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Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater Headshot

Shared Horror, Shared Hope

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On Sunday night, my community hosted a "Shalom" peace concert in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. What made this evening unique, and perhaps one-of-a-kind, is that we expanded our commemoration to include Armenians and Congolese, two communities that we can relate to in regard to genocide. Last year, we initiated this program in a more cerebral way with a panel and discussion of the Armenian, Jewish, Cambodian, Congolese and Darfurian genocides. This year, we brought music together with several survivors, Jewish and Armenian. Congressman Adam Schiff was our keynote speaker, an amazing leader on issues of human rights and genocide recognition; Congressman Schiff has been an outspoken member of Congress on the issue of recognizing the Armenian genocide, which unlike the Holocaust, is still trying to get its place as a recognized atrocity committed by the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the twentieth century, killing 1.5 million Armenians. As a Jewish member of Congress, Schiff has risked his own political standing due to the diplomatic challenge of this recognition in regard to Turkey, and to a certain extent, Israel. I am proud that Congressman Schiff represents me and know that his principled stand stems in large part from his understanding of his Jewish roots and the horrors of the Holocaust.
For too long, and for too many today, suffering has been kept "in the family," as we didn't want to share our pain with others. The Holocaust was unique in its scope and intention, bringing the worst of humanity together with the best of technology, perpetrating a genocide against the Jewish people and millions of others unlike anything the world had ever seen. Yet, we know that Hitler felt he could succeed because "the world ignored the Armenian genocide." But, what have we learned from that deadly mistake? Sadly, "never again," the powerful slogan that emerged from the ashes of the concentration camps, has rang hollow in the sixty years since Auschwitz. Genocide is alive and well in our world, past and present, from Cambodia to Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Darfur and Congo. By sharing our stories, and our pain, the Jewish community has a unique opportunity to connect with people whom we would otherwise have very little in common. This collective horror can lead to collective hope. No one community has a patent on pain; by sharing with others, educating them and empathizing with them, we not only grow as human beings, but we strengthen our individual attempts to end hate by joining together. While the world sat by as my people were systematically annihilated, I cannot and will not sit by while Africans are murdered in Sudan or Congo; I cannot and will not sit by while Armenians are denied the dignity of having their genocide recognized by the world community. Almost 100 years of denial is too long to suffer.
Our program can be a model for others around the country. By expanding the field of pain, we don't diminish the Holocaust or the suffering of the Jewish people. In fact, as Elie Wiesel has bravely taught us, only by learning from our pain and seeking to use that knowledge to help others, can we truly ensure that Hitler stays in his grave and his ghosts don't rise again. We have not done a very good job so far, but with hope, there is always tomorrow.

For more on this kind of work, learn about Jewish World Watch, on whose board I serve.