Yesterday was Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorating the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis and their accomplices during World War II. Today, April 19, is the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the longest and most intense rebellion of Jews against their oppressors. The heroic, yet hopeless resistance was crushed, but became a symbol of the resilience of human spirit. The Holocaust itself, however, highlights the question of the persistence of antisemitism, and why its ferocity and deadliness has not subsided throughout the centuries.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman general Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and exiled its remaining Jews to Rome. The Roman emperor Hadrian changed the name Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, a city dedicated to Jupiter, and when the Jews revolted against him, he brutally crushed the revolt. To erase the connection of Jews to their land, he changed the name of Judea to Syria Palestina.
Since then, every year, Jews commemorate the fall of the Temple. Likewise, since the Holocaust, every year, we commemorate the slaughter of European Jewry almost in its entirety. In between the cataclysms, we were expelled from Spain, murdered in Ukraine, driven out of England, and basically persecuted everywhere we lived, and in every generation. Why has there been no relief from Jew-hatred?
There has not been a relief, there is no relief, and there will be no relief from antisemitism until we acknowledge that the root of the hatred, its wellspring, is not with the nations of the world, but with ourselves. We are creating and swelling their hatred toward us through our own hatred of each other.
History proves that before every major cataclysm that befell the Jews came an extended period of growing division and internal enmity among the Jews themselves. When their inner hatred climaxes, so does the brutality and violence that their persecutors inflict on them.
Nothing about our nation resembles the making or the history of any other nation. The whole world sees us as different, and the only ones who cannot accept this are we, ourselves. Nevertheless, we are indeed different, and until we understand in what way and what for, we will not uproot the hatred toward us.
Abraham, the father of our nation, was not born Jewish, or even a Hebrew, as he is the one who engendered the nation. Likewise, many of our nation’s greatest were either converts to Judaism or the children of converts.
In fact, despite centuries of communal life, we were not regarded as a nation until we stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai and pledged to unite “as one man with one heart.” Immediately after, we were told that our nationhood, forged through unity, was not for our own sake, but for the sake of the nations, to be a light to the nations, a model nation that will prove that unity and peace among nations are possible, even when they seem locked in conflict.
Since then, division among us and the nations’ hatred toward us have been linked. When we are separated, we betray our duty to the world. As a result, the world resents us and blames us for its woes.
It makes no difference that we do not understand why humanity hates us, or that humanity does not understand its grudge against the Jews. As long as we are disunited, every nation in every generation will find its contemporary pretext to vent its hatred, which is ever fermenting in their hearts. We should not be misled by momentary pretexts; underneath them lies the same old anger at the Jews for not being a model nation, a show of unity and peace despite coming from different nations.
We have experienced 2,000 years of hatred with no sign of relief because we have not uprooted division from our midst. If we want to prevent the next cataclysm from unfolding, the only thing we can and need to do is reunite among us and become the model nation that the world expects to see.
People carry a wreath during a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, April 18, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun