What does the Torah say about… 75 years since the outbreak of the Second World War
By Rabbi Naftali Schiff
I write these words in Rome where the tour guide has just recalled that it was as late as 1870 when the Jews of Rome were finally released from incarceration in the local ghetto.
I could not help but ponder the stark reality that their emancipation lasted but 70 years until the Nazi deportations, and here we are again-75 years later-and the ugly face of anti-semitism has raised its spectre across the world once more.
On seder night we raise our glasses and propose a toast of sorts to the miracle of Jewish survival. We sing‘vehi she’amda’ -that in every generation there have been those who have sought to rid the world of the Jewish nation and all for which we stand. However, we continue in the Haggadah to recall the divine promise. We shall survive.
Perhaps the millenial persecutions came to a climax 75 years ago with the German invasion of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust, but put frankly- anti-semtism is as old as the Jew. Two post war generations that responded to the Holocaust with the cry of ‘Never again’ today tragically experience a worrying increase in anti-semitic attacks and sentiment across the world.
The results of contemporary research indicate that it is only a proud and confident internalisation of what it means to be Jewish, that will ensure the commitment of our children. Our community’s educational agenda must be a proactive one that boldly asserts ‘Am Yisrael Chai!’
The Jewish people lives and flourishes. However, the words of this song actually continue to proclaim “Od Avinu Chai” Our Father still Lives! Education for the third generation since the Holocaust must include both of these assertions.
The values and commitment that sustained our ancestors over 3000 years are as relevant now as they have ever been. It is this faith that gave them the confidence to stand strong and overcome all odds. We must imbue our youth with a pride in their heritage as a means for ensuring a brighter Jewish future, because that ultimately is the source of our survival.
And as I look around Rome I don’t see any Ancient Romans. In fact, the Ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Crusaders, Inquisitors, Communists and Nazis too are no more. But the Jewish nation, with our eternal message, has outlived them all.
Perhaps, 75 years on from the Second World War, the important thing is that, having resoundingly sung to the tune of Am Yisrael Chai, we rise to the challenge of Od Avinu Chai too.
• Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the Director of JROOTS – Jewish Journeys Connecting Generations.