April 28, 2014 by christopherbaron
Today is Yom Ha’Shoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day
Every year, in different ways, Jews in North America and around the world observe Yom Ha’shoa. Some attend communal vigils and educational programs; some synagogues or other community centers may feature a talk by a Holocaust Survivor, recitation of appropriate songs and readings, or viewing of a film. Many communities choose to emphasize the depth of loss by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another. One excellent resource for this is and for the total journey is Yad Vashem. http://www.yadvashem.org/
“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.”
(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)
For years, every year, I would attend a commemoration, usually at SDSU, and I would take a turn reading the names. This journey was always very personal for me. While I have spoken a bit about it in public, and I have published a few poems here and there about the Holocaust, my book, “Under the Broom Tree,” is really the first place that I have even started to articulate my connection with it. And now, even more so, as I work on a project with the Artist Randall Hasson, “The Baron Journals,” I watch my own words come to life, interpreted and made alive by the artist, that I find I have a companion on this journey, and as powerful as the collaboration has been, sometimes seeing it just makes the reality of the journey more real. More difficult.
These are panels from the Baron Journals, the poem, “Life Unworthy of Living.”
This year is different. My oldest kid is 8 now, and on this day, when I look at him, I can’t help but think about how much I need to tell him about his roots, but I look into his bright, hopeful eyes, and I can’t do it, not yet. It isn’t that he isn’t brave enough, and I think he (and eventually my daughters) will very soon be remembering with me. It’s just that I don’t think I am ready. I will never forget the night in my grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment, being sent into the bedroom. I was eight or nine. I remember listening at the door, and beyond, the sounds of words wrapped in tears turning to a slow hum and a desperate pleading. They are watching a film about the Holocaust. I remember, hours later, my father walking into the room, lifting me into his arms and whispering, “Never forget.” It wouldn’t be long until I came face to face with the images of that time, and it broke me. Somehow I am connected to this. I know what it means to feel hollowed out, and I just don’t want my son to know this yet.
But as much as this is a time to remember those who should not be forgotten, it also a time to remember that Antisemitism is real, that there is a reason to be aware and awake, not just for the Jewish people, but for so many others who have also faced tragedy of this measure. There is just so much of it.
So this year, I want to do something else. I will certainly remember, and I will continue to gut out my own journey through this, but I also want to do my best now to fight indifference. Elie Wiesel said,
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
I agree. How will I stand? How will I fight?
For the past couple of years, I have been practicing Krav Maga, an Israeli form of martial arts, and I can say that it has changed my life. I have learned, well, how to fight. I understand ways to defend myself and my family. I have gained new courage and strength. I can feel the difference in my hands—suddenly more capable, more calm. I see through new eyes—more aware, but more at peace. Yet I am certain that the most valuable part of these skills is not the physical part, but the spiritual. While there may be unavoidable times, the fight is not always the fist. Words. Compassion. Morality. Love. I understand a little more today what Imi Lichtenfield, the man who founded Krav Maga in the 30’s to protect Jewish people from fascist thugs, meant when he said, “So that one may walk in peace…” I am more aware of the precious nature of peace. It is a gift. It is a gift worth protecting. When I go into my children’s room at night, and I see them sleeping there, peacefully, I find myself so thankful. It’s a gift. It’s worth cherishing. It’s worth defending. I owe it to six million—so many of them children—to try. There is no room for indifference here.
Please take a few moments and listen to this short speech by Elie Wiesel. He helps us to remember why this is relevant to us now, more than ever.
I am honored to know many people, groups, and spirits who are fighting indifference..there are so many, and here are a few I am thankful for: