International Holocaust Remembrance Day

by Arliene Botnick, January 31, 2023

On January 27, we honoured International Holocaust Remembrance Day. January 27 was chosen since it was the day that Jews, those few who survived, barely survived, were liberated from the concentration camps of Auschwitz -Birkenau. Six million Jews. Two out or every three Jews in Europe were murdered: mothers, babies, 1 ½ million children, the elderly, bubbies and zaydies, doctors, rabbis, store owners, clerks – just being Jewish was a death sentence. The Book of Names, listing the documented names of 4. 8 million Jews murdered was just delivered to the UN Headquarters in New York from the Holocaust Museum (Yad Vashem) in Jerusalem. The names of almost 5,000,000 is the undeniable proof of the scope of the atrocities of the Shoah, and it attests to this most horrific destruction of life. These names are documented and proof is on hand to show that these people once lived and now they are gone. There were actually over 12 million murdered during the holocaust; they included Russian POWs, the Roma, political dissidents, the handicapped, members of LGBTQ community. Yad Vashem is still hoping to identify and discover the names of those still nameless victims. For most of the six million, there is no grave that can be visited, no tombstone on which to place a pebble, no marker to tell us that this human being once lived and laughed and cried and loved, and was loved. There is nothing other than the memory of what happened and what the world did not do.

Long before the State of Israel came into being, antisemitism was a powerful force and an evil force in our world. The crusades, the Chmielnicki massacres, the expulsion from Spain, England, Portugal, France, Sicily, Nuremburg, the pogroms in Russia are only a few examples. No Israel, but we were hated. No army, and we were defenceless. For whatever inexplicable reason. Jew hatred has overtly or covertly been a reality in our world. So, as we commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day, one has to be concerned, and perhaps be a little frightened about the increase of hatred in the world. In 2021, for the 6th consecutive year, records were set for antisemitic incidents (Toronto Star Jan 27, 2023) Hate crimes spiked 37% from 2019 – the highest level since record keeping began. Many groups are the target of hate, but as one of the very smallest minorities, being one quarter of 1% of the world population, we have to be especially concerned about hatred directed against us. Recent statistical studies suggest that though we are one of the smallest minorities, we are the victims of more hate crimes than almost any other group. The loud voices of ignorance and malice are allowed to propagate lies and falsehoods on social media. Elon Musk has welcomed back the proliferators of hate to Twitter. Kanye West (Ye) has 33 million followers on Twitter, and let’s face it, Kanye West is no friend of the Jews.

At Solel. we get many visits from Catholic schools as part of the Grade 11 World Regions course. The students are there to learn about how Jews live, our holidays, our prayer rituals, synagogue artifacts, and inevitably, somebody asks why the Jews…. What did the Jew do to deserve the hatred leveled against them. How can I explain that we did nothing to deserve this hatred. After all these years of teaching, after all the study I’ve been involved with, that’s one question that I cannot answer. Some say we are too wealthy, or too poor, too powerful or too weak, too educated, or too uneducated. My mother came from a poverty sticken shtetle called Kielce. My dad, who had a severe heart condition, worked as a cloak cutter, standing 8 hours a day cutting heavy cloth to make coats. Wealthy would not describe the Jews I know. My mother barely had a primary school education, but today her great grandchildren are university students or university graduates, Rich, poor, educated, uneducated, Jews are people! Are we too powerful? The Protocols of the Elders of Zion suggest we’re plotting to take over the world. That’s an interesting concept since we are a group of people that’s one quarter of one percent of the world population, about 15 million world wide, identifying only one country in the entire world as our homeland, Israel, which is about the size of Lake Erie. It doesn’t seem to me that those realities suggest that we are taking over the world.

My presentation to our visiting students is mainly focused on the artifacts, the holidays and life cycle events. They like learning a bit of Hebrew, and they are very interested in the concept of a kosher kitchen When they get to that question about why the Jews, I try to point out to them that hatred isn’t logical, and to hate someone you’ve never met, to be fooled by misrepresentations and stereotypes, that is dangerous for all of us. The students understand what it’s like to be bullied, belittled, denigrated because they might look a little different, or they talk a little differently, or they bring different kinds of foods to lunch, and I try to explain to them that being different is just fine, and that is the differences that make the world beautiful. We don’t have to agree on everything, but as long as we respect each others’ beliefs, we can live at peace Each one of is a little bit different, and we can live side by side, appreciating the uniqueness of each person, each group.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board is trying very hard to teach their students to understand and respect all religions. The grade 11 classes visit our synagogue, a mosque, a Sikh gurdwara, a Hindu temple, and I hope that all of us, as leaders in our respective faiths, are presenting to the students a picture of faiths that, though different, can coexist peacefully together; that we have shared values and that we believe we are all part of God’s creation. Each religion has its beauty. Followers of religion are human beings, some who can be very good, and unfortunately, some who can be very bad. But that hatred against any one group is completely not what any of our religions should endorse.

Today, there are very few Holocaust survivors left, very few who can speak firsthand about the horrors of what they endured. Today, because of the proliferation of misinformation on social media, more and more people believe that the Holocaust is a lie, is an exaggeration; that it never happened. As such a minority in the world, the best role we can take It is to be the ambassadors of peace, understanding and respect and truth. Each one of us should do our best to live the values taught to us in Torah. We need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, not stand idly by when our neighbour bleeds. We need to keep our tents open, our homes open, as Abraham did in the desert, welcoming the 3 strangers, as we at Solel are welcoming the refugees from the Ukraine. We must stand up and oppose hatred, discrimination against any group. We must recognize and believe that we are all created in God’s image. We have to teach our children to be proud to be Jews, and we have to teach them what it means to live as a Jew. We do our best at Beit Sefer Solel to make that a reality, but we only see the children a very small percentage of the time. It’s up to you as parents to help us. I know right now, especially because of the political direction the Israeli government is taking, we may be challenged and hesitant to talk about being Jewish, but let’s separate the political challenges Israel is facing and recognize that antisemitism existed well before there was even a concept of the state of Israel, and that hatred of Jews goes far beyond the politics of Israel.

Once a year, we have International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Ha Shoah, and Kristallnacht, but for the other 362.24 days of the year, when there isn’t a day set aside for the remembrance of the Holocaust, let us remember the words of Emil Fackenheim when he gave us the 614th commandment: “Never again”, not to us, not to any people. Let us become the teachers of what Judaism is, as we welcome the students from other faith groups into our sanctuary. Let us stand up against the voices of hate and discrimination. Let us continue to be a force of good in our community. It is through working together with all people, respecting all people of goodwill, that perhaps antisemitism someday will not exist. Keyn Yehi Ratzon May it be God’s will!

Filed under: Educator's Message

« Read more articles