The Jewish people are learned – Jews all over the world just completed a seven and a half year daf yomi cycle, which involves studying a page of the Talmud every day. We are innovative – the best example of that is the establishment of the State of Israel and, more recently, the launch of more Israeli startups than all the countries in the European Union combined. Yet, while we are special, we also have our foibles.
One of them is the lack of courage and a willingness to be activists on the part of Diaspora Jews. Most of us were not taught to defend ourselves. Therefore, when we are challenged by outside aggression, our first response is often immobility and a passing off of our responsibilities. This, I believe, stems from the fact that many of us were born following the Holocaust, which was a quieter moment in history for the Jewish people, a time when we could pursue a gentle approach to life.
Most Jews are not activists fighting on behalf of ourselves or others. This, I think, emanates from a current weakness in Holocaust education. Holocaust education has for decades encouraged us to simply “remember” the atrocities committed against our people. We did this by regularly attending movies like Schindler’s List, reading books about survivors and attending lectures by Holocaust experts to hear the reasons for such things as the Allies’ lack of will to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz.
For years, we’ve sat in halls packed to the rafters with people listening to the Holocaust educator’s every word. Then we exited the place feeling awful about anti-Semitism and what was done to us. But very few of us did something valuable and necessary for the Jewish people and that was aligning our remembrance with a commitment to act.
We were satisfied with reading articles and bemoaning our fate, instead of taking our angst and turning it into a process of developing a Diaspora army of sorts, one that would do such things as walk the streets of Toronto and Montreal, to protect our brothers and sisters going to shul on Shabbat, like Shomrim in the U.K.
Holocaust education began failing us at some point. While it gave our people a chance to mourn and embrace the survivors, it did not live up to our commitment of “Never Again” – that if we were to see an injustice happening to the Jewish people, or others, we would actively fight against it.
I love the Jewish people with all my heart. I am therefore very worried about anti-Semitism and our response to it. I am also anxious because our community’s focus on remembering has left us without an inclusive, well-thought-out plan to deal with modern-day anti-Semitism. And if there is such a plan, very few members of our community know of it and feel safer because of it.
Simply put, we are not ready to fight the anti-Semites, the awful, hateful people who recognize our weakness – our inability to fight back. They are not afraid of us – at least not yet.
I call upon our rabbis, organizational workers and every single Jew to emulate the bravery of the little boy who climbed over the Warsaw Ghetto walls to find bread for his starving family – not just to remember him. I encourage you to look at your own response to the Holocaust and ask yourself if you are prepared to be a Jewish soldier and live up to your commitment of “Never Again.”
Enough of just remembering. Activism is what will protect us and sustain us. Am Yisra’el Chai!