I was 18 years old the first, and last, time I visited Auschwitz. I was on a tour designed for Jewish teens to learn firsthand about the Holocaust. We travelled to Poland, where we visited death camps, concentrations camps, monuments, and cemeteries. We bore witness to the millions of shoes, suitcases, glasses, strands of hair, and prosthetic limbs that were taken from Jews as they arrived at Auschwitz without a clue that they were about to be gassed to death. We saw the fingernail marks on the gas chamber walls made by people gasping their last breaths and grasping for life.
My roommate and I reacted very differently. She cried herself to sleep at night in bed, while I was wide awake fuming. She was deeply saddened; I was profoundly angered. How could such injustice be allowed to happen? Why was there no one to save these innocent lives? How could the world stand by silently as 6 million Jews, of which 1.5 million were children, were brutally murdered? How could God let it happen?
I stopped there, at the question we can never answer. There was only one thing that consoled me and gave me a way to channel my anger into something constructive: Israel. Israel gave the voiceless a voice, the defenseless a source of protection, and the Jewish people a home in which to flourish – a sure victory over those who sought to utterly destroy us.
Fast forward decades later. My family and I now live in Israel, having made aliyah nearly a decade ago. This year, like every year, the siren rang out to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, just a week after Passover. But this year, as those sirens sounded and the country stood for a moment of silence remembering the victims of the Holocaust, other sirens rang out in Israeli communities near the Gaza border, sending families and elderly running for shelter.
As tensions rise to unprecedented levels with Syria, and by extension with Iran, and Hamas stages a so-called “peaceful” protest on the border of Israel and Gaza (which is anything but peaceful), I have to wonder: Why are we Jews still running from terror? Why are we still under the threat of utter annihilation? Has anything really changed since the 1940s? Have we truly been successful if we still can’t live safely in our homeland?
Every year I light a memorial candle for my family members who were killed in the Holocaust as well as for the six million Jews who perished. The candle represents those who lost their lives, and as the flame flickers I remember those precious souls. I feel as though I am a source of comfort to them, letting them know that they are not forgotten, that our family survived, and that my family in particular lives in Israel – something they could only dream of.
But this year was different. I felt that it was the candle that comforted me. As I worry about the conflicts on our borders and the chilling danger that faces Israel today, the candle, those souls, said something to me. Just four words: “Netzach yisrael lo yishaker,” “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie” (I Samuel 15:29). Or the alternative reading of the verse, which is, “The eternity of Israel is not a lie.”
We survived the Holocaust. We survived 2,000 years of persecution and exile. We survived the tumultuous birth of Israel. We will continue to live now too. Israel isn’t going anywhere, as we are protected by the God who neither sleeps nor slumbers.
God does not lie. He promised to bring the Jews back to Israel, and He has. He promised that the Land would thrive, and it does. He promised that one day we will live in peace and that His glory will be known to all. And it will.