I once read that there are basically two types of Jews in this world — those that tear up when they hear Hatikvah and those that don’t. The ones that tear up (I’m raising my hand) feel a visceral, almost inexplicable connection to Israel and Judaism. To the others, Israel and Judaism may barely be on their radar. For many of these Jews — and there are millions of them — their Jewishness is less relevant than other parts of their identity.
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It marks the anniversary of the liberation of Aushwitz-Birkanu, the largest Nazi death camp and the symbol of Hiter’s near-successful effort to systematically exterminate the Jews of Europe.
The day is designed as a day of “remembrance,” and for many people around the world — Jews and non-Jews — it is just that. But for many Jews, Holocaust Remembrance Day will mean nothing. Many won’t know it even exists. Others will hear about it and simply go on with their day. They won’t pause to contemplate our history, attend a virtual commemoration, light a candle or shed a tear. They will feel nothing in their kishkes.
A few years ago, the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, published an in-depth report on the state of U.S. Jewry. The results were startling — only 34% of American Jews say it’s “very important” that their grandchildren are Jewish … 41% said they had “little or no” attachment to Israel.
Jonathon Greenblatt just published his latest book, It Could Happen Here: Why America Is Tipping from Hate to the Unthinkable―And How We Can Stop It. The Anti-Defamation League’s CEO gives a sobering warning that widespread violence against Jews — on a catastrophic scale — is quite possibly “right around the corner.”
Hate is on the rise everywhere in America, much more than many people realize. Our social fabric is weakening, and our communities are buckling under the pressure.
Between 2015 and 2018, the United States saw a doubling of antisemitic incidents. In 2019 the United States saw more antisemitic incidents than it had in any year in the past four decades.
Greenblatt lays out his case like a methodical prosecutor, assembling evidence to support his claim that Jews need to wake up and grasp what is happening around them. He explains how apathy and political tolerance are accelerating the flames of anti-Jewish conduct. He cites data of a shocking rise in violent crimes and incidents, along with the spike in antisemitic hate groups, some of which openly support Hitler’s policies.
Greenblatt details incidents not typically covered by the press, as well as some recent well-publicized examples of antisemitic terror — Pittsburgh, Poway, Charlottesville. The hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, was just a week before the book was published.
Holocaust Remembrance Day comes in the midst of perilous times for Jews, and American Jews are certainly not immune. It’s a day to remember and honor Jewish victims, but it’s also an opportunity to do something actionable about it.
For those who are already active, it’s an ideal time to take in some of the many virtual commemorations that day. But for those Jews in our lives for whom Holocaust Remembrance Day is essentially a non-event — be it a close friend, a relative, an adult child — it’s a chance to attempt to enlighten them on the scale and threats of antisemitism, as well as what can be done to fight it. Our effort may have zero effect on most of them. Or it might spark a curiosity in some. Either way, it’s a worthy effort. But giving them a pass and ignoring the day altogether with them can no longer be an option.
There are a host of things we can do for ourselves and suggest for others:
- Watch the CBS and MTV primetime special Undeniable: The Truth to Remember, which follows the stories of Holocaust survivors who share their story with Texas high school students (January 27)
- Watch The Hate We Can’t Forget: A Holocaust Memorial Special on both the Smithsonian Channel (January 26) or MTV (January 31)
- Check out and share links to Holocaust Day observances presented by the United Nations
- Read Greenblatt’s book or Bari Weiss’ How to Fight Anti-Semitism
- Visit the Zekelman Holocaust Center, which is hosting a special zoom event tomorrow evening
- Check out and share the ADL’s No Place for Hate program
- Donate and urge others to support The Blue Card, the only U.S. organization dedicated to providing financial support to Holocaust survivors
Rabbi Menachem Schneerson is often quoted as saying, “Judaism isn’t about thinking, it’s about doing.” Those words are truer on Holocaust Memorial Day this year than they have been for decades. We can and should remember — but we also must do.
The storm clouds for Jews in America have gathered overhead. It’s our duty to look up, recognize them, fight them and rally those around us to join the cause, especially loved ones who are currently unengaged.
The memory of our ancestors demands no less.