A friend of Israel wrote me this week that “sometimes we feel as though no one chutz la’aretz–outside of the land–really understands what is happening over there, especially on your Holocaust Memorial Day.”
Probably he cannot.
For all our long history, Jews around the world awake every morning with prayers of hope and prayers of apprehension. The world will never understand what it means to be a people surrounded by enemies, watching, waiting and wondering what the future holds. Only now, 75 years after our catastrophe, have we begun to come close to the number of Jews in the world that we were before the age of Holocaust.
Most countries enjoy community with many other people groups. People in North America, Latin American countries, the European Union or Arabic-speaking nations can never understand what it means to stand alone as a nation, not belonging to any club, singular in culture, customs, language and faith. For us, there is but one Jewish nation.
How do we live with the ongoing antisemitism threatening and still killing our people while the world insists on comparing my people to terrorists and apartheid racists? How can we respond when our girls and boys still at that tender age when they are able to fall asleep in a class about a history that we know will haunt them the rest of their lives? By the time they are 6 or 7-years-old they begin to understand that the strong arm of Israel has a number tattooed on it that will never disappear.
As one of our greatest writers has said, before Israeli children learn the facts of life, they learn the facts of death. We, the people of Israel, cannot forget. We remember with pride the sacrifices that our people made just for being Jewish. Remembering stirs deep empathy for our people and ignites a passion for our Jewish heritage and our hope in the Land of Israel.
Our 18-year-olds who daily secure our borders and buses may seem to some like a brutality placed on their young shoulders. But to us they are our proud children, barely discovering what life is before they are forced to carry a machine gun and make the hard choices that will save, or lose, our lives.
Our children know why we are so concerned about antisemitism and the importance of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. They appreciate us, their parents and grandparents, who fought hard for this country and they too want to serve in our army. Together we are trying to walk through the shadows of our lament towards compassion and Hatikvah, Our Hope.
When pundits all over the world, from the safety of their desktops, question why we use any and every means at our disposal to defend ourselves, do we ever question ourselves? We do. We argue, shout, doubt and wonder. But in the end, we stay together because we remember how much we have already survived, and because though families fight, we also trust and love.
When people ask why we need to regularly remind ourselves of the unthinkable, we remember that the founders of Israel came from lands of czars and dictators and tyrants, and yet they managed to create a Jewish homeland with an open and democratic society that has become a beacon of hope for our people’s future.
We do not forget Israel’s roots. The willingness of our children to share in the painful memories of our people gives me comfort. For there is darkness in the human soul, and we must never forget. But also remember that we have lived through the darkest hours of human history and our people have not been destroyed.
“L’chaim” we say, to life, to the people of Israel, and to our G-d, our hope and our strength.