Monday, April 12, 2010

The Holocaust: More Relevant Now than Before

As I grow older, the holocaust continues to traumatize me and increasingly forces me to think and re-evaluate my life more.
There's this stigma, that I've heard more than once -- said by people with no shame, that Jews of middle-eastern descent who didn't have relatives killed in the holocaust don't indentify with the holocaust. When I first heard this stereotype, I was shocked. I was shocked that a Jew can tell another Jew such a thing.
I first learned about the holocaust when I was 6 years old. My 1st grade teacher was telling us about yom hashoah. This teacher, unfortunately, didn't have much tact when it came to teaching 1st graders about how evil men slaughtered millions of innocent Jews. She told us about the showers that weren't really water showers, like the ones we bathe in at home, rather -- they were made of gas and killed these people.
The whole issue boggled me. I didn't understand. I raised my hand and asked the teacher "how come G-d helped our avot but not these people?" I had no doubt that HaShem was there, I just didn't understand how He allowed them to be killed. A remedial and naive understanding, obviously.

I came home shaken, and my Mother took me to the library and took out a children's book about Anne Frank. Until this day, the illustrations of Jews with shaven heads are etched in my mind.
For years to follow -- from elementary to middle school, we continued learning about the holocaust. They showed us movies, we read stories, we had survivors come and re-tell their stories. It always gave me the chills, and for years, I was scared to shower. I was scared to sleep with the light off. I was even scared to have books about the holocaust in my room.
And not once did I ever think to myself "these are Ashkenazi Jews. I'm Sefardi." I thought to myself "these are Jews. These are my people - my ancestors." - Just like I thought that the Jews who were killed after the Beit Hamikdash were just Jews who lived 2,000 years ago. Or that the Jews in the Tanach were Jews who lived 4,000 years ago. Everyone who is Jewish was relevant to my life simply because they're Jewish.
It never occurred to me that they were "different" and not related to me, simply because they lived in a different region than my Grandparents did.

Until now, even though I'm able to shower or sleep with the light off, I'm still terrified of holocaust movies and literature. I can't bring myself to visit the camps. Not out of apathy, but out of empathy. There's a voice inside of me that tells me these people were forced to go to these camps and now we're volunteering to do so. Would they want us to? I'm not so sure. I'm not so sure that I want to stand on the same ground where such horrors occurred per the second.

As I grow older, I find that the holocaust is more relevant than ever because my understanding of it develops to be more mature and spiritually aware. There're so many adults, well into their 50s and 60s, who question G-d's existence and use the holocaust as an excuse for not believing. That's precisely why I say it's a rudimentary, immature understanding of it. If one looks closely into the history and details of the Nazis and holocaust, the facts seem so particularly impossible that it's clear that G-d's Hand was fully there in guiding history.
And as I grow older, I read more and more stories, watch more and more footage, and meet more and more people who have miraculous, inspiring stories and positive outcomes.
And it becomes clear to me: G-d was 100% there during the holocaust. The question isn't "Who?" - it's "Why?" But that same exact question has been asked many times before, and Jews didn't lose their faith.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, and The Satmer Rebbe are strong figures who come to mind. Their answer to the same question that many struggle with is one that doesn't even question faith.

If anyone's interested in shiurim about "Where was G-d during the holocaust?" and/or "Why did G-d allow the holocaust to happen?", then I highly recommend Rabbi Bentzion Shafier's shiurim. The shiurim are free, and they can completely change one's entire outlook because they shed a lot of light on this dark topic.