Remembering The Holocaust On Air

I came into this year’s Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — with more than my usual ambivalence. Beyond my usual concerns about the power of memory and the choices we make about how to remember — doing so to raise fear and suspicion, doing so to inspire positive action, doing so to build identity — just to name a few of the common choices, especially when it comes to Yom Hashoah — I found myself especially concerned as it seemed that this year, even more than in past years, I was being asked to make media appearances related to the observance of the day.

As with all such appearances, I asked myself, what can I really contribute? Why am I being invited? What do they want from me, and what do I want others to hear? In an environment where listening and hearing is increasingly challenging in all quarters, those questions become increasingly urgent and increasingly complicated, especially when it comes to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

I wonder sometimes if anyone, including myself, can really hear anything that doesn’t confirm and affirm that which we already believe, and all the more so when it comes to the topic of anti-Semitism. I hope we can, and that is my job, starting with myself, so that is the mindset I brought to four interviews with four very different outlets, ranging from public radio in Chicago, to Sirius XM, and to local stations — one in the south and one in the west.

In each interview, I took my lead from just-released research data gathered and analyzed by Tel Aviv University — data points not often held up together, and yet when they are, they provide the chance to address the challenge of contemporary anti-Semitism in ways that we see less often than would serve us well. The data suggest that:

  1. While incidents of anti-Semitism are up in some places, they are down in others.
  2. That there is no discernible common motivator among those who commit such acts other than a high degree of rage felt by the perpetrators about a great many things, of which Jewish is just one.
  3. That the overwhelming number of incidents are spontaneous and are not pre-planned.
  4. That incidents of racist expression and action are up in a variety of domains and communities, including in Israel, where the data was analyzed, including expressions of racism or hate by Jews directed at non-Jews, or even at Jews who differ from them.

I include that last data point, as I said on-air, NOT to compare racisms and certainly not to suggest an equivalence between the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in the non-Jewish world to whatever we might deem its parallel in the Jewish world, but to point out two things: first, that rising anti-Semitism is not only a disease, but also a symptom of rising hatred and rage in all sorts of places, including those closer to home, and second, that a more productive path to fighting anti-Semitism i.e. that the fight against those who hate “us,” — whatever us that might be — is better fought as a fight against all racial, ethnic, and religious hatred, as at least for now, this data suggests that hating Jews is “just” a subset of a larger hatred problem — and failing to see that and fight it accordingly, is like trying to kill a tree by pulling off those leaves and branches which happen to be closest to us, and imagining that they will not grow right back.

Imagine that each time the particular “we” that is attacked, we did more than defend ourselves, in the narrower sense, as necessary as some of that may be, and instead, used such moments to challenge all such hatreds, appreciate how they are all interconnected, and that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us, whether we are part of the group being attacked or not.

Antisemitism, for example, is not only an attack on Jews. It is an attack on America itself. Yes, I feel such attacks in an especially acute and personal way, but the fact is that it is only when such attacks are felt as attacks on all of us that we can really fight them effectively.

In other words, don’t fight anti-Semitism because it bad, fight anti-Semitism because it is an attack on you and all you believe, whether you are Jewish or not. And by extension, I/we need to feel that when other people are harmed because of who they are or what they believe. We fight that, not only for their sake but for our own sake as well. NATO understands this, and so must we. An attack on one member is an attack on all members.

So yes, I cry on Yom Hashoah as a Jew, but I invite us all, myself included, to remember the Holocaust not only as a Jewish tragedy but as a human tragedy and that the fight against antisemitism can not be limited to a fight against anti-Semitism, but must be fought as part of a larger human struggle against hate, even and especially when that stretches us to be with, and even support, people we may find challenging.

Holocaust remembrance needs to be more than a Jewish thing or even more than something done for the benefit of Jews. Holocaust remembrance needs to be a human thing — one that challenges us to fight hate in all of its forms — and when that happens, we will all be safer and better off, whatever faith we follow and whatever group we call “us.”

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