Dvar Israel: Shabbat, April 22, 2017

OUT OF THE ASHES

"If you saw me at a distance, you would think I was an ordinary person.
Even if you got closer, you still couldn't tell.
Maybe if you observe me very carefully, you might notice that I seem somehow alone,
even in the middle of a crowd. You would be right. But you would also be wrong. For I am never truly alone. Thousands of people are always with me.
My head is so crowded with ghosts I sometimes think it will burst.
My dreams flame with horror.
My memories are gray with ash.
I am a survivor.
It is my story...It is also the story of my friends and family.
People who are not here to tell it themselves...They are all living in me.
They stay with me so they will not become part of the faceless, nameless dead.
Only I can mark their passing. I am their gravestone, because I am a survivor."

These are the first lines in the play “The Survivor” by Susan Nanus. The play tells the story of Jack Eisner, a brave young man and his six teenaged friends fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. These young people found the courage to fight for a chance to survive and have a better life. They fought for themselves, for their families and for each other. Each of Jack’s six friends came from a different background: religious and secular, poor and rich, but all united in being Jewish. They died young and brave, trying to change their own reality; leaving Jack to tell their story.

On Monday April 24 Jews across Toronto and Canada will gather to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel Yom HaShoah takes place on the twenty-seventh of Nisan, the day that the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began. Israelis are a tough breed who are used to living in a complicated reality. While it may not be easy, it is normal for Israelis to identify themselves as a nation forced to live around hostile neighbors, whose young people bravely serve in the army created to protect the country’s survival. But the Holocaust is altogether different and very difficult. It is a terrible part of our history that happened to us as a Jewish nation, a terrible thing that happened to humanity as a whole. A terrible thing that left us forever changed. The result of hatred and evil. A thankfully failed attempt to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth. What was their crime? Simply being born Jewish.

In grade 12 in every school in Israel, students are given the option of going abroad to Poland with their classmates to learn about our past, about the horrible things that happened there that cannot be allowed to happen again. I went to Poland as a part of the Israeli Scouts Delegation. We were about 250 young adults, in grade 12, that volunteered for many years in the youth movement. In this Jewish group, some were Israelis from Israel, some were Israelis that lived in the US and Canada. It was amazing to see how we as a nation, overcame and united, and chose to remember. I felt so proud of this group and I was proud to not be fearful anymore. I was proud to have to ability to choose to volunteer, to choose to follow our ancestors all the way to those horrible places. It was at this point that I understood how easy it is to forget and how important it is to remember. On the trip we had an assembly in memory of the victims that died during the Holocaust and at the end we sang Hatikvah. Usually at home I used to murmur the words, but this time I sang with all the air in my lungs, knowing that Israel and all Israelis are living proof of our victory over the Nazis. Today we are no longer victims but fighters who will never again be murdered simply because we are Jewish. And that very soon I will become part of the IDF and protect the county those people died without ever having the chance to visit. I think that Israel made a wise choice in declaring Yom HaShoah on the day of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It serves to teach us a valuable lesson. We are no longer victims but fighters. We are proud to be Jewish. We are proud of our country and we will never forget those who came before and our past.

Shabbat Shalom.