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Could You Ignore a Holocaust?
Chief Editor's Blog

Could You Ignore a Holocaust?

Without this quality, it's likely you would. With it, we can remain united.


The Frankel, Shaer and Yifrach families are about to get up from sitting shiva, and many of us are wondering: now what? After all the prayers, Torah learning, and extra mitzvot, after experiencing such anguish that unified our people, where do we go from here? How do we ensure that this unity doesn't evaporate?

I think there is one foundation upon which our unity rests that is simple but profound, and also rather difficult to do: feel someone else's pain.

We are naturally selfish beings; we live in our own bubble, consumed by our own needs and desires. The kidnapping and tragic murders of Gilad, Naftali and Eyal pierced our individual bubble and woke us up to the very real pain that someone other than ourselves is experiencing. Their searing agony forced us to get out of ourselves and compelled us to act. No one had to tell us that we should do whatever we can. There was a spontaneous, natural outpouring of prayer, concern and dedication of good deeds in their merit because we felt their pain and were motivated to act.

Unfortunately sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake us up to someone else's suffering.

1941: What Would You Do?

Imagine it's 1941 and you are studying in a university in North America, and find out that thousands of Jews are being herded onto trains and headed towards a concentration camp. I have presented this scenario to over a thousand students and asked them: How many of you would drop everything you're doing and try to save some Jewish lives?

Invariably a smattering of students raises their hands. The vast majority would do nothing.

Then I change the scenario slightly: Imagine it's 1941 and you are from a small town in Eastern Europe. Your parents have sent you to North America to attend university, and you discover that your entire hometown – your parents, grandparents, siblings, neighbors – they are all being herded onto a train heading towards a concentration camp. How many of you would drop everything you're doing and try to save their lives?

Invariably every single person raises his hand.

Does it make any difference if the woman sitting on that train is your mother or your friend's mother?

What's the difference? Objectively speaking, does it make any difference if the woman sitting on that train is your mother or your friend's mother? Jewish people are heading towards a concentration camp! The reality is exactly the same in both scenarios.

The only difference is that when it is your family on the train, now you feel the pain. Only now do you see the reality of the situation which compels you to do whatever you can. How many of us would be able to sleep at night?

The ramifications of this are sobering. If we don't put in the effort to get out of our bubble and feel the pain of others, the fact is that the majority of people are willing to turn their heads away from a holocaust and not do anything to help. They will continue to live with their heads in the ground.

It is not because we don't care. We do care. When we feel the tragedy we are motivated to act and live up to our responsibilities. But when we are disconnected from each other, stuck in our own universe, we are inured to someone else's pain.

The past few weeks we broke out of our self-contained world and we felt the pain of a Jewish parent not knowing if and when her son is coming home; we felt the horrific anguish of parents whose son is murdered by barbarians. We felt as if it was our family. We got out of ourselves and connected with families we did not know, who are just as real as we are.

How to Retain the Unity

Feeling someone's pain is the foundation of the mitzvah to "love your neighbor as yourself." Treat someone as you would treat yourself, because he or she is just as real as you. When we connect to this reality we naturally spring into action.

Unity happens when we break down our shell and truly connect to the other. We enter someone else's world and out of genuine care, respond to his pressing need. We don't need to be told what to do; no one has to give us a laundry list of action items to build unity. It's organic. When we step out of ourselves and realize the aching needs of those around us, we reach out and give, bridging the distance that separates us. That other-centeredness, that love, builds family, community, our nation and the world.

It doesn't come naturally. It takes concerted effort to break down our walls and feel the reality of another person's universe. For the merit of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, we can work on retaining the unity by putting our focus on unity's primary catalyst: feeling another person's pain. Start in your home – your spouse, your kids, your community – and you will know exactly what action needs to be taken, and be motivated to reach out with love. Everything stems from that recognition. Without it, we can ignore a holocaust.

United in Grief: A compendium of articles and reflections

July 5, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 26

(12) Anonymous, July 8, 2014 3:05 AM

aching for the families

I am Christian but I still ache for the loss of each boy jewish or arab. I pray for all of us. G-d loves us all but as jewish people He chose you as His chosen ones. I am commanded to love you and cherish you and to pray for you. May we all continue to love ,cherish ,and pray for each other. This is the only way to make any of these deaths take any meaning besides senseless murder.

(11) Jody , July 7, 2014 7:03 AM

My heart is breaking, I cry everyday. When I heard the horrible news I ran out of my house and keeled over. Screaming, crying NO NO NO! Our sons, I cry for the families, I cry for the Jewish people.

I'm writing to say ThANK YOU to for being such an incredible source of strength and support to the Jewish community. The articles, video, etc are helping each and every one of us who looks to you for wisdom and support.

We will get through this, we always do. But we need each other more than ever.

(10) Yehuda, July 7, 2014 1:35 AM

The galut the guilt

The percentage is so so minuscule of jewish teror wake up people we are dealing not with muslims we are dealing with a special savage amalek the group of people called palestinians for the most parthave one goal Destroy Israel not to better themselves the sooner we all realize that the better the Idiots that killed that arab boy only hurt our cause and thats because maybe the leadership is not clear enough on how to solve thus problem

(9) Beverly Margolis-Kurtin, July 6, 2014 10:58 PM

Murder is Murder is Murder

Regardless of who the children were, the heinous murders deserve all that the justice systems can mete out.
I prayed that no Jew could commit the terrible crime against an innocent Palestinian youngster, I'm deeply ashamed that one of us could have committed that murder.
The American teenager who was beaten by the IDF was NOT an innocent bystander--he was involved in attempting to injure Israeli troops. Throwing stones is not a harmless endeavor, not is throwing fire bombs. The kid was involved, but who can blame him when it was his cousin who was burned to death?
Two wrongs do not make a right. As often as that has been said, emotions on both sides are legitimate; murder is not something that can be forgiven.
In 1941, I was six months old. I was four when the war ended. I do recall CLEARLY seeing some of the first newsreels that showed the results of the Holocaust. I do not recall when I saw that horror, I do recall throwing up until I had nothing left. I'm glad I saw that news when I did, it cemented me to our people like nothing else could.
The atrocities that were committed by both Arab and Jew have hurt me like nothing else could. Yes, I mourn all four children who were senselessly murdered.
This is the first time in my life that I am ashamed to be a Jew, I had hoped that we were above joining the Nazis. My BUBBLE has been burst.

(8) Anonymous, July 6, 2014 9:55 PM

The Holocaust is only Part of our History

Dear Aish:
I read with interest Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith's article. Please allow me to partly disagree with some statements. Rabbi Coopersmith starts with the premise that remembering the Holocaust is essential for Jewish unity. This is only partly true. Jews should always remember the Holocaust but not depend on its remembrance for unity, any more than remembering the Spanish Inquisition has kept Jewish unity. Rabbi Coopersmith tries to place guilt into our minds by saying that "the majority of people are willing to turn their heads away from a holocaust and not do anything to help". I find that statement incorrect. Jews are the most generous people in the world. We care for others and believe in Tikun Olam. We hurt when others hurt, Jews and non-Jews alike. My point is simple: We should always remember the past but look towards the future. We can not continue living in the past and using guilt to make a point. I am not guilty of not caring about the Holocaust any more than I am guilty of not caring about the Spanish Inquisition. But I look at the future in which my children and grandchildren will live and prepare them for it. I look at the future of Israel and want it to live in peace. The unity of the Jewish people needs the future, not the past.

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