Reflections on Yom HaShoah
“What one might envision as traveling to another planet was precisely how I felt about visiting Poland, It was truly frightful, my mind constantly raced with a child's fear in a man's body.”
Eddy Cook wrote these words. He is an extremely thoughtful man who was on our Jewish community trip to Poland last fall. It was my first time in Poland as well. Wherever we went I could not stop imagining the fear.
It was a fear that I had no reference point for besides for the most realistic nightmares I have ever had. At certain points the image and thoughts of the fear became so sharp it took my breath away and the pain became so difficult to bear.
As I walked through the gas chambers of Majdanek and imagined the wait, the wait in the dark stone rooms, jammed in with no room left to breathe, and the screaming and the crying as mothers and fathers held their children close waiting for the end, that fear would overtake me, it was a fear so deep it made me sick.
Those moments in the gas chambers brought those fears to an end as those precious souls who experienced hell on earth breathed their last breath of Zyklon B. But from the very beginning, from the moment they were hunted because they were Jews, a fear that most of us have never experienced before, was their constant companion. Would this be the day we would be caught/tortured/killed/ripped from our families, was the indescribable fear that washed over our people. The physical suffering is impossible to fathom but to think of the fear it is too excruciating to go there.
Today, and every day, we say “never again” to this type of fear. We commit to doing our part towards ridding our world of this type of fear. But we are not succeeding.
When our synagogue in Ottawa was targeted in a hate crime almost two years ago and I had the responsibility to comfort our community, I encountered, in the eyes and voices of some of our congregants, a fear that I had never experienced before.
At that point in time I did not really understand it. It was just some graffiti on our walls, no one got hurt.
But as hateful graffiti has morphed into the blood of so many innocents being shed in synagogues and places of worship around the world, the fear, and an ever-increasing fear, is becoming all too understandable.
Those who survived the Holocaust and those who have learned from history, they already knew what graffiti meant. Now, I am learning it from experience.
They knew firsthand what could come from some graffiti, or a cartoon, a meme, a comment, or even a joke. They knew that it doesn’t take much. I am learning this in real time.
When we say “never again” it means calling out the earliest signs of hate, no matter how innocent they may seem.
As we wonder if it’s worth calling out that anti-Semitic comment someone jokingly uttered at work when it may put everyone in an awkward position, we must listen to the precious souls who perished in the Holocaust crying out from the heavens, telling us to be strong and not to put up with any hate under any circumstance. They beseech us not to underestimate any sign of hate. They ask us to please not allow our world to once again be plunged into the fear they experienced, it’s too much to bear.
As the Holocaust survivors we have met and read about warn us that history is repeating itself, our sacred duty of “never again” is now, sadly, something we all need to work for to ensure it remains our reality.