It’s not a coincidence that Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli day of remembrance, concludes with a celebration. The immense losses our people endured in the decades before and leading up to Israel’s establishment are appropriately marked on this solemn day, but they are thankfully tempered by the onset of Yom Ha’atzmaut and the joy generated by Israel’s independence. It’s the celebration of a unique moment that is today the birthright of our children: the creation of Medinat Yisrael.
A country born from the ashes of the Holocaust is certainly a miracle in and of itself. The loss of Jewish lives in the 1930s and 1940s is greater than the oft-referenced number of 6 million. Think of all the children and grandchildren those who were lost might have had. Our generations were crippled to an exponential degree.
The creation of Israel in the shadow of the Holocaust also proves it was not just another pogrom or inquisition. It was markedly different in goal and scope from any other event in Jewish history. As noted by our columnist Rabbi Moshe Taragin in last week’s Jewish Link, the Holocaust was “the first methodical, state-instituted attempt to destroy everything and anything Jewish from the streets of Europe” and beyond. “Designing to ultimately export his genocide to the USA, Hitler obtained blueprints of synagogues in NYC—one day to be demolished or turned into museums of the extinct Jew,” he wrote.
Rabbi Taragin noted that our faith tells us that the Holocaust was such a historic shift because the long night of the Jewish exile was, at long last, ending. One more fight was necessary, for which many lives were lost, in Israel’s wars for independence. That’s why we mark Yom Hazikaron in somber tones, with candles and reminiscences of our lost loved ones, but then immediately transition into Yom Ha’atzmaut, a day of joy and thanksgiving.
Coupled with this miracle, another one, possibly no less dramatic, has appeared in more recent years. Our social media digital world has taught us that to understand something, you have to identify it and give it a name. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has created a usable “working definition” of anti-Semitism, to distinguish the Holocaust and its associated anti-Jewish sentiments from other forms of hate speech. The definition has been adopted in many cities, counties, states and more than 30 countries to date, to ensure that the distinction between “criticism of Israel’s policies” and hate toward the Jewish people is clear and delineated.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism serves all Jews, but also is instructive to any other community that would be a victim or perpetrator of true genocidal hate. This is not simply an administrative act. I am always grateful to the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Yeshiva University for focusing on the particular and unique Jewish narrative of the Holocaust, so as to distinguish it from other genocidal events in history. In every public lecture, the center brings home this point repeatedly: The Holocaust was the result of anti-Semitic hate and a wish to destroy everything Jewish—an entire ethnic group.
Think about this: An attempt to demonize an entire people, a specific perception of hate toward Jews because of what they represent. Today, rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. It’s why a random parolee in New York City might slash a traditionally dressed Jewish Belgian couple and their baby, unarmed and defenseless, walking around in Manhattan on Chol Hamoed. Because somehow, this Jewish couple, who may never have visited Israel in their lives, “looks Jewish” and thus became a target of hate.
Said UCLA professor Judea Pearl, father of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded for “being Jewish” by Al Qaeda terrorists in 2001: “The primary importance of the IHRA definition lies in equating the demonization of Israel and the criminalization of her creation with the demonization and criminalization of every Jewish child and every Jewish family who, traditionally and organically, view Israel as the culmination of Jewish history and as a cherished symbol of Jewish identity. Such criminalization of an ethnic minority has no place in the public square.”
This Yom Hazikaron, let’s remember all the losses to our community throughout history, including the many individuals killed, as part of the creation of the Jewish state. And on Yom Ha’atzmaut, let’s not just celebrate Israel’s independence, but another modern miracle as well—the historic, pivotal definition of anti-Semitism.
By Elizabeth Kratz