The Scars We Keep

Last night, I sang the anthem of the State of Israel, “HaTikva.”

Not an experience of which I would ordinarily wax poetic. But this rendition closed the Holocaust Memorial program in my Bet Knesset, my synagogue. With this program, we began to mark Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering the loss of 6,000,000 souls to the Jewish nation.

As a new Oleh, it is the first time I was privileged to experience this day as a citizen of the Jewish nation-state. I did so by singing the anthem of the independent Jewish State. And, for me, therefore, it is something to write about.

This coming Shabbat, we in the Holy Land will be reading the parshiyot of Tazria/Metzora that focus upon the diagnosis and treatment of tzara’at (a possible form of leprosy), and other types of blemishes. All of the laws of the ritual defilement and eventual purification are found in these two portions-with the exception of one found in Deuteronomy.

Be careful regarding the affliction of tzara’at to carefully follow all that the kohanim (priests) teach you….

Our Rabbis questioned what was meant when we were instructed to “be careful?” They explain that this specific commandment prohibited the afflicted individual from scratching off the signs of the disease, eradicating the scars and thus, making it impossible for the Kohen to inspect the blemish and possibly render the individual impure.

The message of this commandment should echo in our ears today and especially on Yom Hasho’ah. For thirty-six years I was blessed and honored to serve the community of Fort Lee, New Jersey, a community built, in large measure, by Holocaust survivors. As the years passed and I got to know more of them, and some quite intimately, I became more convinced that the term “survivor” is not a fitting description of these remarkable individuals. As much as they should take pride in that portrayal these people were far more than that. You see, they didn’t simply survive-they thrived! Despite the nightmarish past they experienced they never gave up on life. They did not give in to their bitterness. Instead they raised families, formed businesses, succeeded in their professions and yes, even helped build a state. They would not scratch off the external scars but did not allow those tattooed numbers to define them. These were far more than survivors; they were builders, givers, creators, accomplishers; indeed, they were heroes for more reasons than simply having survived.

But there are still those who seek to remove their scars. Perpetrators of the greatest massacre in human history find it more convenient to erase that blemish from their collective memory and present themselves as unscarred and untainted. On this solemn day, local news media carried three headlines that shouted this very fact to all: “Over 40% of Germans Want Closure on Nazi Past,” an article that also included a report regarding the growing tendency of Germans to see themselves as victims of the war they started; “Violent anti-Semitism Surged 45% in 2014,” that discusses how many European streets have become hunting grounds for Jews and “US Holocaust Museum Slams Iranian Revisionist Cartoon Contest,”  reporting on the offensive Tehran-based contest to create cartoons challenging the historical truth of the Holocaust and the government sponsored demonization of the Jews (the contest is encouraging characterizations of PM Netanyahu and Adolf Hitler).

Throughout these past years, we have heard the very nations who perpetrated the slaughter of millions, and those countries who turned a deaf ear to their cries, now dare to pontificate to Israel the moral way to treat those who seek to destroy her; those who attack her innocent civilians. They scratch away their scars, displaying an “unblemished” past in order to preach morality to the very nation who spread G-d’s moral code and who suffered the consequences from those who rejected the divine teachings.

I live within a nation that does not remove her scars but rather learns from them. So please excuse me for turning my back on those hypocritical, self-righteous preachers who are busy scratching off their scars. I have more important things to do.
I must sing the anthem of a scarred but proud country who remembers its heroes and refuses to allow its surviving few to suffer any more scars.

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