Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Yom HaShoah, a solemn day of remembrance to honor all the victims of the Holocaust, was observed a few days ago in Israel. At 10:00 a.m. sirens sounded and the nation came to a standstill. For two minutes, people stood at attention wherever they were in silent tribute to the millions who were slaughtered in the death camps.

While the word holocaust is often used to describe the evil, many Jews now use the Hebrew word shoah. There’s good reason for this. Holocaust, translated from New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew means “completely burnt offering to God.” The word shoah, on the other hand, is most often translated as “catastrophe.”

Words often convey powerful meanings. Could the wholesale murder of millions of Jews truly be considered a “burnt offering to God?” God forbid. The evil inflicted on the Jewish people was truly a “catastrophe.” Even uttering the word “shoah” itself is perfectly descriptive. The breath gushes out of the body like a pain-filled stream, leaving a sense of emptiness and despair in its wake.

The lessons of the Shoah are imprinted on the Jewish heart. The Jews of Israel and Jews all around the world understand their need for unity. While they desire peace, they recognize they have enemies bent on their annihilation. They also understand the tragic lesson that history has taught them - their collective fates and their survival are in their hands and their hands alone.

It’s been almost seventy years since the dark days of the Shoah. History has moved on. The empty death camps have become vivid reminders to the world of the monstrous sins long ago committed. Israel is once again a member of the family of nations. The promises revealed to the prophets are coming true. Junipers have been set in the wasteland, the myrtle and the olive flourish in the desert, and the ancient ruins are being rebuilt.

The promises beckon the Jewish people on, but there are still many dangers. The hatred at the root of the Shoah is still in their air today. You can find it almost anywhere. In some places it’s open. In some it’s the majority opinion. And, in others it’s hidden in a cloak of so-called humanitarian concern.

On Sunday, April 13th, about an hour and half north of us here in Emporia,   Frazier Glenn Miller, a hate-filled neo Nazi, murdered three innocent people outside a Jewish community center. The fact his victims were all Christians was tragically incidental.  After his capture by police, he shouted “Heil Hitler” as he was taken away.

Four years earlier, according to the New York Times’ Frank Bruni, Miller appeared on the Howard Stern show and proclaimed Adolph Hitler as the “greatest man who ever walked the face of the earth.” Miller, who also hates Blacks, was then asked whether he hated Jews more than Blacks. “Definitely the Jews,” he responded. “A thousand times more.”

I’d seen that kind of hate before, in the early seventies. As part of an undergraduate class project, I went to Chicago and interviewed Frank Collin. At the time I met him, Collin was the director of the National Socialist Party of America, a neo-Nazi hate group. His operating philosophy was boiler plate stuff – distortions, lies, rabble-rousing. His core belief was that Jews have always been the root of all evil. His “final solution” was also boiler plate - “They must be completely expunged.” He aimed to complete what Adolph Hitler had started.

For days after the interview I could still feel my skin crawling.

In the nineties I had the privilege of mentoring a young Palestinian engineer. I grew to love him like a brother. We agreed about many things. When we did disagree, we almost always found paths of compromise. There was one exception – Israel. I believed in a two-state solution and he believed that all Jews had to be “driven to the sea and slaughtered like dogs.”

A few years after I moved here I began receiving e-mail correspondence from someone who wanted to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As things progressed we offered our points of view. My belief in a two state solution was countered by a belief that the Jews were illegal occupiers of Palestine and that they should all go to Texas with George W. Bush.

Seeing no fruitful avenue of discourse, I ended the correspondence.

Jews all around the world have been the focus of this kind of hate for centuries, yet somehow they’ve overcome and continue to flourish.  How have they been able to do this? I think it’s because there’s something very special about the Jewish soul.  It’s best expressed in a poem that’s recited every year at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Shoa:

“I believe in the sun when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when He’s silent.”

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