Yom Hashoah – An American Perspective

This week’s blog is off topic for elder law but I feel compelled to put my thoughts in writing. I hope, regardless of your politics or religion, it makes you think, and maybe act.


On April 12, 2018 Many people in the United States observe Yom Hashoah, which is also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. It commemorates the lives and heroism of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. It also celebrates those, Jewish and Non-Jewish alike, who courageously fought the Nazis to protect the innocent people being slaughtered. I do want to point out that in addition to the 6,000,000 Jews killed by the Nazis, 5,000,000 other people were exterminated because they did not fit the mold of HitIer’s Aryan race. For perspective, Europe was home to 9,000,000 Jews prior to WWII. The Nazis exterminated 2/3 of Europe’s Jews and approximately 1/3 of ALL Jews in the world prior to WWII. 2/3 of today’s Catholic population in the U.S.A. is a little over 51,000,000 people. Think about that in context. As I sat in a service for the commemoration I was thinking about how relevant it is this year. While it Yom Hashoah is a Jewish remembrance, I think the significance reaches far beyond Jews. While I am a Jew, I am also an American. To me the two are intricately intertwined. Listening to people who have visited parts of Europe where Jewish memorials stand yet no Jews live anymore was sobering. Again, not because of the Jews that died but how hate, unchallenged, can be so toxic.


In my 25 years as an attorney I have been blessed to meet so many incredible people of all cultures and backgrounds. I have met people who are 85, 90, 95+ who have lived so many experiences different than mine. They shared with me their struggles. I have been awed by their strength (and admitted to myself quietly that I am not sure I would have survived what they did). But I also learned of their joys, their different celebrations, their different traditions. Some of them I look forward to trying, some not. But at no time did I feel that I was not better for having met these people. I learned so much from their experiences. Hate prevents that learning. Hate poisons the opportunity to gain from each other’s experiences. Hate kills not only people but communities, countries, worlds. Like it or not we are all part of a community.


I will not deny that when I read the news and I hear of exponential growth in hate crimes (to Jews, Muslims and other groups) I get concerned. Not just for the safety of people that I love. But because it is a very short step from being the hater in the majority to the person being hated in the minority. Look in the schoolyard. One day you are a cool kid and one day you can be the uncool kid. This occurs internationally as well as locally.


Eli Weisel was a prolific, world-renowned advocate for oppressed people and a great thinker. Many of his quotes are legendary:


We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.


The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.


There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.


Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.


No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.


Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.


Peace is our gift to each other.


When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.


After all, God is God because he remembers.


I will admit, when asked to help sometimes, I have thought “Not me,” I am too busy, too tired to do anything. Now I must reconsider. As an American what does this mean? Political and ideological conflict is at an all time high. 24/7 news channels highlight this conflict over and over and over. It is depressing and frightening. To me, today, it means making a post expressing my concerns and my hope. Tomorrow it may mean volunteering for an organization that helps stamp out hate or making a financial donation to such a group.


I am sorry about the dark tone of this post. It was not meant to be depressing or alarming. As a maturing (aging?) adult I feel compelled to try to remember that we are all a community and when one of us hurts, we all hurt. The divisiveness of our political discourse has bled into how we treat each other. Recently I had a holiday celebration at my home. One relative has political views vastly different from the other family members (and my own). But he is a good, decent person and in all other ways I enjoy spending time with him. At no time during the evening did I feel the need to bring up disagreeable topics or talk politics. We just enjoyed the food and the company and talked about the things that bonded us. It was not hard. I will also say that if there was a point of politics I believe that we could have spoken about it respectfully because we can avoid making it personal. Because we love and respect each other. And he is not the only friend or family member with whom I may have differing political views and still have great respect and affection for. As a lawyer you often meet people who you are forced to fight tooth and nail and then have lunch afterwards and learn that you have much in common.


Yet it seems that often today that is not possible for many people. And the funny thing is, if you take a lefty left liberal and a righty right conservative and put them in a room to just talk, without all of the background noise, you will find that there is common ground probably 80% of the time. And that the radicals in each party are largely ill informed on the facts and economics of most issues. I guess that what I am saying is that when people take the politics out of it, most issues can be resolved if everyone gets a little and gives a little. But is seems like some people believe that the only option is grinding the opposition to dust to squelch all disagreement. Nothing great that occurred in the history of man was an easy choice or an easy endeavor; they required conflict and they required compromise. There is rarely one clearly right or wrong answer to most non-mathematical questions.


What does politics have to do with the hate of WWII? Because today so much of our politics is based on driving a wedge. “Us” against “Them.” Do a google search of how nationalist political parties are getting stronger and stronger in European countries. How some countries are now denying their role in WWII. Remember that before Hitler Germany was just a group of demoralized people after WWI and someone said that the answer to “Make Germany Great Again” is to kill this group of people. And I am not suggesting in any way that our president (or his handlers who came up with the catchy slogan) believes a similar solution would work for America, I am simply using an eerily similar term because it suggests there is an easy answer to the question, “elect me, elect my correct perspective, and all will be well.”. But there is no right answer. It takes compromise and contribution from a lot of different perspectives. In a country like America, those different perspectives make America what it has been and I cringe at the thought of living in a homogenous country where there is only one “right” religion, skin color, or culture. Hitler had a simple answer to the question too, but success, happiness and prosperity of a country is a very complex question with an answer that has many, many moving parts. Sometimes a demoralized group of people turns to demonizing another group of people and that can lead to hate and killing. Back then the answer was kill the Jews. Today it could be close the borders because the Muslims and Mexicans are bad. Or confiscate the money from the rich people because they must be bad, they have what I don’t. Or get rid of the selfish poor people wanting to sponge off the system. Then what? Name calling people you have never met and know nothing about does not solve the problem. It only makes someone else accountable for your discomfort or unhappiness.


We all give and we all receive and it is not “us” against “them.” At some point we could all be the “them” so be very careful when you take the position that some people are so different than you. We are all a “We.” As an American I am proud and comforted that even though I have reservations, we in the U.S.A. and are still pretty far from Nazi Germany. But never say “never.” We all have to remind ourselves of our shared history and what our country was and we as a country stand for. And that apathy and intellectual laziness (and avoidance of engagement) leads down a slippery slope and what is at the bottom is not appealing.


To the people reading this post, thank you for being part of this “We.”


About The Author

Named One of the Main Line’s Top Elder Law Attorneys
by Main Line Today
Robert M. Slutsky has practiced Elder Law since 1992 and was one of the area’s first elder law attorneys. Rob Slutsky advises clients on Medicaid and Asset Protection Planning, Guardianships, Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Estate Administration, Special Needs Planning and General Estate Planning. He has represented for profit and non-profit elder care providers and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. Rob Slutsky has been the solicitor for the Montgomery County Office of Aging and Adult Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Montgomery County, for more than 15 years.