Remembering the Holocaust: A D'var Israel from Alona
Beth Tzedec
Apr 24th 2020

This Holocaust Remembrance Day was different.

It didn’t feel the same without the ceremonies, without seeing everyone in the street wearing white, without the feeling you get walking in the street, feeling like time is frozen.

For me, it was different for another reason, it was the first Holocaust Remembrance Day in 10 years that I didn’t get to visit my grandfather, Avraham.

My grandfather and I are very close. 

Since I was little I loved going to my grandparents house and visited very often. 

When I was in the seventh grade, I started writing the “roots” project each kid in Israel needs to write about their family. 

My father lived in the US that year and my grandmother was in poor health, so my grandfather was the main person who helped me with this year-long project.

Through this project we bonded and I learned a lot about his life before and after the war, and learned to appreciate him for all that he has been through.

I learned that he wasn't able to get an education—he didn’t attend school for a day in his life—and it made me understand why he was so enthusiastic about my achievements in school. He wanted for me the future he couldn’t get for himself, but managed to get for his kids, by taking three jobs in order to allow my father proper education.

But he refused to tell me about what happened to him during the Holocaust. 

“You’re too young for this,” he said.

For years I kept asking him about his story, afraid that I might never hear it. When I was in the ninth grade, he finally decided to tell me his story on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I recorded him telling the story, wrote it down and you can read it here, or watch the video here to hear it yourself. Hearing his story made me appreciate him even more, especially his smiling and loving nature, that I didn’t take for granted anymore. 

As I grew older, I learned to see the other sides of my grandfather that I didn’t see as a child, like when we discussed the question of the existence of God.

The day we had this discussion, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I had a very interesting workshop in my school about “where was God in the Holocaust”, which was led by one of the rabbis of my Reform school.

She brought up many interesting theories that stayed with me until this very day:

·  that the right of free choice was given to humans by God, and God doesn’t interfere with what we choose to do with it;

·  that the Holocaust was some kind of punishment for trying to fit in to general society;

·  and the “surgeon theory”- when you walk into an operation room you see something that looks like murder if you aren’t aware if what surgery is. So maybe the Holocaust was something we can’t understand because we don’t know enough about God’s intentions.

My grandfather’s response to those theories was laughing. He said “God wasn’t in the Holocaust, because God doesn’t exist.”

I was surprised to hear that, because I knew that my grandfather was raised Orthodox.

At that moment, I learned that the Holocaust made my grandfather lose faith and become cynical. I realized he hadn’t only lost faith in God, he also lost faith in people. He learned that he is the only one that can and will take care of himself and his family.

The Holocaust can have this effect on people, in can make them lose faith in everything.It can even cause resentment towards humanity, countries like Germany and Poland and countries like the United States, which were aware of the Holocaust and didn’t act as soon as they could have.

On the contrary, there are people who went through the same horror, and they choose to have faith- in God, in humanity, in kindness and in these countries that once let our people down.

And I ask, does faith after such tragic events indicate submissiveness and even hypocrisy, or does it show greatness and mental strength to forgive and believe in your own way, even when you face great challenges?

I know that I don’t want to live my life without faith. 

I know that I don’t want to live my life without trusting the good will of other people.

And unexpectedly, davka, on this day I choose to see the good in people—all the help and support Holocaust survivors receive, the stories of the righteous among the nations, the fact I have this amazing grandfather who might not have been here if events had turned out a little differently.

As I said, this Holocaust Remembrance Day was different.

We all went through it while facing a crisis of our own.

And I think there is a reason we experience this day now—to teach us to take things in proportion, to remind us to appreciate what we have and to remind us the importance of havingfaith.

Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.

Alona Laufer, shinshin