Shabbat Message: Resistance Came in Many Forms

Posted on April 9, 2021 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck

A Message for the Shabbat After Yom HaShoah:

Yesterday at 10:00 a.m. sirens blared throughout the land of Israel and everything came to a halt. For two full minutes, cars and buses stopped on the highways so drivers and passengers could get out and stand in respectful silence. Bustling marketplaces and busy office spaces fell silent as Israelis marked the observance of Yom haZikkaron laShoah v’lig’vurah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.

Here in America, we refer to this day as Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and though we, too, mark it as a solemn day, we have historically done so with a different nuance than that of our Israeli cousins – a difference that is revealed in the names each call the day.

Yom HaShoah was established in 1959 by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, which chose to hold it on the 27th of Nisan, to coincide with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the largest and greatest act of armed Jewish resistance to the Nazis. For Israel and Zionism, the heart of Yom HaShoah is remembering how Jews fought back.

In America, our observances have focused more on honoring the memory of the victims, recalling the horrific atrocities committed against our people, and on Jewish survival. The most common form of observance has been hearing the testimonies of survivors, a ritual that has gained urgency as fewer of them remain alive.

For quite some time I have felt that the difference between these two foci of Holocaust remembrance creates a false dichotomy. The ghetto fighters had no monopoly on courage during the Shoah, and heroism was manifest in many ways other than armed resistance.

What every Jew who experienced the Shoah had in common was their humanity, which the Nazis sought to eradicate, first by reducing individuals to numbers, objects, and abstractions, and ultimately by reducing them to ashes. Whether a Jew fought with the Partisans or simply struggled to go on living, merely to be a Jew in those dark days was an act of resistance. Merely to live as a Jew in any and every way was an act of defiance. This, above all, is what I believe we must remember and memorialize: the human face of our people, the dignity of their lives, and the glory of the human spirit that is not limited to one form of resistance, and which even death cannot extinguish.

Elie Wiesel expressed this most eloquently, in his book A Jew Today:

…The Jew who refused death, who refused to believe in death, who chose to marry in the ghetto, to circumcise his son, to teach him the sacred language, to bind him to the threatened and weakened lineage of Israel – that Jew was resisting. The professor or shopkeeper who disregarded facts and warnings and clung to illusion, refusing to admit that people could so succumb to degradation-he, too, was resisting. There was no essential difference between the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and the old men getting off the train in Treblinka: Because they were Jewish, they were all doomed to hate – and death.

In those days, more than ever, to be Jewish signified refusal. Above all, it was a refusal to see reality and life through the enemy’s eyes – a refusal to resemble him, to grant him that victory, too….

In our day, to be Jewish must continue to signify refusal – refusal to allow people to be stripped of their humanity and reduced to numbers or categories. Everyone has a name and a face that is unique and distinct, precious and sacred, deserving of honor and respect. The insistence on preserving human dignity must be the enduring legacy of our remembrance of the Shoah, for the sake of the victims, and for the sake of all humanity.

For the victims of the Shoah and the survivors, for those who fought in the ghettos and the forests, those who were interned in the camps, those who were gassed, and those who were gunned down, it is our solemn obligation to keep their memories alive by telling their stories of resistance and resilience in all its forms in order to lift up the glory of the spirit of their lives, and of every life.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck