By Lainey Komerofsky, NFTY-TOR President, and Izzy Segel, NFTY-PAR President
Our fellow NFTYites,
The Holocaust will forever be a sorrowful reminder for the Jews of our people’s oppression. For the Jewish community as a whole, International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a time for reflection and action. We must educate ourselves on the history of the Holocaust and mourn the losses of our ancestors, as we have done for over seventy years — and use this understanding to follow through on the concept of “Never Again” if we want to continue fighting hate in the modern world. Although the single largest demonstration of anti-Semitic genocide is in the past, we must avoid complacency in the wake of contemporary ethnic intolerance.
“Never Again.” The ugly head of bigotry against our people brought itself back to a public spectacle this past August. Thousands of tiki torches instilled fear in billions of souls worldwide, and a neo-Nazi speeding his silver car in reverse murdered Heather Heyer, a martyr for justice whose last Facebook post read, “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” The events in Charlottesville reminded our nation, our people, and the world that it is impossible to forget — several weeks of cable news cycles and political controversy made sure of that. But, with reflection comes action — never forgetting is not limited to remembrance. This, NFTY, is our call to action.
At a time when the privilege of hearing first-hand accounts from brave survivors is coming to a close, it is our duty to actively prevent not only a resurgence of the Holocaust that was given a stomach-turning energy this summer, but all forms of similar injustice around the world. As we write this piece, the Rohingya people are fleeing Myanmar, where their military is killing them in a mass effort of ethnic cleansing. Citizens all across the Middle East and Africa are fleeing civil war, religious persecution, and oppressive regimes. In our own communities, we have peers living in constant fear — in their homes, their buses, and their hospital rooms — that deportation forces will respond to the worst prejudices of our nation.
As humans, and especially as Jews who are only two generations removed from similar genocide, these atrocities should awaken our collective consciousness if they haven’t already. Although it is the twenty-first century and the Holocaust has technically been over for seventy-three years, we must treat the perils of the Rohingya people, Syrian refugees, and DREAMers as if they are our own. As stated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We cannot rest easily until ethnic cleansing in Myanmar ceases to exist, until refugees are accepted into safe countries with open arms, and until DREAMers can pursue the American Dream with peace of mind.
This past December at URJ Biennial, the Hamza family, who fled Syria in 2014 and arrived in Boston during one of last year’s travel bans, Advocated on behalf of by the individuals in the Boston Jewish community, and uplifted by those of us representing one million Reform Jews in the US and Canada, we saw the tangible power of our faith-based sixth sense of justice. Just two weeks ago, the Religious Action Center and other Jewish organizations took to the US Capitol to advocate for the passage of a clean DREAM Act using civil disobedience. The music of עולם חסד יבנה (Olam Chesed Yivaneh) rang throughout the Capitol Rotunda, the Jewish people’s time-honored pledge to “build this world from love” reaching the ears and hearts of legislators.
When we visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, we received black rubber bracelets inscribed with white lettering, What You Do Matters. Within the historical context of the sorrow we had just felt, the urgency of this bracelet initially confused us. We wondered, “What is my part in all of this?” After contemplation and reflection, it was made clear that the purpose of this bracelet is to use our collective memory of yesterday to fight for a just world today.
What we do is impactful, and it matters. What the Boston Jewish community did matters. What Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the RAC, and other Jewish leaders did at the Capitol matter. What we have the power to do, as the present and future of this movement, matters. The Holocaust has taught us many lessons, the most actionable one being to never settle. Don’t settle for incomplete justice. Don’t settle for complacency towards hate or stoicism towards bigotry. Fight back, speak truth to power, and stand up for what you believe, because What You Do Matters.
B’ahava v’tzedek (with love and righteousness),
Lainey Komerofsky and Izzy Segel