As Yom Hashoah is commemorated, we think of those dark times in Europe when so many of us Jews were simply wiped out of existence. We think of those times when, for a while, evil did win. And evil did succeed. And the light of humanity could not be seen through the darkness of the tidal wave sweeping over us.
The Nazis and their many collaborators in Europe took a lot from us. They took our land. They took our homes. They took our families. They took our possessions. They took our money. They took our ability to look after ourselves. They took our livelihood. And ultimately, they took our lives.
But there’s one thing they couldn’t take, no matter how hard they tried. No matter how hard they wanted it. No matter how much they pushed. No matter what cruelty they inflicted. No matter what resources they poured into it. They just could not get it.
And that’s our stories.
Because Jews, if anything, are a people of stories. We have a history that stretches back to the beginning of recorded times. Hitler spoke of a 1000 year Reich. Well, we’ve been around for about 4000 years at the moment.
Our stories and our history are the real assets in our lives. We remember things, commemorate them and celebrate them as if they had just happened, as if they are fresh in our minds. And they are. Because our experiences is life are as important to us now as they were thousands of years ago.
We’ve just celebrated Pesach – our liberation from Egypt – and it means as much now as it did back then. We’ll be commemorating Yom Hashoah in the next few days, and no matter how many years pass, it’ll always form a part of our national consciousness. And soon we’ll be commemorating our fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism in defense of Israel. After that we’ll be celebrating our Jewish homeland itself – a homeland that is both young and fresh and exciting, and yet old and traditional and historical – all in one.
Jews have survived throughout history, not because of our material assets, or our monetary resources, or our political power – of which we’ve historically had very little. We’ve survived because we’ve known who we are with a history that we’ve recorded and stories that we’ve shared. We haven’t drifted through time without direction or purpose – and if we had we would have simply drifted away. Instead, we march through history filled with confidence and purpose, an active participant, not a passive observer.
Yes, there are those of us who lose that identity, and we should focus on trying to instil that again. Some of them will come back and some of them will be lost. But regardless of what happens, as a people we will continue.
The Nazis tried to close the chapter on our lives, to end our story, to blotch out our names from the history of time. They tried desperately with all their might and with all the weapons and with all the power to take that away from us.
But they failed, because today, we are still here and our story is still being written.