Six Million yourself, and to compel others to do the same.
To remember so that lives so cruelly snuffed out on earth do not vanish as well from people’s minds. To remember so that names and faces can be put to numbers. To remember man’s inhumanity to man in the hope – so far in vain – that remembering these inhumanities will prevent their repetition.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is also a platform from which to remind the world how it has treated the Jew, and to what horrifying depths the curse of antisemitism can lead. Here, too, the hope is that the very act of remembering can have a curative effect, and that remembering itself may lead to the eradication of antisemitism from the human mind. If only it was so easy.
This year, with Israel in the grips of a self-imposed political paralysis, Holocaust Remembrance Day also can serve another purpose: force the nation to look inward and put its problems in perspective, to gauge what is truly important, and what much less so.
As difficult as things may seem in the Jewish state now, or seemed yesterday, or may seem tomorrow, Europe’s Jews would have done anything in the world in the 1940s – anything in the world – to trade their woes and troubles and pain for the ones we face here today.
Holocaust Remembrance Day – among its other functions – serves as an invaluable annual reminder to the Jewish people, especially those of its members living in Zion, not to lose the forest for the trees, not to get so wrapped up in the daily adversity and problems that come with the running of an independent sovereign state as to lose sight of the bigger picture.
And the bigger picture is that after 2,000 years of exile, after having sojourned from 1939 to 1945 in the belly of the Valley of Death, the Jewish people is now replanted in its homeland and in charge of its fate and destiny. It’s not always easy being in charge of your own fate and destiny; it is often an unforgiving task that demands uncomfortable actions and trade-offs not necessary when others are in charge of your fate; but it beats the alternative.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day to remember the alternative, to remember what happened to the Jews in Europe in the previous century, and through that simple act of remembering to better appreciate our lives now in the Jewish state in this century.
President Reuven Rivlin articulated this sentiment well during comments he made Tuesday when giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to form the next government.
Rivlin related how last week former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak came to the President’s Residence and told his tale of survival as a young boy living behind the wall in the home of a Lithuanian farmer.
Barak, Rivlin said, kept his composure throughout the telling of this harrowing tale, which included the “most terrible and dreadful moments of the selection of children in the ghetto.”
Barak’s voice only wavered, Rivlin recounted, when he described meeting soldiers of the Jewish Brigade wearing a badge of the blue and white flag.
“The State of Israel is not to be taken for granted,” Rivlin said. “We hold – you the citizens of Israel hold – [in hand] the greatest treasure of the Jewish people.”
That the Jewish people should not take the existence of the State of Israel for granted is an obvious sentiment. But, as Menachem Begin once famously quipped, even the obvious needs to be restated from time to time.
It is human nature not to fully appreciate everyday wonders until they are gone: being able to walk, until you can’t; being able to see, until you go blind; being able to bend, until your back goes out.
So, too, it is difficult to appreciate the wonder and miracle of the Jewish state unless you step back and remember what things looked like without it. Holocaust Remembrance Day, among its other messages, commands us to do just that.