A survey that was recently quoted in USA Today found that almost “two-thirds of millennials, Gen Z, don’t know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.” Worse yet, the survey found that “in New York … nearly 20% of millennials and Gen Zers incorrectly believe that Jews caused the Holocaust.”
It doesn’t matter what story we tell the world. Even if the facts are right, and in this case they are, the world evidently doesn’t listen. If organizations that profess to exist in order to commemorate the Holocaust are doing so poorly, then why do they exist at all?
The most telling data that I find in this survey is that in New York, nearly 20% believe that Jews themselves caused the Holocaust. It is an indication that education about Jews in the most “Jewish” city in America is totally off the mark.
We must tell the truth. If we hide the truth about Judaism, it will only intensify antisemitism, Jews will be blamed for the wrong things, and the end will be the same as in Germany.
And the truth is simple: Jews are different from all other nations. They have a huge moral debt to the world. They owe the world to be an example of uniting above hatred. Jews hate each other more than they hate their enemies. In fact, the majority of Jews don’t hate their enemies, but they sure hate one another.
But there is a good reason for it: Jews hate each other because their task is to be role models, an example of unity above hatred. This is the meaning of being “a light unto nations.” At the foot of Mt. Sinai, we inaugurated our nationhood when we vowed to unite “as one man with one heart.” Immediately after, we were told to shine the light of that unity to the nations. And in the final moments of our unity, when the Temple was already ruined, Rabbi Akiva bequeathed us with the ultimate motto of altruism, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This should have been our legacy. But look where we are now.
Once we became a nation, we immediately started facing disputes. The more we united, the more the hatred grew. But that was the whole idea, or as The Book of Zohar (BeShalach) describes it, “All the wars in the Torah are peace and love.”
Finally, King Solomon formulated the way that Israel must work with hatred: “Hate will stir strife, and love will cover all crimes” (Prov. 10:12). But it wasn’t for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the world. The Book of Zohar articulated the impact of Israel’s efforts to connect on the world. In the portion Aharei Mot, The Zohar writes, “‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to also sit together.’ These are the friends as they sit together, and are not separated from one another. At first, they seem like people at war, wishing to kill one another … then they return to being in brotherly love. …And … as you were in fondness and love before, henceforth you will also not part from one another … and by your merit, there will be peace in the world.”
If we focus our efforts only on remembering the past, the future will bring us many more catastrophes to commemorate. People don’t care what happened to us. They are already saying “Hitler was right,” and “We will finish Hitler’s work.” And these are people who do know what happened there.
We should remember the past only in order to know what we must do in the present: to unite and be a role model of unity to the world. Our overt hatred for each other is the reason why antisemites blame us for causing wars. They have a gut feeling that it’s our fault, and even though they cannot rationalize it, they are basically correct because if we aren’t showing the way to unity, the world has no one else to pave the way to peace, so it blames the wars on us.
Here, for example, is a quote from a book written by one of the most notorious antisemites in Russia, certainly in his time. Vasily Shulgin was a senior member of the Duma, the Russian Parliament, before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. In his book What We Don’t Like about Them, Shulgin analyzes his perception of the Jews and what he thinks they are doing wrong. He complains that “Jews in the 20th century have become very smart, effective, and vigorous at exploiting other people’s ideas.” But all of a sudden, he takes a sharp turn from the trite canard and declares, “[But] this is not an occupation for teachers and prophets, not the role of guides of the blind, not the role of carriers of the lame.”
The only way we can be teachers is by example, and the only example we can give is unity. As long as we hate one another, the world will hate us. If we rise above it, it will lift us on its shoulders. If we don’t, it will extinguish us.