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January 26, 2022 11:30 am
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On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, We Continue the Work of Living

avatar by William Daroff / JNS.org

Opinion

The ‘Hall of Names’ commemorating victims of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Photo: David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – Jewish life in America feels more and more under assault. The murderous rampage at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2017 now appears to be less an aberration and more a harbinger of what was to come.

Just last week, American Jews saw yet another one of our houses of worship attacked, as an armed assailant descended on Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. We are all immensely grateful that the victims of this latest assault escaped injury. However, the repeated targeting of our community reveals an undeniable truth: the menace of antisemitism has grown more acute in the United States in these few past years; this oldest form of hate has assumed a lethal character right here on American soil.

This week, we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, and the juxtaposition of these two events provides a moment for reflection and taking stock. How do we keep our community safe? What is the legacy of the Holocaust and our efforts to remember it more than seven decades on? How do our endeavors change as the last survivors leave us and the event passes from living memory?

The Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations acts as a steward for the memory of the Holocaust, ensuring through its actions that the promise of “Never Again” becomes a true reality. We are redoubling these efforts in a moment that feels increasingly ominous for American Jews.

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Recent polls have shown that a shocking number of young Americans—up to one-quarter—do not understand what the Holocaust truly is. Therefore, Holocaust education has become the cornerstone of our advocacy in Washington and in state houses as we continue to encourage the teaching of this history in the nation’s classrooms. Only through examining the atrocities of the past can we hope to build a brighter future.

We have also taken the education effort to workplaces, encouraging employers to adopt diversity, equity and inclusion strategies that acknowledge antisemitism and incorporate training components around bias. Learning is a lifelong process, and we have embraced a paradigm of education both in schools and in wider society.

Another prong of our battle against antisemitism and in defense of Holocaust memory has emerged in the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA)’s definition of antisemitism. This working definition, which has been adopted by more than 1,000 jurisdictions and organizations (including 30-plus countries and many cities, states, universities, NGOs and sports teams) helps us understand insidious forms of contemporary antisemitism, which often appear under the guise of mere harsh political critique of the State of Israel.

And finally, we understand our community’s growing need for security (even as it pains us to post guards outside our schools, community centers and houses of worship). The Jewish community actively advocates for additional funding to secure communal institutions and ensure that we can continue to safely practice our faith and live out our Judaism. The attack in Colleyville is yet another reminder of the essential nature of this protection.

Even as we face the threat of a resurgent antisemitism—a murderous hate that violates the peace of our synagogues and community—we resolve to uphold the memory of our ancestors and continue the work of the living.

The writer is CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the senior professional guiding the conference’s agenda on behalf of its 53 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life. Follow him on Twitter @Daroff.

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