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Why We Remember the Holocaust

This past Wednesday was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day for Jewish people around the world. I used to think the Holocaust finally put an end to the hatred of the Jewish people. Not so. Antisemitism lives! In fact, the hatred of the Jewish people is growing. Two common themes of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, are “never forget” and “never again.” But unfortunately, our society has a great deal of forgetfulness about the Holocaust. Just two years ago, a survey of Americans under 40 found a distressing lack of knowledge of the Holocaust. 63% did not know that Nazi Germany killed 6 million Jewish people. More than half thought the number was around 2 million. And 10% had never heard the term “Holocaust.”

All this forgetfulness is leading many to think that the unthinkable is possible yet again. This is particularly so because of the resurgence of Antisemitism around the world. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2021, just here in the United States, there was a record high number of Antisemitic incidents. The 2,717 acts of hate towards Jewish people represented a 34% rise in such incidents in America from the previous year (https://www.adl.org/news/press-releases/adl-audit-finds-antisemitic-incidents-in-united-states-reached-all-time-high-in). And it’s not getting better in 2022. At the beginning of April it was reported that the New York Metropolitan area, the largest Jewish community in America, has seen a dramatic rise in violent attacks on Jewish people. In the first three months of 2022, there were over 80 Antisemitic assaults of Jewish people there, representing a 300% rise from the previous year (https://www.timesofisrael.com/shocked-at-the-viciousness-six-assailants-beat-jewish-man-on-new-york-city-street/).

These facts may seem as if they merely represent cold statistics but they’re intensely personal to me. My parents survived the Holocaust. In fact, next week, on May 8, it is the 77th anniversary of their liberation from the Gross Rosen Concentration Camp Complex. Both of them were at the point of death but they survived. Their families for the most part did not. My dad lost his parents, grandparents, siblings, his wife and 5 children to the Nazi death camps. My mom’s parents, grandparents, and her only sibling perished in Auschwitz. Even here in the United States, as a child, my brother was blinded in his left eye, when an Antisemitic group of kids threw rocks at him. To me, hatred of the Jewish people isn’t just the stuff of statistics and surveys but of painful experience and anxious expectation.

And what does the Bible say about Antisemitism? Psalm 83 reveals three truths about hatred of the Jewish people. First, according to Psalm 83:2-3a, the hatred of the God of Israel is the true source of Antisemitism. The psalmist says, “See how Your enemies make an uproar; those who hate You have acted arrogantly. They devise schemes against your people.” People hate the God who chose Israel (Deut 7:7-8) and called the Jewish people His “firstborn” (Exod 4:22), so they conspire against them. They resent that God chose to give gifts and call a particular people to represent Him and to accomplish His purposes in the world (Exodus 19:5-6; Rom 9:4-5). Moreover, they are embittered that God has promised to love the Jewish people always (Jer 31:3) and protect them forever (Jer 31:35-37).

Second, Psalm 83 reveals that genocidal Antisemitism is an attempt to hurt the God who loves the Jewish people. Psalm 83:3b-5 states “They conspire against Your treasured ones, They say, ‘Come, let us wipe them out as a nation so that Israel’s name will no longer be remembered.’ For they have conspired with one mind; they form an alliance against you.” The word that describes the Jewish people as “treasured ones” is literally “hidden ones.” It refers to something that is so precious that it’s hidden away to keep it safe. Every attempt to destroy the Jewish people, from Pharoah, to Haman, to Hitler, to Hamas, is in reality an attempt to attack the Lord by hurting His loved ones. But they will ultimately fail because of God’s protection.

Finally, the psalm declares that God will judge those who hate the Jewish people. This is seen in the prayer in the last stanza: “Make them like tumbleweed, My God, like straw before the wind. As fire burns a forest, as a flame blazes through mountains, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm . . . Let them perish in disgrace. May they know that You alone—whose name is the Lord—are the Most High over all the earth” (Psa 83:13-18). This prayer calls for God to bring judgment on those who hate His people. Judgment is not a particularly popular topic today but the Psalm reminds us that in biblical thought, we will one day stand before a righteous judge. An aspect of that judgment will be atttitudes and actions towards God’s beloved Jewish people.

We just finished celebrating Passover. There is a great reminder about Antisemitism in the Passover Haggadah, the book that contains the family celebration of the festival. It says, “For more than once have they risen against us to destroy us; in every generation they rise against us and seek our destruction. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, always delivers us from their hands.” That’s the promise God has made about Antisemitism. He will always arise to the aid of His Jewish people. But God always uses people to achieve His ends, so the question arises, who will God use to deliver His people? Will it be you?

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