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Day 213: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

Yom HaShoah | Holocaust Remembrance Day: Never Again?

“Where are you? What are you doing?
Are you safe and sound or by now just bones, perhaps ashes?
Do you miss us, trying to survive? Or are you looking at us from above? anxious
Should I send you strength or should I pray for your soul?
Should I long for it to end or hope for your recovery?
I don’t know if you are still yourself, or God forbid, already dead.
I don’t know whether to imagine your return, or hope that if you died, there will at least be proof, that there is something left of you to bury, and that you are not all alone, freezing in the cold…”
— Avishag Libman, Elyakim Libman’s mom, before she knew what has happened to Elyakim

For 210 days the Libman family believed their son Elyakim had been kidnapped from the Nova Music Festival and was being held captive in Gaza. Last Friday, the family got notice that Elyakim was murdered on October 7, and the remains of his body were mistakenly buried together with another victim of the massacre. Think of Avishag and Eliyahu, Elyakim’s parents, oscillating for 210 days between despair and hope, not knowing if they are bereaved, grieving parents or ones who will once again embrace their son.

Like Elyakim’s family, for 47 days Shani Gabay’s family lived in the limbo of terrible uncertainty: Is Shani alive in Gaza or already dead? Her half-moon shaped necklace, found near the festival area after 47 days revealed that she was not kidnapped but rather murdered and buried with another young woman. The two women, along with Elyakim, after courageously rescuing others, were killed when they looked for refuge in an ambulance that was later hit by an anti-tank missile, leaving their bodies beyond recognition.

Shani, z”l, and Elyakim, z”l, and the burned ambulance

How is it possible that a few people were buried in one grave? The gruesome question itself tells the story of the monstrous cruelty of that day.

Today, on Yom HaShoah | Holocaust Remembrance Day, we repeat the saying “never again, but really, never again?

Could the souls of the bodies that were burned in the crematoria of Auschwitz and Birkenau before they ascended to heaven to find shelter among angels ever have imagined that 80 years later, in sovereign, independent, powerful Israel, Jews would be slaughtered, cremated, and brought to burial piece by piece and so unrecognizable that some of them were mistakenly identified as others?

The inscription “We will never forget” projected on the Walls of the Old City of Jerusalem last night.

At exactly 10 a.m. today, a two-minute siren pierced Israel’s skies.

Last year, as I stood during the siren, I whispered a silent prayer: God, remember the six million, all of whom are your children, and promise us never again, no more.

This year I stood during the siren more bent than ever, and with a loud cry, I urged God: How much longer?  Haven’t your children suffered enough?

I wasn’t weeping alone. With the siren’s wail, the gates of heaven opened and they too wept. Heavy rain fell like we haven’t seen in many months. The entire nation is lamenting today, a day when the Holocaust is no longer seen as a dark regime, the likes of which have since passed from the world. Evil is still here. The satanism in which the six million were slaughtered still permeates our world, trying to reach us and destroy Jews today.

Some 2,500 Holocaust survivors experienced the evil of October 7. Moshe Ridler from Kibbutz Hulit was murdered. Shlomo Mansor from Kibbutz Kissufim was kidnapped. Ella Panomerov of Ofekim sat in front of a terrorist, a gun pointed at her face, feeling once again a familiar, never forgotten threat. Yosef Bernhard from Kibbutz Sa’ad escaped his kibbutz, becoming a refugee for the second time.  Eighty-eight-year-old Sara Jackson hid five survivors of the Nova Music Festival in her home-based safe room,  never imagining that a day would come in which Jews once again would knock on doors in search of shelter from murderers.

Never again?

The murder of six million Jews in Europe is known as the Holocaust. This one word alone denotes infinite evil.

There was one Holocaust, and it changed the face of all humanity.

The events of October 7 are known as “The Massacre,” but the extent of the horrors, the brutality, and the fact that it happened right here at home, within our cities and within our borders inspire great fear. In its wake, it left burned kibbutzim and countless dead, dismembered babies, aborted fetuses, and lumps of coal that once were different people and now are forever welded together.

The events of that day bring about terrible questions: Is “never again” true? Will it ever be possible?

It is 2024, not the dark days of 1939, and still, in various parts of the world, Jews hesitate to wear a kippah or a Star of David in the public sphere; hang a mezuzah by their front doors; walk into Jewish institutions, send children to Jewish schools, or speak Hebrew publicly. Synagogues, fortified and protected, receive bomb threats, nonetheless, and last month, 30 Jewish graves were desecrated in upstate New York. Jewish students are threatened on campuses and marginalized, resulting in some universities re-examining their academic relationship with Israel in response to protesters’ demands. Since October 7, the number of recorded antisemitic incidents in Western countries has risen exponentially.

Never again?

Yesterday dozens of rockets were fired from Rafah toward Israel. They came from the humanitarian area in Rafah intended to shelter Gazan refugees and fell close to the Kerem Shalom crossing, which is opened every day so dozens of trucks with humanitarian equipment can reach Gaza from Israel. Again, rockets were fired from a humanitarian area where Gazan refugees are seeking shelter, toward the Israeli crossing that enables humanitarian aid to reach those refugees. Can you see the irony??

Four IDF soldiers were killed in those rocket attacks and many others injured. Most interesting of all is that residents of Gaza themselves condemned the incident, opposing the Hamas terrorists who, time and time again, put their own people at risk. Nonetheless, many around the world will stick to a distorted version of the truth and continue to condemn Israel—and Israel alone.

When I was a 9-year-old student, we were asked to write an essay entitled “Excuse me for being late.” My friends chose banal topics based on their everyday lives, but I wrote about the Holocaust. In my essay, I described how the nations of the world ask Jews and Holocaust survivors to forgive them for being late in reaching them and rescuing them from the jaws of evil. As a little girl, I was unable to imagine that it was possible for one Nazi dictator to lead his people to discriminate against, torture, isolate, starve, and murder six million people, and the world didn’t stop him immediately. How could ships full of Holocaust survivors who escaped extermination camps be rejected at different countries’ ports, until they found themselves back in the heart of the inferno from which they had fled.

We have entered the period of “the Yamim” | “the Days,” the holy period of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day. It is always an emotionally loaded time, but this year, it feels almost impossible.

The gaze of the Holocaust survivors among us, the dearest of humanity, drowns in the gaze of the families of the hostages, who drown in the gaze of the bereaved families. There is a human tissue that embraces the agony of painful, 75-year-old memories, enchanted with the plea of prayers, still full of hope, enthralled with empty, desperate looks that have lost all hope. All these people gaze upward with their tearful, exhausted eyes. Has “never again” arrived?

Protest against antisemitism in London

“…. God, what do You want? …. who will be the last victim
It’s impossible. Uncertainty is bitter.
How long will the evil continue, when will You have mercy?
We have done enough, we tried.
Now it’s Your turn to promise Rebirth.”
— Avishag Libman, Elyakim Libman’s mom, before she knew what has happened to Elyakim

Together, united, we will overcome.

Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.

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