Thursday was Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. As you can imagine, this day is taken very seriously in Israel. All stores and businesses were closed the night before for Erev Yom Hashoah, or night of Yom Hashoah. At 10 AM today, a siren blasted across the whole country for two minutes. During these two minutes, everything stops. If you’re walking, you stop and pause. If you’re driving, you stop in the middle of the highway. And think.
During these two minutes, I thought about the victims of the Holocaust and said a prayer. But I mostly thought about the theme of Yom Hashoah this year, “ben adam” or a decent person. What does it mean to be a decent person?
The first thing that came to my mind was the righteous among the nations, or the non-Jews who refused to stand by and watch their neighbors suffer. Then I thought about the victims who, despite the Nazis attempt to strip them of their humanity, clung to what little (if any) hope they had to survive.
One of the things I’ve noticed about Israel and Holocaust memory is that Israelis add a special emphasis to how the experience of the Holocaust has shaped who they are today.
As one Israeli woman, a Holocaust survivor, said to my group, “I am not going to talk much about my experience during the war. I prefer to talk about the aftermath; about how I dealt with it and how it made me who I am today.”
I appreciated learning about the aftermath because I’ve spent so much time in my studies learning about the atrocities that occurred and listening to heartbreaking stories (which is important and I am quick to say, “the world must know”). But listening to this woman talk about how her experience shaped who she is today made me think about my generation and how the memory of the Holocaust shapes who we are, because we have a layer of separation.
It makes me strive be a decent person, who will not be silent. I hope that I will do what is right and have the courage to admit when I am wrong. To me, an ordinary person is the person who stands by and does nothing. A decent person will do whatever he/she can to help, no matter how little the deed may be.
It is my sincere hope that those of you who read this will join me and try to be ben adam.