I had not expected to reflect upon the Holocaust that day. My family and I were vacationing in Boston over Winter Break, following the Freedom Trail from the wharf to the South End when we stumbled across a peculiar architecture. It stood disconnected and emotionless in between the mayor’s office and a few small shops. Nevertheless, having grown up in an Israeli household with a background in Jewish education, my seventh-grade sister and I both knew exactly what the six glass pillars standing boldly in the middle of Boston represented.
Each pillar stands tall, with endless lines of numbers crawling up the sides, consuming the glass and masking the stacks of white smoke that climb up and through the tower. On the side of the walkway, an innumerable amount of rocks line the grand monument. As visitors walk through the pillar’s base, they are met with personal accounts and popular quotes from the Holocaust; put together, it gives the feeling of walking through history, with the emotion and human memory removed. Towards the end of the walkway stands a single rock, with a large metallic engraving: “Never forget”.
As my family perused through the monument –each member dedicating their own time to reflection and contemplation– I chose to stand back and take a broader view of this powerful art. People from all walks of life were here: The poor and the rich, the young and the elderly, the ignorant, and the wise. And yet, from my perspective, they all failed in a distinctly common way. In fact, in retrospect I had at that moment joined these strangers in one of humanity’s greatest modern-day failures.
Together, the strangers and I collectively forgot. We forgot that to date more than 10 million Syrians have been exiled from their country – the worst refugee crisis since World War II. We forgot that since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, more than 200,000 people have been killed by their own government. Lastly, we forgot, and continue to forget, that although these numbers are cold and distant, they represent people just like us. Only fate separates them, from the strangers that passed by me at that Boston memorial.
Frankly, I understand why people choose to forget because after all ignorance truly is bliss. I could continue to live my life today with care for only myself, and would probably still have a fulfilling and whole life. But there is an internal force, a force so strong, so loud, and so deeply rooted in who I am, that I cannot overlook. A voice inside me that continually reminds me of my Jewish roots, and more importantly my Jewish obligations.
Over 3000 years ago, Moses received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, which was to be used as a baseline for morality through the lens of Judaism. While many parts of my religion are up to debate, there are rules which have steadfastly stood strong for centuries. In Leviticus 19:16 we are told that “You are not to stand by the blood of your neighbor”. And while I have physically failed to live by that commandment, my home, the home of the Jewish people, has not.
Israel has been keeping a close eye on its neighbor and has provided thousands of people with emergency medical aid since the outbreak of the civil war. This is incredible given the fact that the two countries are sworn enemies, and that the Syrian army invaded Israel during Israel’s independence (1948), the Six Day War (1967), and most recently the Yom Kippur war (1973). As described by Dr. Noam Fink, the chief medical officer of the Israeli Defense Force’s northern command: “We faced a dilemma; the decision was made by our commanders and our government to allow them to enter the country and to give them full medical treatment”. Since 2013 when Operation Good neighbor began, “Israel has treated about 4000 war-wounded or sick Syrians”, through a network of field hospitals set up on the Israeli-Syrian border. Additionally, the IDF has transferred approximately “450,000 liters of fuel…for heating, operating water wells, and ovens in bakeries”, and more than 225 tons of food across the border. As put in simple terms on the IDF’s website, their chief concern is a moral one: “Firstly, we have a moral imperative. We can’t stand by watching a severe humanitarian crisis without helping the innocent people stuck in the middle of the conflict.” I personally find this human connection beautiful, and the homage to our Jewish obligation through the naming of the operation to be inspiring.
However, this incredible humanitarian work done by Jews in the Middle East extends beyond just the efforts of the IDF. Non-Governmental Organizations such as IsraAID have been providing on-the-ground aid since the start. Today, they have special teams in Jordan, Greece, and Germany, to provide humanitarian relief for the displaced, the sick, and the forgotten. In Jordan alone, IsraAID has managed to help over 7,000 displaced people with over 10 tons of aid distributed. Furthermore, numerous individuals from across Israel, have gathered in unity to show and organize sympathy for their wounded neighbors.
It’s uplifting to me that a country which is under constant threat of annihilation has the capacity and the heart to support its enemies. It is efforts like these that remind me why I love the state of Israel, and why above all else, it remains a shining beacon of hope in a troubled region of the world. If we all acted like Israel, the world would surely be a better place.
So, here’s a reminder to myself and my readers –Jewish and non-Jewish, rich and poor, young and elderly, ignorant and wise—humanity depends on us. Let us look up to Israel’s work as an example, and extend a helping hand. May we always remember. May we never forget.
Contributed by CAMERA Fellow and Mustangs United For Israel member Roee Landesman