Yesterday was the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, The Night of the Broken Glass. Kristallnacht was a Pogrom, orchestrated by Hitler’s Nazi government, in which Jews across Germany were beaten and arrested, many sent to concentration camps, Jewish-owned stores and synagogues were defaced or burned. Of course, violence usually doesn’t come from out of nowhere; it is often the outcome of verbal abuse and intimidation that is allowed to go without response, condemnation, or accountability. Each act that is ignored or “tolerated” leads to escalation culminating in violence.
While in Israel this week, Major General Golan (ret.) shared with us why he does not like referring Hamas’ brutal attack on Israelis as a Shoah, as a Holocaust, but rather a Pogrom. A Pogrom “is a violent riot incited with the aim of massacring or expelling an ethnic or religious group, particularly Jews.” General Golan prefers this definition because unlike 1938, we have a State of Israel and we are, therefore, not powerless to defend ourselves nor to hold those responsible accountable.
When one looks at the spike in antisemitism as Israel defends herself, though, one is hard-pressed to not see the similarities between Kristallnacht and today. Again, the rhetoric against Jews is deafening, especially on the university campus. Again Jewish-owned businesses are begin defaced and harassed. Again, we see the potential for serious violence raising its ugly head. And this frightens us. As it should.
But we are not powerless. Here in Canada our government officials have been overwhelmingly supportive and responsive to our concerns and to keeping us safe. And we exercise our rights and power through rallies, advocacy and attempts at dialogue. This Sunday we will rally for the release of the hostages held by Hamas. Every day they remain in captivity is a war crime. We will gather by the thousands to ensure that our voices are heard, and that Canada and its allies do all that it can to free them.
The road ahead appears to be long and challenging. And it is. But we as a people have been here for 40 centuries. We have done more than survive, we have thrived because we never lose hope, and we never give up working for a better tomorrow. This week’s Torah reading, Hayai Sarah, is a reminder of what hope can accomplish. Toward the end of the parashah Abraham dies and the Torah teaches us: וַיִּקְבְּר֨וּ אֹת֜וֹ יִצְחָ֤ק וְיִשְׁמָעֵאל֙ בָּנָ֔יו אֶל־מְעָרַ֖ת הַמַּכְפֵּלָ֑ה -- His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah. Isaac and Ishmael had been apart and at odds since Abraham, at Sarah’s bidding, sent Ishmael and Hagar from the camp. And here, at his death, they come together to bury their father.
Now I am not so naïve to suggest that after this war suddenly Israelis and Palestinians will come together to make peace. (Though I do hope for that.) Rather I note that 85 years since Kristallnacht, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is lit with the words Never Again. And Germany is one of Israel’s most important and trusted allies. And I note that a few years after the Yom Kippur War Israel and Egypt made peace. A peace that is still in effect and that is seeing much diplomatic activity in coordinating humanitarian aid to Gaza, working on the release of hostages and more. And I know, because they told me, that many Israelis are beginning to ask, “Who do we want to become?” on the day after the war. No one can imagine the answer at this time because they are still in the trauma of the events of October 7, but by merely asking the question they know that Israel is already a different country than it was on October 6.
God willing, the Palestinians will demand leadership that will help them to ask a similar question. If so, then maybe Israel and the Palestinians will have something to talk about and work toward, together – peace. Amen