There are many experiences and feelings of the Holocaust which I cannot even imagine; The suffering is just too much to comprehend. But there are thoughts I have, as I try to put myself in the mindset of a person watching as their entire community is extinguished. I think of being barred from certain industries, of losing my job along with countless other Jews. I picture my synagogue and my beloved Milt's with the windows smashed in after a night like Kristallnacht. Where once I donned a Star of David necklace as a badge of pride--I'm Jewish!--now it is forced on me as a marker of something shameful. People I had considered friends or at least friendly no longer look at me or speak to me. Signs go up: No Jews Allowed. Who among us would see what was happening, and who would be in denial? After generations in this country, they would not turn on us now. Would they?
This is how it happened. Remembering the Holocaust is not just about mourning those lost, though we do grieve them. It is about teaching the world how it happened, how Hitler did not invent anti-Semitism but stirred it up, step by hateful step. When we say, "Never Again," we are cognizant that events may never exactly replicate what happened in Europe last century, but that we must be on guard against the kind of rhetoric that preceded them.
The morning after the day I converted to Judaism, I was on my way to work, back to my usual routine despite my elation over finally being a Jew. As the 151 turned onto Lake Shore Drive, I noticed a group of people speaking animatedly in German and pointing toward the view of Lake Michigan. I smiled as they filed past me a few stops later, always grateful for a refreshed perspective on my beautiful city. And then I saw it. The swastika on the younger girl's messenger bag. If I thought that my Jewish existence would be free from persecution, here was a reminder that embers of hatred still existed and could always be stoked again.
I wonder if they thought it was the end. I wonder if they asked if the world knew. I wish I could show them everything: How much we know, how we are working to ensure it won't happen again, how Jewish life has not only continued but flourished, how we made it back home. I want them to see every beautiful Jewish baby that has been born. I want them to know about people like me, who are choosing Judaism even after the Holocaust, how we answer with a resounding "Yes!" from the mikveh when the Rabbi asks if we understand that we may be persecuted as Jews. I want to tell them: You are not my blood relatives, but you are my people. You are not forgotten. We will never forget.