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Thoughts Born From Yom HaShoah 2012

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Branding is very difficult to change. HaShoah, "The Destruction," is the name meant to replace "Holocaust" in referring the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people organized and supervised by the Nazi regime mostly in the first five years of the 1940s. Because "Holocaust" is the translation of an ancient sacrifice that is entirely consumed by fire, sensitivities counter to viewing the loss of 6 million as any kind of "sacrifice" have renamed what itself is simply beyond name. There is no adequate way to embrace the horrors of annihilation, of the Jewish people and of so many others, during those terrible Nazi years.

Beyond name though it might be, it is important to remember, not only for our own sake, but also for the world's. Living in Washington State, with a population of about 6.5 million, I imagine what would happen if the government of the United States determined that all the world's problems are due to Washingtonians, both past and present. Official announcements of this "reality" incite and tacitly condone mobs from other states as they begin to make sweeps through the major cities of Washington smashing the windows of stores, offices, houses of worship and private homes. Massive looting is encouraged in such ventures, and the Washington law enforcement agencies are co-opted by the more powerful federal and state forces, and turn against their own populace.

The rest of the country looks on, or does its best not to look on. News media is tightly controlled, and cell phone towers in affected areas of Washington State are disabled. The Internet is shut down. There are some reports that do make it out, but what can a citizen of another state do in the face of the massively repressive and dangerous powers that surround them?

Those whose backgrounds included relatives from Washington State are hunted down in order to avoid further contamination. The policy is surprisingly successful, even in the face of many voices proclaiming that it could not and cannot happen here.

This scenario is extremely unlikely, perhaps mostly because this country does not have an anti-Washingtonian belief already built into its mythos. In Germany, and in most other primarily Christian countries, an anti-Jewish prejudice has always been in place. When I read the Christian New Testament, it is difficult for me not to hate myself.

Without the built-in anti-Jewish sentiment, the Shoah could not have taken place. Unless this country builds a case against the people of Washington State, the scenario fantasized above cannot take place. But there will always be those who suspect the Jews of being evil and bringing evil into the world.

Martin Luther was famous for challenging the hegemony of the Catholic Church establishment. Along with that challenge was his belief that the reason Jews did not accept Jesus as the Christ lay in the inadequacy of previous approaches to them. Along with many others, Luther believed that the Jews, who did not respond to the Christian call, were either inadequately informed or were evil. He chose the first possibility, and began bringing Jews the Good News in his own way. When that didn't work, he concluded that they must, indeed, be evil, and urged his followers to burn Jewish homes and synagogues. The evil must be purged.

We are all grateful that this way of looking at things is not the predominant mode in our time, but Yom HaShoah, the Day of Destruction, reminds us of the radical threat that such inbuilt anti-Jewish prejudice poses.

It needs to be acknowledged in a very deep way that Jesus himself was a Jew. Christianity did not begin with Jesus, but with followers who wrote about him several generations after his death at the hands of the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem. The New Testament identifies "The Jews" as those who opposed Jesus, but fails to identify those who followed him also as "The Jews." Without Jews, there would be no Christianity: What the New Testament chronicles are arguments within the Jewish community.

In this day, when bullying is finally being taken seriously, some fascinating data comes to us from the Netherlands and via the "Bully" movie. Rather than focusing only on the bully, or on the one bullied, we now know that the real power is held by the larger group that remains silent in the face of the bullying drama. In my own experience of anti-Jewish bullying, it was the silence of my non-Jewish friends that not only hurt the most, but actually allowed the bullying to continue.

The lessons of the Shoah relating to the consequences of anti-Jewish teachings and beliefs are clear, but the lessons are bigger than that. The lessons are meant for all of us who remain silent, who do not take action, in the face of bullying behavior, whether that behavior is on the school yard, in the office, in the university, in religious institutions or in politics.

The eruption of anti-Muslim violence -- as in Norway where 66 innocents were coldly and systematically massacred, and eight more killed in a bomb blast set by the same perpetrator -- because of the fear of Islam and the dehumanization of its followers, illustrates all too painfully the consequences of the combination of hatred and the bully. The Shoah is bigger than Judaism.

Whenever we buy into the belief that there are bad people out there, and that things can only be made right by destroying them, we are on the wrong path. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn said it best:

"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

Whenever we stand idly by when pain is inflicted on another, we are condoning violence that can grow beyond our control. When we believe we can solve the problem of violence by getting rid of violent people, we must meet the tendencies toward violence awakening within us all. Bringing a whole heart to each other means taking responsibility for both peaceful as well as violent urges, and striving to embrace ourselves and each other in our essential wholeness.