6 Million Things We Should Learn From The Holocaust

Okay, fine, I cut it down to six. Six million, as far as I’m concerned, is a kind of countable infinity, because it would take more time and energy than I would ever have in order to make a list that long. But each one of the concepts listed below can be implemented in our lives in a million different ways, so in a way, the six million is present.

  1. All people are equal. (and none are “more equal” than others). One of the questions that is most often asked about the holocaust is “Why did this happen?” It happened because of hatred. It happened because of the failure of some people to recognize different people as equal. Untermensch means sub-human, and this was the Nazis’ term for the Jews, Blacks, Gays, and whoever else was victimized by them. It’s not okay to see people as less than human. It’s not okay to treat them as such. Because all people are equal.

  2. Never underestimate peer pressure. The second most popular question is “How did this happen?” There is an amazing book (which was made into a movie) called The Wave, which discusses an experiment performed in a high school to teach students how people were swept up by the Nazis. It makes a profound statement about the power of peer pressure, and how difficult it is to resist when everyone around you is doing something, even if you think it’s wrong. We need to recognize that peer pressure can affect us, even subconsciously. Only when we appreciate its strength do we have a chance of standing up to it.

  3. What goes around comes around is not always true. We have to realize that the idea that if you are good, then good things will happen to you, is a myth. Nobody deserved what happened in the holocaust. It didn’t happen because of something we did wrong, and that idea can only lead to frustration or fallacious conclusions.

  4. Antisemitism is still alive. We can not ignore when a Jewish market is burned to the ground. We can not ignore when Jewish Synagogues are violated and graffittied all around the world. It’s easy, especially in Israel and in the United States, to live in a bubble and believe that Antisemitism is not politically correct anymore, and that the Jews are accepted and successful. We were in Germany too, before World War II. We were in Spain before the expulsion. The story goes that we were in Egypt as well, before we were made slaves. It’s not gone from the world, and we can not pretend that it is.

  5. Murder is bad. In her fantastic series, Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling makes this point masterfully. Every human life is connected to an entire world. Each one of us has a history, a family, a group of friends, a plethora of times and places and people we have touched in our lives. Cutting the life of a human being short, no matter who they are, is a terrible thing. In the age of crime shows and murder mysteries there is sometimes a sense that murder is mainstream, happening all the time and all over the world. While that may be true, we can never forget that each and every murder victim is an entire world, an entire life.

  6. Never let it happen again. What does this really mean? In some way it’s easy to stand for the siren and promise you’ll never put someone in a gas chamber. But there are ways in which individuals can help to make this promise as well. Besides the gas chambers and the massacre, what were the things that went on in the holocaust? It started with basic, everyday human interactions, such as discrimination, vandalism, boycotting, using hurtful language, publicly humiliating someone because of their race or nationality. These are things we can all work to oppose in our society and in the circles we are a part of. By being kind to everyone, accepting of those who are different from us, by seeing all humans as human, by valuing every human life, we can promise to never let it happen again.

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Why I’m So Vocal About LGBT Equality

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the cafeteria with a friend from university who accused me of posting on Facebook only about calculus. “That’s not true!” I protested, “There are plenty of posts about same-sex marriage!” “Oh,” he said, “I didn’t know you were – like that.” “Like what?” I asked, and he just giggled and couldn’t answer me. I’m not gay. I guess that’s why it’s confusing that every other post is somehow related to the topic.

I’m not gay. I’m bi. (That’s the B in LGBT.) Which means I also date guys, so it’s easy to just assume that I’m straight. This is a phenomenon we refer to as bisexual erasure.

Recently people have been asking me why I post so often about LGBTQ rights. Each time I struggle with finding an appropriate answer, so I hope this blog post will do it justice.

My knee-jerk reaction is to just say, some of my best friends are gay. It’s true. And I see what they go through, I hear their cry, and that’s what drives me to write. The suffering my friends endure at the hands of their own community is unimaginable.

I’m going to be cliché and tie it down to the upcoming holiday. On Passover (which starts Monday night) we are supposed to acknowledge that we were once slaves and show gratitude for our freedom. The Jews have a long history of being tortured and enslaved. We know what it’s like to have to hide our identity, to practice in secret, to be forced to convert. We dip parsley in salt water as a symbol of the tears we shed under these circumstances. And since the tradition is all about asking questions, here’s mine: Why do we do this to people? Why are gay and lesbians in the orthodox community forced to hide their identity, or try to “convert?”

Even though I wear jeans, it’s obvious that I grew up in a religious community. So often I’ve encountered accusations like, “Why do you block the roads on Saturday?” (although obviously I have never done any such thing). We can’t avoid being judged, but I don’t want people to think that I’m hateful and homophobic just because I grew up religious. As Jews (and as human beings), it is our responsibility to make justice where we see injustice. Forcing someone to try to change their sexual orientation, to marry a person they are not attracted to, or isolate them from the community because of who they are is doing them an injustice. The holiday of passover is about opening our doors to those who are hungry and including those who are left out. It’s about giving freedom to those who are in slavery, because we once were slaves and we remember what it was like. What better place to start than with our own friends and family? We are supposed to view ourselves each as a slave who was set free. So let’s take action and give that freedom to our gay and lesbian friends.

!לשנה הבאה בני חורין