For Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Jewish calendar, my high school Ramaz always provided emotional, hard hitting programs. One of the most emotional ones for me was when a girl read a poem asking you to close your eyes and think about coming back to your town and it was empty. Coming back to your synagogue and it was destroyed. Coming back to your school and it had been taken over by some company. Coming home to find another family living there because your family had been forcibly removed and murdered. As a teenager, imagining that happening to me struck a chord. However, an even more powerful program would not have an impact until many years later, when once again I was back in high school.
A few years ago, as a synagogue youth director, I was asked to speak at a public high school in Seattle. The topic was Judaism throughout history. I did not wear my traditional yarlmulka and covered my head with a hat instead. I asked the students to draw how they pictured a Jew. The results were predictable, long black coats and oversized hats and noses, but one student took it to the next level. The creature he drew looked like something out of the movie Gremlins, an evil gargoyle harkening back to the worst European blood libels against Jews.
When I revealed who I was the student was embarrassed and rather than being upset I asked, have you ever met a Jew before? He said “No I have never even seen one, I don’t even know what a Jew is.” I knew this would happen because it had in other presentations and I used the incident to show the class how anti-Semitic stereotypes had been carried over from European anti-Semitic blood libels, from generation to generation, to this day. So much so that at this point it was almost subliminal. Too many students outside of the tri-state area haven’t seen a Jew, aside from the occasional movie or TV show.
Anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise nationally and around the world. One of the major contributing factors is not just Jew hatred, but ignorance of what a Jew is and what happened during the Holocaust. In the week leading up to Yom Hashoah there were multiple incidents not in faraway Europe, but right here in America. According to the New York Post Rep. Heather Scott referred to Idaho Gov. Brad Little as “Little Hitler” during a podcast interview—and claimed his “unconstitutional” division of workers by whether they are essential was comparable to how Jews were chosen for death camps. While we may not agree with the shelter in place orders, comparing it to Jews being sent to death is outrageous.
In Minnesota, high school students were criticized for sharing a video titled “Me and the boys on the way to camp,” which photoshops them dancing in a Nazi boxcar and happily skipping into Auschwitz, on the video social media platform TikTok.
People usually celebrate 4/20 for the weed. What they don’t realize is there are many neo-Nazis who celebrate April 20th marking Hitler’s Birthday. This year, the date even coincided with the start of Yom Hashoah, which begins on April 20 and ends on the evening of April 21.
In Medieval Europe, Jews were scapegoated for the Black Plague. In 1930’s Germany, Jews were blamed for the economic collapse leading up to World War II and the Holocaust and the same thing is happening during the coronavirus Pandemic. Recently, placards depicted Jews as rats spreading disease have even been spotted at demonstrations.
And yet, even in the wake of the world’s oldest hatred rearing its ugly head again, there is hope. Researchers in Israel claim to be close to a coronavirus vaccine. Senators Ted Cruz and Chris Coons last week called for $12 million to fund cooperation with Israel on coronavirus.
Omar Barghouti, founder of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said “If Israel finds a cure for cancer, for example, or any other virus, then there is no problem in cooperating with Israel to save millions of lives.”
According to the Jeruslaem Post, even the notoriously anti-Semitic United Nations, “has repeatedly commended Israel and the Palestinian Authority for working together in combating coronavirus, with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs saying there has been unprecedented cooperation on efforts aimed at containing the epidemic."
In a live video of my political podcast Canary In A Coal Mine last week, many of the participants said they would be more likely to trust a vaccine made in Israel.
With the Holocaust survivors almost gone and ignorance of the Holocaust at all time highs, the phase “never again” has a more poignant lesson for new generations. It is our job to educate the nations about Jews and our history. People fear what they do not know. We must be as public as possible so that people of the world will be familiar with us. Now is not the time to hide who we are, rather to publicize our contributions and involvement in the world and be a “Kiddush Hashem”, sanctifying God’s name through being a good example to the rest of the world of what Judaism is.