It is something I can’t describe. It must be experienced to understand the weight of it. At 10:00 am today, April 12th, a siren sounded all across the country to commemorate Israel’s day of remembrance for the Holocaust vicitims and survivors. For two minutes the entire country comes to an abrupt halt – people on the sidewalks stop suddenly and stand at attention, the fast paced traffic on Israel’s streets and highways slows and roads become parking lots as drivers quickly exit and stand in reverence. For a moment in time we are cut off from our individual lives, pursuits and self interests. Nothing matters, nothing moves and all is silent as the ominous air raid alert blasts through the country.
Blessed to have grown up in such a sheltered, prosperous country, I had never heard such a siren until I came to Israel. If the landscape of people – suddenly frozen in their tracks – and the lifeless still frame where just moments before the pulse of activity was strong, were not enough to unnerve me, the screaming siren always thrusts a terrible stab of dread through my whole being and I think I must have just glimpsed a fleeting insight into the horrors of those who lived during those murderous years of World War II and the Final Solution.
Today I and my colleagues from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) attended the memorial services at Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem. An Israeli friend of ICEJ who works there, told us that there were thriving communities of Jews that were invaded and evacuated in a single day with no trace of the lives that once filled the neighborhood just hours before- all the people gone in one ghastly moment. How fragile life is.
(a picture of one of the Holocaust Survivors who laid a wreath today)
Hearing this made me understand with greater keenness the impact of the two minute death in Israel when the siren sounds. What a formidable warning it cries. The Holocaust suddenly becomes personal to me and for a time I am no longer a passive observer to history but I’m standing in the story along side those snatched away from all the human and decent things we take for granted. I realize, with all my love for the Jewish people and desire to understand the past, how little I actually comprehend of the horrors of what happend and the potential dangers of the future. Lavished by the peace and prosperity bought by the blood of heroic soldiers who understood the delicate nature of freedom, I fear my generation has lost the ability to face the reality of evil. Evil is not gone; it was just sleeping for a time and coaxing us to slumber as it slinked out again to new actions.
Of course the most obvious threat is Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the opening ceremony for the memorial day, chided the world for weak and passive responses to Iran’s repeated threats to erase the Jewish state from the face of the earth. “We see at best mild protests, and these too seem to be fading.” President Shimon Perez declared, “It is our right and duty to demand of the nations of the world not to repeat their indifference, which has cost millions of human lives, including theirs.”
(picture I took at Yad Vashem today of Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Perez.)
The state of Iran and her leadership is frightening, but I found something to be far more disconcerting in the headlines of today’s Jerusalem Post, “Anti-Semitic violent attacks across the globe more than doubled in 2009.” The Stephens Roth Institute for the study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University released a study demonstrating a 102% rise in documented cases of anti-Jewish violence. The numbers do not even include threats, insults and graffiti with anti-Jewish content.
The threat to Israel is not isolated in one country, it is growing in nations around the world. News like this makes me feel frightened for where the world is headed, desperate to join the efforts to reverse the course, and angry that the world has so quickly forgotten the lessons we thought were carved in stone, “Never Again.” The words taunt us, I think. And I begin to feel overwhelmed that we will fail in our promises.
After the wreath laying at Yad Vashem and before the name reading ceremony, Our dear friend Susanna Kokkonen, Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, walked us through the gardens where trees are planted to represent non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. They are called the “Righteous Among the Nations.” Yad Vashem has planted 2000 trees in their honor but there are far more than 2000 who saved lives so the museum erected large plaques with thousands of names of the “Righteous” who risked all they had to protect Jews.
(Me and my Christian friends reading the names of the “Righteous Among the Nations”)
Susanna asked if we could all sit and pray together in the spot. It was a beautiful moment but suddenly I felt a pang of terror. Sharing that moment with my friends and hearing their earnest prayers for the survivors of the Holocaust, the church today and for Israel was powerful and moving, but a dread came over me. I was surrounded by thousands of names representing an even greater number of families and communities whose resolve had been like ours – only tested and proven. Those people gave everything… yet it was not enough. Why?
They stood like boulders in a way that many of us can only hope to emulate. Many lost family, possessions and even life as a result. Why was it not enough? Did they wait to long to speak out? Or maybe they did everything possible but the tide was too strong and there were too few of them. Are we any different today? With all of our resolve is there enough of us to ensure, “never again.”
Of course this in no way means that I want to do less, but I guess in a strange way it toughens my spirit in such a way that I can say, even if we cannot change the tide, we can cast a life line and even jump into the swells to save those being tossed about and driven under – even if it means we lose everything. Even if all hopes seems to be gone, I want to live like those in World War II who did not give way to hopelessness but did all they could do to safeguard the future.
As we finished praying I looked around and saw something new. For all the terror and death of the Holocaust, evil did not win. Yes, those names that surrounded us in the garden of the “Righteous Among the Nations” fought and won – even if they did not live to see the victory. The war was long and many battles were lost, but “righteousness” triumphed in the end.
I hope the promise of “never again” will hold fast, but today I realized that, though none of us can single handedly change the course of history, we can determine what course we will take. Should a terrible night fall again on this world, I would want to be counted among the “righteous.” Those people of honor and faith who lived in the darkest of times and yet never yielded to its power. They did not cave to the belief that day would never come and everyone should fall into step with the powers of the moment. No, they believed in more and today millions of Jews are alive and flourishing as a result.
We, each of us, have been placed upon the earth, as was Queen Esther, for such a time as this. How will we answer our call? May we be as the faithful as those who stood against Hitler, against authorities, against communities and even against their own families for the sake of others.
As we remember the victims and survivors today, let us also pause to honor, and strive to emulate, those non-Jews who abandoned safety for righteousness. If ever tested, may we be found as faithful.
Kasey Bar is a frequent blogger on http://www.Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.