Here in Israel we have just finished celebrating Passover. For my family, this holiday period was especially festive as we celebrated the bar mitzvah of my nephew, the son of my brother who has also chosen to live in Israel. My parents flew in from the U.S. in order to celebrate Passover, the bar mitzvah, and also to hold a ceremony for my grandmother who passed away this past year, the last of the Holocaust survivors in our family. Although she lived in America after the war, she and my grandfather chose to be buried here in Israel.
After the whirlwind of activity, it was time for my parents to fly back to New Jersey. They arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv on the morning of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. As they took their place in line to check in for their flight, they noticed that they were suddenly alone. Everyone had seemed to disappear. Noting that it was almost 10 a.m., they figured out what had happened. The minute-long siren that sounds throughout the entire country to honor and remember the victims of the Holocaust was about to ring out. My parents rushed outside to be part of the moment.
Perhaps you’ve seen the videos before, or maybe you haven’t witnessed this amazing sight yet. When the siren begins to wail on a busy weekday morning, everything and everyone comes to a full stop. Old, young, soldiers, professionals, students in school, and drivers on the highways – everyone stops, pauses, listens, and remembers. Watching traffic come to a complete standstill on the busiest highways as drivers exit their cars and stand in solidarity is particularly powerful. The siren seems to scream out the unspeakable – the atrocities that cannot be put in to words, the cries of those who were so brutally silenced – and reaches the very core of every individual.
On this Yom HaShoah, watching the video that my mother had taken at the airport that morning was most poignant for me. I watched as she filmed my father take his place among the large gathering outside the airport. Pilots, crew members, airport staff, and travelers all stood with their heads bent in silence as the siren – the very same chilling siren that is sounded in an air raid – began to pierce the clear sky. The camera panned around to the front of the airport, usually bustling with the traffic of taxis, buses, and other cars. They were all stopped as if frozen in time. No one moved and no one spoke. At the same time, millions of others were doing the exact same thing all over the country. The energy was palpable.
We are living in times when people – even good people – are already forgetting the Holocaust. Even if people know that there once was a Holocaust, ignorance regarding the astounding depth and breadth of the cruelty and destruction is all too prevalent. As I watched my mother’s video it occurred to me that only Israel will preserve the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered, gassed, and burned. Only Israel will remember my own family that was decimated. Only Israel will make sure that the world does not forget this stain on human history.
As I watched the people standing in silence, knowing that my children were doing the same in their schools, I heard a voice in my head – perhaps the echo of the voices of my grandparents – saying “these are our people and this is our country.” This is where we belong.
Later on that day I saw fighter jets flying in formation overhead. No doubt they were headed towards or from a Yom HaShoah ceremony. It was a show of strength, a display of victory; they tried to annihilate us, but we are still here and we are stronger than ever.
In the silence of Yom HaShoah, we find our strength. We remember what befell our people and renew our commitment to the long-held mantra of “Never Again.” And now I know that it is only with Israel and through Israel that this aspiration is possible.
-by Yonit Rothchild, a Fellowship writer living in Israel