Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Who owns “never again”?

Ever since the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many student activists and their allies have used the following phrase: “Never again!”

To be clear: for decades, “never again!” has been associated with the Holocaust — with its obvious implications.”Never again!”:

  • …will the world allow this to happen to Jews
  • …will Jews be vulnerable and powerless
  • …will the world allow this to happen to any group

David Hogg, 18, a survivor of the Parkland shootings, has a forthcoming book titled “#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line.”

Not everyone is happy about this.

For, example: Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America.

Klein said that Hogg is “co-opting and politicizing” a term closely associated with Holocaust remembrance.

“This inappropriate title displays an unkind and shocking insensitivity to Holocaust survivors, Jews, and all decent, human-rights-loving people around the world,” wrote Klein, who identifies himself as a child of Holocaust survivors in the statement.

“Any attempts to compare the genocide of the Holocaust to modern domestic political issues in the US today is shameful and wrong.”

Klein emphasized that ZOA does not take a position on gun laws.

Klein is simply wrong.

To the best of my knowledge, Holocaust survivors and activists for Holocaust memory have never applied for a copyright for “never again!”

Nor should they.

And, neither should we.

The idea that the Jews have a proprietary interest in “never again!” actually violates a key point of Holocaust memory.

Many Jewish thinkers have rejected the idea that lessons of the Shoah “belong” to the Jews.

They have drawn any number of enduring lessons that are true for all humanity. A very short list:

  • Nations will protect non-combatants in times of war.
  • Nations will safeguard the human rights of their citizens.
  • Science and technology, used unethically, can be evil.
  • Highly educated professionals are capable of great evil.

And, finally:

  • Human life has dignity, meaningfulness, and worth, and people must do everything possible to ensure those truths.

None of those are particularly, or exclusively, Jewish.

But, here is the main point: Who else, if not the Jews, will teach those truths to the world?

Is this not one of the most important items in the job description of what it means to be a “light to the nations?”

So, yes:

  • If a survivor of a school shooting wants to use “never again!” — use it.
  • If a survivor of gassing in Syria wants to use “never again!” — use it.
  • If a survivor of ethnic cleansing, anywhere in the world, wants to use “never again!” — use it.

It simply and elegantly means that the experience of the Jews in history has taught the world something — that we all have the responsibility to reject and fight evil.

I believe in the words of Julius Lester: “Our suffering is a long-stemmed rose that we hand to humanity.”

I believe that Jews can do so and not lose our own uniqueness. Our story must not only speak to us. It must also allow others to hear its lessons.

Morton Klein needs to remember that.

 

 

 

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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