2018-03-28 / Voice at the Shore

Rabbi asks: Why, where were you?

Executive Director Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties

With Yom HaShoah and our community’s annual commemoration of it just a couple of weeks away, it is certainly timely for us to reflect on the Holocaust and increasing anti- Semitism around the world.

Nowhere else is anti-Semitism growing faster than Europe, which is why I share with you the comments of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, delivered before Pope Francis in Rome, Italy, at the International Conference on the Responsibility of States, Institutions and Individuals in the Fight against Anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Lau is chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo, and a former Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, and is himself a survivor of the Holocaust.

His comments were delivered in response to those of many statesmen, among them Pope Francis, who quoted text from Nostra Aetate (In Our Day) saying that, “The Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons, but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

This statement from Rabbi Lau eloquently and passionately begs the questions we, as Jews, must always bear in mind:

“Two years ago the Holy See came to Yad Vashem, and made a comment I will never forget. Quoting G-d in the story of Cain and Abel, he asked Ayeka (Where are you)? Pope Francis said this is the question that has to bother us always.

Where were you during the War? Kristallnacht? Babi Yar? Look at the newspapers in each of those countries on the day after atrocities took place. Barely a comment let alone a condemnation! Where were you? Why did you keep silent? Yet, time and time again we are told that the Church is committed to its ‘older brother’, the Jewish People. The United States sent back the ocean liner Saint Louis. Ayeka? Where were you?

When World War II broke out, I was just two years old. At the end of the war I was seven and a half years old. For those six years, the only language I knew was Polish, and, all that time, there was one word which constantly rang in my ears. In the camps, in the ghetto, in the trains, in the snow, all I could think about was this one word. Lachergo (Why)? Why is this happening to me? What did I do? What did my people do wrong? Did we threaten them? Did we have pistols?

I listened to all your speeches, representing your respective countries. You’ve each delivered passionate speeches about the dangers of anti-Semitism. But, I lived through it! Tell me, what did we do wrong? What did I do wrong, a seven and a half year old boy?

Some told me: ‘You are foreigners here. If you had a land of your own, you’d be fine, and we’d leave you alone. Your contribution to mankind is amazing, but we oppose you because you are a “People without a Land.”’

Today, we have a land. Exactly seventy years ago, the United Nations decided to finally give us a land. Do you love us now? We are intelligent people. We have much to offer the world. I hear all your speeches, and this makes no sense. Europe is burning. Look what’s going on in your countries. Jews fear for their safety. European Jewry has decreased by more than 20% in the last ten years. Anti- Semitism is illogical. It’s irrational. It’s madness.

You didn’t like the Jews in Poland because they had beards and black coats. Some told me, ‘If you’d be like us, and look like us, we’d appreciate you.’ Yet, look at Germany. We didn’t have beards. We spoke a beautiful German. Many of us were actually completely assimilated. Did you embrace us there? I ask you. Please. Decide. What do you want from us? Lachergo? Why? What did we do to you? Ask the people in your countries. Share the question with the Pope. Ayeka? Where are you? We Jews love everyone. We appreciate everyone. Please, just let us live. See the fruits we can contribute to society.”

This year, as we gather together at Beth Israel on Tuesday, April 10 to commemorate Yom HaShoah, may we all remember the Shoah, its six million victims, and those who survived, but may each one of us also commit to educate ourselves, our children, and our neighbors so that “Never Again!” are not empty words, and so that we are never again forced to ask: “Why?”

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