Most students kept the usual routine of sleep, classes, sleeping in classes, and avoiding homework this past Tuesday, making it just like any other day. But for a small group of students on campus, it was a day to remember their persecuted ancestors — those who perished and those who survived — a day that marks the Jewish community’s celebration of Yom HaShoah. It’s a yearly day of remembrance for the Holocaust. A devastatingly large number of human beings were killed in this massive slaughter, so why is such a small part of our campus commemorating them?
I come from Boca Raton, Fl, a city with one of the highest proportions of Jewish residents in the country. In Boca Raton, everyone celebrates Jewish holidays, including non-Jews like me. I stayed kosher for Passover two years in a row in high school. But it was always a two-way street. My Jewish best friend celebrated Haitian Flag day with me and always came to my huge Haitian family dinners. She even went to church with me one time, even though the preacher spoke in Creole. That’s the way things in my hometown were. It’s not a perfect place, but I came to expect that people would embrace each other’s cultures to an extent. That’s why Yom HaShoah here at Northwestern was so strange to me. It didn’t make sense that so few people on campus were there.
Alpha Epsilon Pi, Tannenbaum Chabad House, Fiedler Hillel, and SHOAH sponsored an event they called “We Walk to Remember,” according to the Facebook page.
The event started at 4:00 p.m. I was there about 20 minutes early, with all of my equipment, trying to pick up some natural sound on my recorder for a Medill class. Never in my extremely short journalism career have I felt so insensitive. I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be taking notes and recording this. I should be remembering with them.’ As they walked silently in a line around campus, I walked next to them, snapping pictures on my point-and-shoot and recording the sounds of their feet hitting the ground. I felt like I shouldn’t have been there ruining the integrity of the event.
At the very least, I learned something as I juggled different forms of technology while trying to stay respectful. I watched as a classmate of mine, Justin Leider, lit candles to celebrate his grandparents who were lucky and got to build their lives in the United States after emigrating from Poland during the war. “It’s a very important day for me because I get to remember them and think on it,” Leider said. It’s an important day for the Jewish community, but it should be an important day for the rest of the community.
Weinberg sophomore Jackson Siegal captured the idea well. “As a Jew, I obviously have a connection [to the Holocaust] because 6 million Jews died, as well as to the larger concept of genocide,” Siegal said. “I generally feel for any group of people who have been systematically murdered and whose lives have been taken away from them unfairly.”
Remembering the Holocaust brought Northwestern’s Jews together. However, if they are left alone to remember their past, the rest of us have done them a great disservice as human beings.