So, it has been seventy years. That’s when it all ended – when the world began to learn what hate wrought just a few decades ago — hate on a scale unheard of in all of history. Winston Churchill called it a crime without a name. History has since given it a name – the Holocaust.
In Israel at precisely 10:00 am yesterday, a moment of solemnity descended upon the land of Israel when the entire nation paused, collectively, as it does every year on this date, to remember the victims of mankind’s greatest crime, Solemnity as is experienced nowhere else in the world permeates every corner of this ancient land at this moment. Sirens wail and Israel comes to an absolute standstill as nearly eight million men women and children silently contemplate, each in his or her own way, the grotesque horror that befell their kin — mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins and even relatives so distant they didn’t even know they were Jewish—all six million of them. Automobiles, motorcycles buses, trucks and trams stop wherever they are. Surfers, boaters and swimmers stop – people stand knee-deep in the brine of the Mediterranean where moments earlier they swam, people praying at the western wall and soldiers at their duty stations –everywhere, everyone stops simply to remember.
A short distance away, in almost every direction, the voices of hatred and the violence of bigotry, both religious and political, rage on having learned nothing of the past, making a mess of the present and, quite possibly, condemning the future.
“Never Again”, once a universal moral commitment, has, today, descended into an almost trite slogan everywhere – everywhere except in this ancient land. Here Never Again is an article of faith. It has real meaning. Here Never Again doesn’t mean retaliation; it means prevention.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressing guests last night at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust reminded the large gathering “…we stand here tonight, in painful silence… in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day. Exactly seventy years since April 15th 1945, a Sunday afternoon. The day when the first British soldiers crossed the gates of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The joy of liberation was replaced by horror. The horror that was revealed before their eyes was inconceivable.”
“Not just today, but every day, we walk the depths of the valley, extruded between two mountains. This mountain of memorial and remembrance, on one side and the mountain of revival and vision on the other. The mountain of memory, commands us…to remember. Remember the sounds. Remember the sights. Remember the names. And yet the mountain of vision and rebirth, of construction and creation, calls on us to look ahead, and step into the future. Continuing to build a magnificent country, continuing to strive to construct another world, a safe world, full of promise.
“The Holocaust is our lowest point,” President Rivlin said. “…the most dreadful, in history…Four months ago, I stood in Poland, whose earth is soaked in blood, and I said that the State of Israel will forever deplore Auschwitz, and everything it symbolizes: anti-Semitism in all its forms and manifestations; The desecration of human dignity, whoever and wherever it is found, the desecration of that which was created in the image of God. The State of Israel, will continue its struggle against these and will not surrender. We build our future here, with open and alert eyes. We will not belittle any threats. Nor belittle, shameful statements calling for the extinction of the Jewish people. Yet, while we are prepared, we are not scared. The horrors of the past and the threats of the present, will not dictate our lives, nor shape the lives of our children. They will not dim our hopes for a future of creation and prosperity.”
And creativity and prosperity thrive in this tiny land like few other places on earth. Israel, the 100th smallest state on earth with less that 1/1000 of the world’s population, leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 84 in the U.S., around 70 in Japan, and fewer than 60 in Germany. Israelis are prominent among Nobel Prize winners in every field, including medicine, chemistry, physics, literature, and economics. This nation, living under unrelenting threat of extinction is second only to Silicon Valley in innovation.
But when Iran says it aims to destroy Israel, Israelis believe it. They have no doubt that Hamas, the partner of the Palestinian Authority means it as well, as does Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and ISIS too. The greater neighborhood in which they live is the most violent place on the planet. Hate is the common coin of the realm in so much of the neighboring areas. Hate speech, enslavement, forced conversions, mass murder, and every form of deadly grotesquerie are daily occurrences throughout much of the region. Israel is not apt to wait until its cities are in flames to protect itself. That is why this tiny, threatened nation maintains a formidable defense force populated by one of the most motivated citizen armies in the world.
The sirens wailed yesterday morning throughout the land. Millions of people, young and old, stopped, bowed their heads and remembered. They remembered the past, contemplated the present and dedicated themselves to a long future.