Last week, we were privileged to attend a Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. After making it through three different rounds of security (bag checks, answering questions, more bag checks and the new check to detect any chemical residues on our hands in the last 24 hours), we arrived at Yad Vashem. The ceremony was outdoors with thousands of people from all over the world sitting together, watching this historic, heart-wrenching event. A memorial candle was lit by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council.
The President of Israel, Shimon Peres, also delivered a speech (in quite difficult Hebrew, that actually required us to put in our translator headphones). He said that the victims of the Holocaust later became the state builders of Israel and for that, and so much more, we will always remember their legacy. There are two imperatives, he said, we must always remember: we must maintain our Jewish state, and build up our defense strongly, and we must take seriously threats of annihilation, like those coming from Iran. We can never allow a regime to stand forth and declare that their race or religion is superior – it is our responsibility to ensure no regime can ever do so again. He then turned to a Holocaust survivor sitting next to him and said, “Jewish history salutes you.” He concluded with a powerful statement: No other nation has been beaten like the Jews, and no other nation has rebounded like the Jews.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu also delivered a moving speech, which we were mostly able to understand in Hebrew. We are all sitting there today because, before their deaths, the Holocaust victims and heroes begged us never to forget them, to tell their stories. It was ironic, that after a week of beautiful weather, that night it was freezing cold. The wind was so strong and since many of us did not know we would need jackets, we sat shivering in our seats. Perhaps we were supposed to understand a tiny taste of what it is like to sit in cold, windy weather without any means of comfort (of course, ours was on a minuscule level, but I believe that any way we can learn to connect our lives with the Holocaust survivors is important, because by making these connections, we ensure we do not forget them). PM Netanyahu asked us: from ashes and dust, Israel came about. Did we learn anything from their sacrifices? We learned, and we must continue to learn, three important lessons:
a. To protect the good and fight against the bad. In every generation, there are those who stand against us, but we must ensure that every person has a right to live and have his freedoms protected. It is our job to ensure that the Nazi ideology never succeeds. We must ask ourselves: what values are we raising our children with? What are we doing to fight our enemies?
b. There is a limit to how much we can be patient and kind, there is a limit to the values of understanding we must preach. Because we cannot let our desire to teach understanding and patience overrule our necessity to defend our state.
c. We can never be silent when faced with evil, and that is why PM Netanyahu called on the UN and all other states to recognize the Iranian threat and stand against it.
He ended with saying that we did not get here by accident. We are here because it is our land and we must protect it.
The next day, on the cover of many newspapers, were these words: להילחם ברע וחנך לטוב – to fight against evil and educate for the good. And I had the privilege to hear these words straight from the Prime Minister himself. That is the beauty of this study abroad program – instead of reading books and newspapers, we partake in history ourselves.