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We Must Take Sides

April 16, 2015

Dear Friend of Israel,

Seventy years after Russian and American troops stormed the Nazi concentration camps, liberating the emaciated prisoners and bringing an end to one of the darkest periods of human history, you would hope for a changed world. You would hope that the murder of six million Jews (and an additional four million others) would spur humanity to finally bring an end to what one writer called the “longest and deepest hatred of human history” – anti-Semitism.

But just three months ago a deadly attack on a Jewish supermarket in France, on the heels of the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, reminded us all that this hatred is alive and well. During a sermon last year, a Danish imam in Berlin encouraged those listening to “destroy the Zionist Jews,” urging them “Don’t spare a single one of them. Make them suffer terribly.” The situation across Europe has gotten so bad that journalist Jeffrey Goldberg recently questioned in the pages of The Atlantic magazine, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?”

But the problem certainly isn’t confined to Europe. This past February a student group at the Durban University of Technology in South Africa called on all Jews to leave the school. And the National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students recently reported that 54 percent of Jewish students experienced anti-Semitism on campus during the first six months of the 2013-2014 academic year.

These and countless other incidents of anti-Semitism are especially troubling as we pause today to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day we honor those who were murdered during that horrible chapter in history and give thanks for those who fought back against Nazi evil. And it’s also an appropriate time to remind ourselves that, though we often like to think we live in a more civilized time, the animating force behind the Holocaust – hateful anti-Semitism – is as alive and well as it ever has been.

In his 1986 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said that after experiencing the unimaginable suffering of the Nazi death camps, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

We must remember Wiesel’s words and challenge evil and injustice wherever it occurs. In doing so, we not only defend the principles of freedom and democracy; we also obey God’s Word as recorded in the book of Isaiah: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”(Isaiah 58:6).

On Yom HaShoah, as we honor the memory of the six million, let us pray for that day when the chains of hatred injustice are loosened, and the oppressed are freed. And let us also pray for the day when God will bless His entire world with his most precious gift – the gift of shalom, peace.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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