Action is a key component of commemoration
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protecting ourselves and our future communities from the dreaded bang on the door

Action is a key component of commemoration

'This year marks the 83rd commemoration of Kristallnacht and is accompanied by a desperate call for all of us to take action, speak up against what is wrong and unjust and actively fight for a safer, more inclusive tomorrow.'

The windows of a Jewish business smashed on Kristallnacht, 1938.
The windows of a Jewish business smashed on Kristallnacht, 1938.

THIS week, Jews all over the world stopped to commemorate Kristallnacht, a night of violent destruction fuelled by hatred and inciting fear.

Today one doesn’t have to search all that far to find disturbing cases of antisemitic fuelled hatred. Antisemitic acts are on the rise, the vandalism in our backyards is quickly spreading, and violent incidents are becoming far too familiar.

Our Australian Jewish community is somewhat protected from the direct impact of severe antisemitic attacks, but we still feel the hurt, the fear and the loss. These turbulent times remind us of just how fragile a life safe from antisemitism is and how the darkness of hate can reach us wherever we are.

On November 9 and 10, 1938, violence filled the streets of Germany, Austria and Sudetenland as Jews were attacked. One hundred people were murdered, and 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps simply because they were Jewish. More than 7000 businesses were destroyed, hundreds of synagogues, cemeteries and homes desecrated, again, all because they were places for Jewish people.

This rampage of antisemitic violence makes one question if we as Jews are so threatened, so at risk, how can we live our lives the way we do, without the fear of a violent bang on our front door tonight, 83 years after the events of Kristallnacht, simply because we are Jewish?

I believe it all comes down to action. The action we take to mitigate antisemitism in all forms, the action to commemorate, educate and engage with our Jewish and non-Jewish community.

Mitigating all expressions of antisemitism is a big ask and perhaps unattainable. Still, it is our responsibility to face the challenges head-on and do our best to destabilise the hate-fuelled movement one word, one message and one act at a time.

A central pillar in this effort is commemoration, seen worldwide through services, social media posts, tributes and campaigns. Commemoration is a crucial part of our Jewish story as it allows us the opportunity to connect with our history, identifying the loss, dehumanisation and terror incited by antisemitism.

However, the urgency in the call to mitigate antisemitism requires an extra step after commemorating; it requires action and a lot of it.

Imagine the inherent power we could build if every person engaged in Holocaust commemoration were also involved in action. Suppose every individual who heard from a survivor walked away knowing that they hold power to stand up for injustice and speak out against hatred in all forms.

By adding an element of action to our existing forms of commemoration, we can use the story of Kristallnacht to identify how the hatred in 1938 grew into the uncontrollable beast it was.

If we can understand how this blatant and open antisemitism gained power, we can learn how, and importantly when, to destabilise any expressions of hatred, preventing its growth and development.

The lessons we can take from this combined method of commemorating the Holocaust are not just remnants of the past but rather a guidebook to empower future action, identify antisemitism, and mitigate it.

Through this, we can continue to understand and learn about the complexity of this time period and shed light on the agency we have in our own lives to take action and speak up against all forms of hatred and antisemitism.

We need to engage with the resilience and light that shone throughout the surviving community, even in the wake of one of the darkest points in human history.

We have a responsibility to take action to not only protect ourselves and our community but to stand up for Jewish people and communities to come. How we engage now has the power to protect our future communities from that dreaded bang on the door in the middle of the night.

This year marks the 83rd commemoration of Kristallnacht and is accompanied by a desperate call for all of us to take action, speak up against what is wrong and unjust and actively fight for a safer, more inclusive tomorrow.

So, how can we all go to sleep tonight knowing we are safe from antisemitism and hatred? By taking action.

Julia Sussman is co-founder and managing director of Youth HEAR, and a director of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

 

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