In our people’s long history, there have been many times when they tried to kill us, but we survived. We remember and we celebrate, even as we mourn for those who did not survive. We mourn for those who died Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying God’s name, killed for no reason but that they were Jews. We remember too the heroes, the survivors, those who enabled our people to reach this day along with so many miracles that happened along the way.
Sometimes, the sea split for us. Sometimes, it was something more commonplace, but miraculous none-the-less.
The terrorist in Poway had 50 bullets left in his gun, when it jammed and allowed time for heroes to intercede. Standing at the entrance to a synagogue full of people. 50 bullets.
Recently, there were two school related shootings, one in North Carolina and another in Colorado in which heroes who lost their lives tackled the shooters and helped prevent further loss of life. They shouldn’t have had to make those decisions. They shouldn’t have had to act. There shouldn’t be such evil in the world. Yet thank God for them and people like them who respond when it matters. Let us not remember the names of the evil ones, but may we remember the individuals who took action on behalf of good.
When mobs have demanded that we believe what they do and act like they want us to act or else they will make us suffer, we’ve chosen to endure and suffer. We are the people who know that if we are the only person on our side of an issue and the entirety of the world is arrayed against us on the other side, angered and upset at us, that we may be the only person who is right and everyone else in the world may be wrong. It isn’t surprising that often Israel and the United States stand alone and sometime only Israel by itself stands against the rest of the nations of the world together. Sometimes, we may be the lone ones who are willing to act.
In the face of tyrants ready to murder us unless we complied, we’ve said ‘Shema Yisrael… We shivered together in overcrowded barracks in concentration camps and tasted bits of homemade matzah made from scraps that we could scrounge from rations. We made demands of Pharaoh and we even put God on trial.
HaShem called us “stiff-necked.” It was meant as an insult. In ancient times, perhaps we may have agreed. Truthfully, today, after millennia of persecution, we take pride in it. We stubbornly go on. Like Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, the rabbi of the Chabad synagogue in Poway, we’ve finished saying prayers and offered sermons with our hands half blown off and still bleeding.
“I continued it [the sermon] outside,” Rabbi Goldstein said, “as we were sheltering and waiting in place for authorities to arrive, I got up there and I just spoke from the heart and just giving everyone the courage to know… it was just 70 years ago during the Holocaust we were gunned down like this. And I just want to let my fellow Americans know, we’re not going to let that happen here. Not here in San Diego, not here in Poway, not here in the United States of America.”
This past month, we marked Yom HaShoah, the day on which we remember and mourn. We do not do so with pledges of retaliation and vengeance, nor with anger and hatred. We remember to remind ourselves that it is our duty to never let it happen again, to never again allow that kind of hatred that could result in the slaughter of innocents to occur. This year, we not only mark the day amid a time of rising Antisemitism around the world, but at a time when the world has mourned several times in recent weeks alone, the effects of irrational hatred.
It reminds us, as we look back into the darkness of the past and out into the darkness of the world around us, that our mission as a people has long been, “To be a light unto the nations,” a beacon in the darkness. And as Hillel said, “At a time when there is no humanity around you, be a human being.” That is our challenge.
Let us once again recommit ourselves to be lights of caring and love amid the darkness of indifference and hatred.
Am Yisrael Chai.
Rabbi David Kaufman