Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and this is my challenge to you
Today marks 77 years since the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, a pivotal point in the history of the Holocaust in which Jews and other victimized people took a stand against the horrors and atrocities that were being committed against them.
This past year has seen a marked increase in antisemitic attacks in the US, something that’s easy to forget while the world sits captivated watching the spread of the first real pandemic in 100 years. And while I applaud all those who are fighting against antisemitism and hatred perpetrated against any people, I want to turn your attention to an idea which I believe has the power to actually transform hate.
I anticipate this idea will not be well-received by my tribe or by any group that bears an onus of centuries of persecution. Nonetheless, I have seen the power that this simple idea has had on my own life and so I humbly offer it to you here.
So here goes… (Gulp!)
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Sky Entertainment. The GIF that keeps on giving.
Hatred can only be overcome by looking at the evil within yourself
I watched “The Devil Next Door” on Netflix like everyone else. It tells the tale of a blue-collar Ukrainian man living in Cleveland who was believed to be the notorious Ivan the Terrible, the most ruthless guard in the Treblinka extermination camp. The docuseries follows him as he is extradited to Israel where he is put on trial for the most heinous of crimes against humanity.
Now I understand that we in Israel have a responsibility to make sure that no Holocaust ever happens again, and I’m certainly not speaking out against that. Watching as survivors from Treblinka look the alleged Ivan the Terrible in the eyes and nearly pass out in terror was not easy.
I think we do ourselves a major disservice by labeling others as evil. It is as dangerous an idea as the pseudo-science that touted the supremacy of the Aryan race. True, labeling people who have committed crimes against humanity as evil doesn’t usually result in attempts at genocide. But ultimately, the idea behind it is the same.
It separates humanity into an “us” camp and a “them” camp.
We are the good, the righteous and they are the despicable. We would never commit mass murder or put people in concentration camps and ghettos and force them to die of starvation all while mocking their weakness. Yes, I hope that there’s a strong part of you that identifies with that statement. But I leave you with this as food for thought.
In Vedic philosophy (that precedes the OG Aryans), there is an idea that thoughts, words and actions are all highly related. Most of us would think that of the three: thoughts, word and actions, that actions are the most powerful. Yet we’re taught that thoughts have the most power because thoughts affect our words, which then affect actions. And if it’s a really juicy thought and you share it with others, that thought will surely affect the actions of others as well which will create more thoughts which create more actions and so on and so forth. So, our thoughts have ripple effects far beyond those of actions alone.
This thought that you are somehow better than your fellow man because your actions stand on higher moral ground may be true from a legal perspective. But don’t let that mislead you into thinking it’s true in other ways.
That is a trick of the ego.
The only way we can truly outwit the ego with this one is by seeing ourselves in the “evil” other. Jung talked about this in terms of confronting the shadow. Think about it, isn’t there a part of you (that you surely have learned to ignore) that when angered wants to exact strong and severe revenge? I know I saw that side of humanity in “The Devil Next Door” when Israelis, many of them Holocaust survivors and the children of Holocaust survivors, were outraged when their Ivan the Terrible was found not guilty. Many of those people (my people) wanted to go rogue and murder Jon Demjanjuk themselves.
Needless to say, that wasn’t done. But those feelings, that all-powerful, consuming thought was there. And if thoughts are more powerful than actions, you must accept that you are no better than anyone else.
You may give money to the poor and care for the sick. But until you recognize that the same root desires, the same ego that wants to feel inherently better than those around you exists within you, you will be a victim of your own hate.
This year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, most of us are stuck inside, given our first real opportunity to look at ourselves. This year, in order to commemorate the worst collective act of hatred that civilization has seen, let’s really take a long, hard look at ourselves and see where we as a collective can witness the worst of ourselves. And then… let it go.