Up from the Ashes


A quintessentially Israeli public event is the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) ceremony. Held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, it features the lighting of six torches in remembrance of the six million Jews who were wantonly and brutally executed in the Nazis’ “final solution.”

One of the speakers at the ceremony last night (April 7, 2021) said that the State of Israel was not built on the ashes of the Holocaust. I respectfully disagree.

The still fresh smoke of the crematoria undoubtedly influenced the United Nations decision in November of 1947, to grant the Jews a sovereign nation in our ancient Middle Eastern homeland. But a political decision cannot explain the raw determination and sacrifice that fueled the Jewish defense of barely reborn Israel following the U.N. vote.

From my early days as an immigrant here, I wondered “What makes these people so aggressive, so defensive, so argumentative, so in-your-face?” One day the answer dawned on me: the Shoah. Modern Israel is the human and divine response to the hellish attempt to eradicate every man, woman, and child descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel exists today through God’s intervention and through the heroic response of the men and women who returned from 2000 years of exile. The subtext of Israeli society is the Holocaust. You cannot get around it. And it explains so much about who we are.

Eventually, miraculously, they made their way to Israel

Listening to the stories of survivors, one hears a common thread. Children then, in their 90s now, they tell chilling stories of watching their family members gunned down before their eyes and hiding for the remaining years of the nightmare. Eventually, miraculously they made their way to Israel. Here, each one found work, found a spouse, and raised a family, being woven into the fabric of a vibrant society that came to be—against all odds.

The six survivors who lit the torches in last night’s ceremony came from the previously thriving Jewish communities of Greece, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Netherlands, Poland, and Belarus. What is their conclusion? How do they feel about life? While carrying the indescribable grief of the horrors they witnessed, each one glowed with gratitude to be alive here, in Eretz Yisrael—to see their great grandchildren. Their stories are not just of survival, but of triumph over death.

To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Isaiah 61:3,4

“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. 14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,” says the LORD.’ ” Ezekiel 37:11-14

Photo: GPO/Mark Neyman