Never again is why we have the state of Israel. And while Zionism as a movement predated the Holocaust by many decades, and Jews had been making their way to the holy land for centuries, the Holocaust and “never again” were the catalysts that rebuked the world, and paved the way for Israel’s birth.
But never again means something else, too. Never again means that we do not “stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is shed,” as we will read in the parsha Kedoshim, which this year is coupled with Achrei Mot on May 2. We do not permit genocide to happen. Again. Ever.
It is why most Holocaust museums, and there are well over 150 worldwide, have as part of their mission or title the word tolerance. It is why they are education centers that work with schools and young people. Because if Holocaust museums are merely a repository for horror, we allow people to glance at them, take in the atrocities, be moved or not, and ultimately, look away. If they educate and take us to task to act, to do something, they become — or at least we hope they do— much more.
So today, on Yom Hashoah, we need to do something. I know that we are concerned for Jews around the world. Anti-Semitism is rising, especially in Europe. Spurred by Islamists, it is virulent and violent and has led to acts perpetrated against Jews in lands already deeply stained with Jewish blood. Acts that many did not imagine would happen again in their lifetime.
This is troubling. But there is another type of persecution that has been unleashed, one that doesn’t implicitly affect us. Just two weeks ago, the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate, stormed Garissa University in Kenya, murdering nearly 150 students. “A small group of militants, most likely between four and 10, roved from dorm to dorm, separating Christian from Muslim students and killing the Christians, “ according to a report in the New York Times.
Images of young college students, shot in the head, lying face down on the ground are hauntingly familiar. One terrified young woman survived hiding in a crawl space, certain that the men calling the students out of their beds were bent on harm. Most did not follow her example. That the students are dark skinned and Christian does not matter; it hearkens European Jewry’s darkest days.
On the face of it, Christian persecution doesn’t really make sense to a Jew. We have suffered so much through the centuries at their hands. I worried that even posting something like this on Yom Hashoah would somehow diminish our own experience. But it does not.
World Watch lists 50 nations as persecuting their Christian populations. The top 10 include North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria.
A year ago, Boko Haram, another terrorist group, kidnapped 275 Nigerian girls from their school in a Christian town. Today, 232 remain missing, according to Open Doors, an organization that serves persecuted Christians. In February, Islamic State, the deadly terror group that has declared a caliphate across the Middle East, beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach, posting the gruesome event like some sort of sick snuff film on YouTube. In early March, it took 300 Syrian Christians hostage.
Open Doors claims that 322 Christians are killed for their faith each month, and that 214 churches and Christians properties are destroyed. There are are 722 acts of violence and coercion against Christians, as well, which include beatings, rapes, arrests and forced marriages.
Martin Niemöller, a prominent German pastor, is often quoted about the consequence of not speaking out:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We cannot stand idly by; the message is implicit. When you do, one day there will be no one to stand up for you. Niemöller was an outspoken critic of Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in a concentration camp. But he, as we know, was the exception, a righteous gentile, standing up for deeply held principles. People did nothing in Europe when they came for the Jews. That nothing led to the systematic attempt to annihilate us. If we take only one lesson away from that experience, it should be that when they come for someone else, it is our duty to say, to act, to do. We can hardly condemn our Christian neighbors of the era for their silence during the Shoah if we do not say something when we see horrors affecting them today. We need to speak for them.
I recently viewed the film, “I Shall Not Be Silent,” about Rabbi Joachim Prinz, at JCC Rockland’s annual film festival. Prinz, a Berlin rabbi, left Germany in 1937. His later involvement in the American Civil Rights movement was deeply informed by the injustices he saw and experienced in Germany. In the 1963 March on Washington, he spoke immediately before Martin Luther King, Jr., and we would do well to remember his words:
When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.
Today is Yom Hashoah; we remember six million of our own who died in an inferno of hate and persecution unlike anything we’ve ever seen in its systemization and thoroughness. But while we recall them, let us not forget that “never again” happens all around us, and it is our duty as Jews not to be silent.