One of the areas that I am involved in, along with three other Rabbinic colleagues, is being part of the Holocaust Education Trusts ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ programme. Over a course of a year, the HET run 18 day trips to Poland. Each trip contains approximately 200 non Jewish 6th formers. Based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’, the trip explores the universal lessons of the Holocaust and its relevance for today. The LFA Project aims to increase knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust for young people and to clearly highlight what can happen if prejudice and racism become acceptable.
Our roles as Rabbis is to bring a Jewish perspective to the day and to lead prayers and share our thoughts at a final ceremony at the end of the day.
The programme has been running for almost 20 years and over 30,000 pupils and teachers have taken part. I have been involved for the last 6 or 7 years and it is worrying how my final address to the group has changed over the years. The general message is that what we see here at Auschwitz is not just history – it can happen again, if evil is allowed to blossom and grow.
When I first began in 2011, I mentioned the attacks on Mumbai – that was far far away, the students listened and still thought nothing had changed.
Then by 2014, I was mentioning the attacks in the Jewish Museum in Brussels and the school in Toulouse. The students listened and felt my pain, it was getting closer, but still just the Jews.
Then by 2016, I began mentioning Charlie Hebdo, the Paris attacks, the Brussels bombings. The students listened more intently. Now the terror was attacking everyone – but still on the European mainland, it hadn’t reached the UK.
And now, this week on the trip I spoke about the attacks in Westminster, Manchester and Borough. The terror was here, it was on our doorstep. It was no longer a distant problem – it was here.
It reminded me of the famous Pastor Niemoller quote- but slightly changed for the 21st century for the western world today.
First they came for the Jews, but I did not speak out as I was not a Jew,
Then they came for the Christians, but I did speak out as I was not a Christian,
Then they came for Western Civilisation.
I mentioned this in Machshavot over a year ago, this was all forecast by Michael Gove. In 2011 he said this to the Rabbis at the Chief Rabbis conference.
‘The battle is against those who have succumbed to a dark and twisted version of Islam and who have in their sights Israel today and the rest of the west tomorrow and unless we recognise that Israel is THE front line in the battle for Western civilisation then all of Western civilisation is in peril. History teaches us many lessons but the single most important lesson that history can teach the Western World is that our faith and our security are intimately bound with the fate and security of the Jewish people.
In that sense the Jewish nation is like a canary in the mine.
And for us who are not Jewish it is known that there is an increase in anti-semitism, an increase in physical assault, an increase in hate speech against Israel, which is an alarm bell ringing so loud and so clear that it is our duty to listen.’
The world did not listen – and still today there is too much politically correct deafness. It is truly shocking that as this radical Islamic terror has spread, there is still blindness to where it originated from and who was the first country to fight it and it still engaged in that battle- Israel.
This reflects the other major change in my address – the rise of mainstream anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism within parts of the Labour party and others who see no problem attacking Israel who are in essence fighting the same battles we are now fighting on the streets of London and Manchester.
I of course also raised with them the sickening attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park this week – and stressed that all forms of hatred and terrorism must be condemned.
Rosh Chodesh Tammuz begins tonight; it ushers in the two most difficult months for the Jewish people, months that have been filled with tragedy and tears over the centuries. Yet we are also told that the month of Av will eventually herald ours and the worlds final redemption.
V’haya Hashem l’melech al kol haaretz, bayom ha hu, yihiyeh hashem echad ushmo echad – and behold Hashem will be King over all the land, on that day Hashem will be one and His Name will be one.
Let us pray that happens speedily and soon
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov
Rabbi Andrew Shaw