by Danielle Marie Holland
I am walking toward the tall wall of seemingly endless rows of barbed wire. I see each step of mine, the foot of a child, exposed, frail and swollen. My fingers graze the fence as I begin a frantic climb. Advancing upward, my hands are shaking as each new grasp cuts abrasions into my skin, widening and deepening with each fresh slice. My head gets light, and blood drips from my palms as I clamp down to muffle screams of pain. I hear shouting in the direction of the guard tower, followed by a gunshot. Then, another. My body freezes, my muscles are shocked. As I fall, everything turns black. Abruptly, I wake up. This is always where I wake up.
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, memorialized as such by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005, approximately 24 years after I was born. Before 2005, I remembered the Holocaust in the ways many other Jews of my generation have; from recurring childhood dreams, to the shaking tattooed arms of elders, and comprehensive Hebrew school history lessons. Genocide was nothing one forgot — it was in your bones, in your body, and in your blood.
I was a serious child. Each spring, my family would gather to celebrate Passover, the holiday that commemorates the biblical story of the Israelites escaping from slavery in Egypt. Around the dinner table we held the Seder, the ceremonial holiday meal, telling the historical tale from start to finish. Every year, I would interrogate the evening’s closing declaration (those words said at the end of traditional Seders) in the most literal sense, a metaphor beyond my grasp, “Next year in Jerusalem?! Why do we say this, we aren’t going to Jerusalem! We have never left the country!”
As I got older, I began to question what it meant when we said, “Never again.” Originally attributed to the poet Yitzhak Lamdan, who immigrated from what is now known as Ukraine to what is now known as Israel in 1920, he wrote, “Never shall Masada fall again.” The condensed phrase lived on, becoming a rallying cry for some, a slogan for others, and, for more still, an ideology. We shall remember the Holocaust and we shall never let it happen again.
This remembrance day, I return to reflect on what “never again” means to me.
I exist here in Seattle today, part of a relatively recent immigration story: A great-grandmother who fled the Pale of Settlement after her family was slaughtered and entered this nation as a refugee, becoming part of the ongoing Jewish diaspora. Assimilation was passed down for survival. Language was lost; my Yiddish begins and ends with oy vey. My recipe book is empty of stories handed down, and contains only ghosts collected over generations. I look out at the landscape of the city I call home, and indeed the landscape is concerning.
While legislative councils engage in symbolic displays, such as adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which names criticizing the policies and human rights abuses of the state of Israel as an “act of antisemitism,” and while Jewish voices fight over these considerations, harm is every day being carried out across our region. Acts of violence, acts of bigotry, acts of antisemitism. In Seattle, we have seen ever-increasing antisemitism and anti-Jewish hate. No proclamations or definitions of antisemitism provide the tangible answers we need to our pressing problems. The fixed definition of the IHRA would only further isolate us and create even more barriers for Jews working in solidarity with other oppressed groups in the collective fight for equity and human rights. These definitions act as a shield, hiding actual antisemitism perpetrated by white Christian nationalists while punishing actual human rights activists and advocates.
What we most urgently need now is real action. Jews must be considered within King County’s commitment to equity and social justice. We need tangible actions, conversations, and cultural change. Like the advocacy work being done to address calendaring by the Seattle Public School system, where it seemed that every few years the school year was set to begin on the holiest of days for observant Jews. We need policies and partnerships that address the ever-present and alarming proliferation of anti-Jewish tropes, imagery, and hate crimes.
We must collectively acknowledge that Seattle exists within Christian hegemony, which is harmful to Black Jews, Indigenous Jews, queer Jews, varying to our range of identities, but existent to all Jews — whatever our color or race or shape or gender or ethnicity may be. In a city blanketed with DEI consultants, specialists, and directors, the question must be engaged — how do Jews fit into this work? This takes real learning, this takes real time and space and consideration. We have to hold deliberations on what needs to happen for Jews’ physical safety to be taken into account across our community spaces. What steps need to be followed to address inclusiveness and access for Jewish Seattleites.
Dismantling antisemitism is work we all must do — and it is deeply anti-racist and anti-oppressive work. Within the larger Jewish community itself, this work requires a diverse cross-section across class, race, ability, political affiliations, and divides. We must bridge and expand our coalitions and the size of our tent. As Jews, we can and do hold complexity. As a greater community of Seattle, we need to actually understand what antisemitism is here, how to fight it here, and not get stuck in the mud with definitions that only seek to silence progressive voices. We must hold space to go further.
Antisemitism is thousands of years old. The work of dismantling antisemitism will not be done in our lifetimes, but it is essential to our very lives that we do this work. When I reflect on “never again” and lessons I have learned from Jewish history and the Holocaust, I reflect on the work of pursuing justice. On the importance of free speech and independent press. On the imperative of one’s ability to criticize a state, a government, an entity, or a corporation. On our voices, to never be silenced.
Let us work together and not in division — to do the work we are meant to do — repairing the harm in this world. May we do it in joy and celebration. May we make “never again,” one day, a reality for all.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Danielle Marie Holland is an essayist, freelance writer, and podcaster. Danielle’s written work has been published in Parents Magazine, Insider, DAME, Rewire News Group, and beyond.
📸 Featured image by Elena Tolmach/Shutterstock.com.
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