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Written by Alan Schneider, Director, B’nai B’rith World Center–Jerusalem

Even in Israel, which has been tempered by a century of Arab aggression, the horrors of Oct. 7 and the sheer scale of the of brutality inflicted upon countless innocents raised legitimate questions about how their memory should be appropriately through both tangible and intangible means.

These questions—still unresolved—took hold very soon after the terrorists were eradicated by the IDF on Israeli soil and pushed back into Gaza. Questions also arose about how this traumatic experience would affect long-running commemorations of past wars and tragedies that are part and parcel of Israel’s religious and civic calendar. This is particularly true of Holocaust Martyr’s and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah v’ HaGvura)— one of Israel’s two most solemn civic days of mourning that will be marked on Sunday and Monday.

While Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Hostile Acts, marked on the eve of Independence Day later this month, will undoubtedly feature those soldiers and civilians killed from Oct. 7 until today, the connection of Israel’s current predicament with Holocaust Remembrance Day poses a need for a more nuanced approach. Indeed, immediately following Oct.7, I asked whether the World Center and its partners—the Jewish National Fund and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust—could and should make plans to commemorate Holocaust-era Jewish rescuers, as we have for the past 22 years. Would the selflessness of Jews who risked their lives 80 years ago in courageous efforts to save fellow Jews from persecution, deportation, and death resonate with a public that has just been witness to the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust? Could we continue to honor Jewish rescuers of nearly three generations ago when hundreds of new unsung heroes are walking among us, many recovering from debilitating physical and mental trauma?

Ultimately, a decision was taken to maintain our tradition of the past two decades and hold our ceremony while including unique features, particularly a recorded address from Holocaust survivor Sarah Jackson (88), who took five young people who had escaped the massacre at the Nova music festival into the safe room in her home in Kibbutz Saad. They barricaded the door and remained inside, armed only with kitchen knives, until the afternoon, when the youngsters took their chances and fled the area.

Sarah and other Holocaust survivors have participated in a project that utilizes their experiences and will to survive in an effort to buoy the spirit of Nova survivors, many of whom are facing profound trauma and depression. At a recent session with Nova survivors (including one of those she rescued) Sarah said that “after all I have lived through, I loved life, and that is what I recommended to them—to love life and not to get stuck at Nova.”

Tragically, some Holocaust survivors lost loved ones on Oct. 7. These include Ruth Haran from Kibbutz Be’eri, whose son Avshalom was murdered along with 10 percent of the kibbutz’ 1,000 residents. Seven of her relatives including her daughter, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were taken hostage. In her mind, “When babies are murdered in their cots, when innocent women are raped then thrown to the ground and murdered, viciously, satanically, that is a Holocaust.”

While many have identified Israel’s ability to fight back effectively as the primary difference between the Jews’ response to the Nazis of this century and the last, for another Be’eri Kibbutz member, Haim Raanan (89), the difference between the two was that in Be’eri, he knew nearly every one of those murdered and kidnapped.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, some 2,500 of the 132,826 Holocaust survivors in Israel personally experienced the most violent events of Oct. 7 in the kibbutzim, towns, villages, and cities located around Gaza. 2,000 of them were evacuated from their homes; 86 among them have died in the seven intervening months.

Inevitably, comparisons between the Holocaust and Oct. 7—despite the difference in scale—will persist, if only because the Holocaust poses a specter of what Oct. 7 could have become had our forces not intervened effectively.

The denial of the gory events of Oct. 7 reflect pernicious Holocaust denial, only on a greater and more fundamental scale. Time will tell whether these two tragic events in the continuum of Jewish existence have been indelibly fused or if they can be carefully disengaged so that both the victims and the heroes can receive distinctive recognition in the context of time and place.

One way to accomplish this might be to compare the events of Oct. 7 to a pogrom, which it more closely resembles, rather than with the Holocaust. This approach would have the benefit of maintaining the Holocaust’s unique place in Jewish history, and perhaps draw renewed awareness around these isolated acts of anti-Jewish violence that plagued Jewish communities in Europe and North Africa over centuries. Hundreds of thousands of Jews have been murdered, expelled, and dispossessed, yet these events are overshadowed by the scale of the Holocaust and largely forgotten.

Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B’nai B’rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B’nai B’rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, click here.