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.

9 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • Religious groups have tried to claim certain words are theirs as a means of keeping others from entering the conversation.

    I have begun to think that “never again” has become a meaningless phrase since event after event keep happening again and again. Whether we are talking about school shootings, men driving trucks into pedestrians, gassing of civilian populations, etc., etc., etc.,……..

  • It’s similar to the African American community raising a stink about the civil rights movement of the GLBTQ community, as if they own the market in minorities fighting for their rights.

  • This is a very good article and it is somewhat similar in concept to the view of a friend of mine and fellow activist who said the following when writing about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians:


    When we pretend that ‘others’ do not
    have hearts and souls; when we make our ‘enemies’ into two
    dimensional cartoon characters, we defile and degrade
    ourselves as well. I grew up feeling the pathos expressed
    in the declaration, “Never again!” However, you must
    understand that this not an exclusive directive. When it is
    not applied to *all* human beings it rings a hollow tone.

    For the source of the quote, see http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0310/S00067.htm

  • “But in the LAST DAYS it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow to it.

    “And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us if his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

    “And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

    “But they shall sit each man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it” (Micah 4:1-4, King James Version).

    These blessings will only be realized through God and his kingdom, or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 4:17) after the end of this wicked era. ???

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.

ADVERTISEMENTs