Mankind has been seeking world peace for as long as there have been men. Ever elusive, hard to define, world peace seems farther and farther away every year that passes. At some point, you begin to wonder whether it is even possible. This morning as I stood still for two minutes in the middle of Jerusalem, in the middle of Israel, in the middle of the world, and one clear fact came through the wailing sound of the air raid siren of Yom HaShoah – Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. World peace IS possible.
For a long time, I thought that we could have Middle East peace, if not world peace, if everyone (and yes, particularly the Islamic/Jihadist world) would renounce violence. I thought the problem was in the terrorism, the violence and if we could stop that, we had a chance. As I stood there today, I realized that isn’t really the solution.
He was newly married, Binyamin Elimelech, and he and his wife joined his family for the Passover Seder. It was 1944. Surely the war would end before it came to their village. But the war didn’t end. Binyamin Elimelech and his new wife were taken away. The first to die in their family. Never to have children; never to have grandchildren. Never to celebrate even their first anniversary. Today my oldest son carries his name, has married and celebrated the birth of his first child.
Yom HaShoah is very different from any other Holocaust commemoration anywhere in the world. The sadness and the tears may be the same, but the scope is entirely different. From child to senior citizen, Yom HaShoah is a living thing, all persuasive, all-encompassing. Minutes before the siren sounds, people are already checking their phones, preparing.
In the schools, the children are taught – from the youngest ages and up. They have to be. You can’t exactly pretend there is no siren. Nursery age children are told enough to make them stand quietly. Certainly not the details of the concentration camps, but small elements. A lot of Jews died, I remember my children telling me, and so we stood up like this. And then they would stand with their little arms behind their backs and look down in the ground. Nursery school.
Shmuel died in the forest. He couldn’t go on. He told his cousin to leave him and was never seen again. He was a very smart young man, very learned. He was my husband’s uncle, though he was, when he died, younger than any of my children are now. Today my middle son carries his name. My son is a father, a husband. He served this country with honor, testing his body and making himself strong. Hebrew is the language that flows naturally from him but English is his mother tongue as well. He is strong and proud, and carries his namesake into the future.
When my youngest son was about 10 years old, he asked me about the tattoos on the arms of the survivors. Throughout their schools years, at the level they can understand, our children learn. And each year, we mark this day in a very loud way – air raid sirens sound for two minutes and Israel comes to a stop – cars, buses, trains. People. Radio. Television. Stop. Stand. Remember.
I have been in stores, on highways, in streets, on buses. Stop. Stand. Remember. Listen. Pray. Think.
She was 12 years old. For God’s sake…she was 12. Little Gavriella. All my husband’s grandparents. All. A generation left alone – that’s what happened to my husband’s parents. They lost their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and all uncles except one. All that was left were cousins…some, brothers…some, sisters…some. But not Gavriella. Her mother knew and tried to push her to her sisters but she didn’t want to go and by the time they convinced her, the Nazis saw her and ordered her back to her mother, to death. Today my granddaughter carries her name, little Gavriella.
This video was taken this morning. As the siren wails, everyone stops. Behind me, a train has just pulled into the station. On the train, everyone stands…including the driver. As far as the eye can see, all is still…except for the two Arabs you will see walking past (what I saw but the camera didn’t capture, was the smirk on the first Arab’s face.
Towards the end, two more people (one an Arab, one man wearing a skirt – don’t ask me what was with that – also walked past).
And as I walked away after the last wails of the siren sounded, I thought to myself – not their Holocaust, not their people, not their sorrow, not their pain. Not their two minutes of silence.
My grandfather fled Poland before the war because he was 19 and his mother didn’t want him to be drafted into the Polish army. He crossed an ocean alone and began working and saving money. He was going to bring the family over – his mother and two sisters but before he could earn enough money, they were murdered in Auschwitz. My sister was given a name to remember his mother. We have letters in Yiddish, all that is left of my grandfather’s family.
And my next thought came – right there. There will be peace, when the Holocaust that was, is seen not as the Holocaust of the Jews, but everyone’s Holocaust. We can’t change who the victims were, but we can change the meanings of their deaths. They died because they were Jews, murdered by a society that dehumanized them, hunted them, murdered them, gassed them. Worse, they died in a world that knew and didn’t care.
Peace will come when that fundamental indifference, that ability to separate the “us” from “them” becomes unacceptable. It will come when everyone stops for two minutes because 1.5 million children were murdered, and it doesn’t really matter that they were Jews.
There will be peace when people cry over Gavriella, over Binyamin Elimelech and Shmuel. When thoughts of man’s inhumanity touch all hearts. So long as the Arabs can walk past Jews as they stand and commemorate the murders of millions of people, there can be no peace. Their disrespect was staggering but enlightening.
With no intention to demean the Holocaust, the lesson today is that when injustice becomes “them,” we all suffer. Israel is a light for the nations – then and now. We have built field hospitals to help “them” in Syria; we welcomed “them” when they sailed out in boats. We flew to save “them” in Haiti, Nepal, Turkey, Kenya, Indonesia and more.
I am proud to live in a land that stops for two minutes and remembers. When the world stops…when the Arabs stop…maybe then we will all have peace.