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The Shame of Inaction

This April 25 we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date chosen for this observance is 27 Nissan in the Jewish calendar, associated with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 in which 13,000 Jews perished in resisting Nazi extermination.

Of all the unspeakable and senseless tragedies that took place during this darkest hour of human history, why was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising singled out as the date on which to commemorate Yom ha-Shoah? The reason is that in its earliest years, Israel sought to deemphasize the victimization of Jews, of those who went “helplessly like sheep to the slaughter,” and instead wished to celebrate the courage of those who resisted valiantly even when hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned.


Strange to say, but Ben Gurion and other leaders of the new Jewish state were ashamed at the “weakness” of those who went quietly to meet their fate; as Israel began its life surrounded by hostile neighbors, strength and heroism were the watchwords of the moment, and so the Holocaust commemoration came to be associated with the uprising.

With the perspective of history, it is easy to see that there was no shame at all in meeting with quiet dignity the inevitable fate that awaited millions of Jews and other victims of Nazi atrocities, nor the slightest shame in scrambling to survive at any costs in the darkest of circumstances that one group of people could inflict on another. The shame does not lie with the victims; the shame lies with those who stood by and watched and let it happen.


Today, another genocide is unfolding before our eyes, in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Since 2003, the Janjaweed militia has systematically murdered 400,000 men women and children and driven another two million into refugee camps where they cannot be protected by the vastly insufficient number of African Union troops in place on the ground. Ninety percent of African villages in the Darfur region have been destroyed in this racially motivated abomination perpetrated with the complicity of the Arab-based government in Khartoum.

This Yom HaShoah, we have the opportunity and responsibility to stand up to genocide, to show that strength comes in standing with the victims, to casting aside the shame of inaction. We can begin by visiting the American Jewish World Service website to send a message to President Bush urging American involvement in this deepening crisis, and then join the rally planned for April 30 in Washington D.C. to end genocide in Darfur. We can call our representatives in Congress to express our concern, send donations to either of the organizations mentioned above, and write letters to local papers, and add our prayers on behalf of those who suffering. And we can commit ourselves to saying “Never Again” will the world know the shame of standing by while its children bleed.

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posted April 21, 2006 at 5:09 pm

Why do you and others continually reference the Holocaust as the darkest period in history? As I have studied, the first holocaust was not that of the Jews. The very first holocaust which no one wants to recognize was inflicted upon Africans and African Americans. The burnings, lynchings, enslavement, degradation, and free labor were the absolute worst historical events that I have ever read. Even today, AA are unjustly considered second class citizens when this ation was built on their backs. Indeed the Jewish holocaust was horrific but no more than the colonization, brutalization, and enslavement of African Americans. When you are telling the story, please portray it accurately.

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posted April 21, 2006 at 10:16 pm

I don’t understand why people, Jews, African Americans etc, have to make suffering into a competition. It just so misses the point of rememberance. I think that if we could all just look at eachother as HUMAN BEINGS, we could actually start to understand and genuinely feel empathy for one another. I think that it we should all be ashamed about what we, and more importantly our government, has ALLOWED to happen to other human beings in Darfur. I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and we always question how it could have happened, and say the words “never again”, do we mean “never again” only for us? I hope not.

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posted April 22, 2006 at 2:54 am

I have to disagree with Rasil; while blacks have suffered in America and elsewhere, under slavery and then racial prejudice, it is vastly different from the Holocaust in scale. Think about it: can you pick out any twelve-year period where that many blacks were systematically murdered by white people? (And incidentally, the Rabbi here is speaking out in support of suffering black people—why are you complaining?) Lauren is right; all suffering is wrong, and I’m glad to see that many Jews are taking this opportunity to try to turn “Never Again” into a reality for all. God bless!

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posted April 23, 2006 at 4:15 pm

Why is that all groups who have suffered major tragedies as a whole try to impose its rememberance and suffering upon others? And whereas (pardon any terms that I may use that may not be politically correct, these are the words I was raised with) Jews, blacks, East Asians, Muslims, et cetera are all still trying to fight for equality, many will not help the homosexual and bisexual movement now sweeping across the Unites States. Talk about being two-faced. And what pisses me as much – if not more – is the lack of recognition for others who suffered due to the Holocaust: even blacks, the Roma (aka the gypsies or the zingari), disabled and mentally ill, Slavics, and other people of decended of non-Germanic peoples. Whereas none of them had a total equal to that of the Jews, their combined totals do. (Based on what I was taught in hs: 6 million Jews killed, about 12 million total peoples killed. At least I am told.) And not to piss off others … I don’t believe the internationally recognised figures. I think maybe 3-6 million people TOTAL died as direct or indirect consequence of the gas chambers, but perhaps many more died because of firearms, lack of basic sanitation and the packed traveling, disease, starvation, overworking, extreme fatigue, etc. Someone has to post this for those of us who don’t believe in the figures.

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posted April 23, 2006 at 4:58 pm

I for one am proud of the Jewish community’s response to the genocide in Darfur. As a Darfurian refugee told me, being a victim can either sensitize you or make you indifferent to another’s suffering, Most of us in the Jewish community have chosen the former path. The latter path not only diminishes the humanity of others but ouselves as well. Sadly, much of the Muslim world seems to more disturbed by offensive cartoons than by the slaughter of Muslims in Darfur and Iraq.

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posted April 24, 2006 at 4:01 pm

As someone mentioned in the string of comments, suffering should not be competitive. It is not about Jews or Africans. It is about HUMAN suffering and I commend the Jews for encouraging our govt. to take notice of Darfur, unlike Rwanda where the world watched and did nothing. We are all God’s children and those in power should help those who are powerless. Many claim that Africans deserve what they get because of the corrupt govts. This view is totally twisted and although partially true. Many Africans are VERY hard-working, even with the little thay have. Powerful nations can begin by not exploiting war torn African countries and instead support them by working together with them. Perhaps that can go far by ensuring a curbing of hatred between people because of their skin colour or differing points of view and what enthic language one speaks….. Oh God help us all! Jer

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posted April 24, 2006 at 10:56 pm

humans have suffered at the hands of other humans since time began and there are many actions that were never recorded I am sure. But even women have suffered and still do in many countries at the hands of ignorance. We can all try to stop it and there is no problem with one group zeroing in on one cause. With our experience it moves us towards setting right those things we have experienced in the right direction. Good for you “not again” for your going forward and anyone who does not support you and go as far to make rude comments against you will probably some day face the same problem and have their minds changed.

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posted April 24, 2006 at 11:56 pm

Why is color even mentioned. god help us all.

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Ian S

posted April 30, 2006 at 6:47 pm

It is clear that Darfur is a far bigger issue than we have recognized hitherto. It is imperative that my country, Canada, get ‘on board’ and make a fuss. People of all faiths or no faith at all must be heard. This is not a competition. The Shoah was the evil culmination of two millenia of persecution towards our people; when one person suffers, all people suffer. We are obligated to love one another, as this week’s sedra points out. Love isn’t passive, it’s active. Tikkun Olam is an obligation on Christians and Muslims as well as Jews, and I know all three faiths are strong in this regard. More than prayer is needed: we must stand up and be counted. Finding peace is not a passive act, but requires strength and courage. After Armenia, we said: “never again!” After the Shoah, Bosnia, Rwanda, we said, “Never again!” Words alone cannot stop hatred and murder. Canada should lead by example, as our Constitution says,”Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”. b’shalom, Ian

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