Mourning the Holocaust, but Celebrating Israel
JNS.org – At last week’s World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, Israel’s former Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, himself a survivor, said he was incapable — “unauthorized” — to extend forgiveness for the murder of six million Jews.
We understand that forgiveness for a crime so massive and horrific is for most Jews and people who revere justice unfathomable. But forgiveness is not the main point of that Holocaust observance. Rather, our duty is to remember, so we can stand against and prevent future assaults against the Jewish people.
Surely the greatest accomplishment of the Jewish people toward preventing a repeat of the Holocaust and all manner of persecution against Jews anywhere is the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Indeed, the Forum was not only a fitting, solemn memorial to the Six Million, it was also a remarkable and fitting triumph for the Jewish state.
Above all, we should note that Israel’s formation was not a response to the Holocaust, nor was it a gift from the world or the United Nations to atone for the Holocaust. Rather, the Jewish people had been preparing for a return to their ancient homeland for millennia and working actively to create a state in that land since the advent of political Zionism in 1897 — some 50 years before Israel’s eventual birth.
Ever since our Jewish ancestors were first exiled from their land in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, we have yearned to return. Indeed, when we were exiled by the Romans in 70 CE, that aspiration held strong for two millennia, reinforced by our chanting “L’Shanah Haba’ah b’Yerushalayim” — “Next year in Jerusalem” — at every Passover Seder and Yom Kippur service.
This yearning became reality as Jewish determination swelled in response to centuries of discrimination and violence against Jews in Europe particularly, but also in Africa and the Middle East, including those Jews still living in what became known as Palestine during the period of Roman occupation.
This Fifth World Holocaust Forum, held on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, stands as a major triumph for Israel supporters. World leaders representing some 44 nations — including Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prince Charles, and US Vice President Mike Pence — honored not only Jews killed in the Holocaust, but also the Jewish people and the State of Israel, by their presence.
Notably, while Germany, the instigator of the Holocaust, was represented at the event, no predominantly Arab countries attended. The Holocaust is apparently a calamity they do not mourn.
Forum ceremonies took place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, a city at the center of so much controversy in 2017 when the United States belatedly recognized it as Israel’s capital. This memorial event went a long way toward cementing Jerusalem’s centrality to Jewish and Israeli life in the world’s consciousness, despite the fact that Palestinians and some UN agencies continue to deny any Jewish connection to the city whatsoever.
Above all, the attendance of so many dignitaries at this event underscores Israel’s huge and growing importance on the world stage. Israel represents not only the largest ingathering of a dispersed people in human history, but can boast of unparalleled social, cultural, diplomatic, economic, and military achievements in the past 70 years. Finally, it bespeaks the extraordinary resilience of the Jewish people in the face of one of the world’s greatest, most destructive tragedies.
As Jews, as supporters of Israel, as humans, we should surely make reflective observances to remember our millions of brethren murdered by a hateful fanatic — the worst antisemite in history. But we should also celebrate the accomplishment that is Israel.
When God promised the Jewish people the land of Israel, we could never have dared dream of the magnitude of the threats we would face as we traversed history. But we also could never have imagined the powerful, inspiring refuge — and light unto the nations — that Israel would become.
This miraculous achievement makes Israel worth praising, celebrating, and defending, with all our power and determination.
The founding of Israel was not a result of the Holocaust, nor was it “compensation” for the murder of six million Jews. Rather, Israel is the embodied statement of the Jewish people — and people of goodwill everywhere — that the hate that caused the Holocaust will never succeed again.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States