I'm often struck by how powerful it feels to be a Jewish person living in Europe in 2021. Sofie and I were talking about this just the other night and, specifically, how I'm protected by time. If this were the mid-twentieth century, my life would be in danger by virtue of my existing here. There are vestiges of wartime that still populate the land here in the Netherlands and more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were killed during the war. There are small but powerful memorial stones placed just outside many apartment buildings in the cities that most people walk right past -- taking a moment to stop and read them and then to imagine what must have happened back then to these people is a visceral, awe-inspiring experience for me.
And yet, the reality is that there is a rise in the popularity of neofascist groups all across Europe (and even in the U.S.). I wonder how it's possible for there to be a return to that sort of thinking, in light of all we've learned and experienced in the decades since WWII about genocide and the mentality that finds some justification in it. In governments across the world, there is a small but vocal minority of people being elected to legislatures with ideas about ridding the world of Jewish people (and other minorities). As demographics continue to shift and diversify, I grow more and more concerned that we haven't seen the worst of what this resurgence has in store and it motivates me to examine what's in our past so that we can effectively apply those lessons to the future.
On top of that, my hope is that we can share and learn about one another's traditions so that future generations will not look upon people who don't share their beliefs as "the other"; rather, that they'll have learned enough to know that we are stronger together and that demonizing one group or one people is a recipe for disaster.
To wit: I had this beautiful opportunity just a few weeks ago when a friend's daughter (age 12) was doing a report in school exploring different world religions. Her mom suggested to her that she reach out to me to ask some questions she had about Judaism (they are not a Jewish family). The questions this young girl was asking were insightful, intelligent and full of curiosity -- I was inspired and responded to her in voice note form with as much specificity and clarity as I could. Shortly after sending those voice notes to her mom (and after a translation session where her mom explained what I was saying in Dutch), I learned that the girl's project had become entirely about the Jewish religion and that they were interested to join us for a Shabbat dinner in the near future.
We made that dinner happen just a few weeks ago and it was such a pleasure to share the traditions of the Shabbat with this girl, her two younger siblings and their mom. They brought the digital presentation with them that evening and we watched through it to see how they'd incorporated what I'd told them into the project. There was something so pure, so joyful and so encouraging about listening to this girl read through her report about what she'd learned and how she interpreted the information. She talked about the traditions, the Holocaust and about what it's like to be Jewish in the 21st century. I'm grateful to know that she shared this report with a group of her classmates in school -- and that hopefully those kids will have taken at least some of what she said to heart.