I was born to a reformed Jewish family in Denver, Colorado. My mother was not raised Jewish, and my father had been relatively detached from his religion. My parents set me up to lead a Jewish life. I was put in a Jewish preschool, attended synagogue on High Holidays, educated at a Jewish Day School for 9 years, became a Bat Mitzvah, and joined a Jewish youth group. Growing up, I struggled to feel emotional when hearing about the Holocaust or antisemitism. My family had fled to the United States from Poland before the Holocaust. In my mind, that detached me from other Jews. I understood the catastrophic horrors and countless deaths from the Holocaust– my issue was that I could never understand the situation on a smaller scale.
I walked through Yad Vashem in Jerusalem this summer, and for the first time, my heart ached for the lives lost.
I believe that for my entire life, I have been influenced by the people around me. No one cares about antisemitism. When surrounded by people who don't care, I learn not to care. It's the scary truth.
A few weeks ago, I came across the death record of Jan Bombel. I have never known there to be another Bombel in the world. I have struggled to find any other information on her. All I know is that we share a name, and she was murdered in the Holocaust. That's all I needed. It's scary to know that someone who could have been related to me went through horrific pain. Funnily, the same thing is happening today.
Today I am living in what often feels like the stories I have heard about the rise of Hitler. It's hard to say never again when the unspeakable is happening before our eyes.
My great-aunt is my source of stories. She moved from New York City to Fort Collins, CO, and she's about as close to a Jewish grandmother that I will ever have. In her home hangs a poster of the famous quote by Martin Niemöller, as follows below.
"First, they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."
The Jewish people seem to have a complicated relationship with the rest of the world. Perhaps it's because others hate Israel, or maybe they still think my 80-year-old aunt is controlling the weather. Maybe people hate me because they are afraid I will shoot them with a space laser, or they just don't like my nose. And so, this is me, speaking out for myself and for my people. No matter the reason, others will not speak out for us, so we are forced to speak out for ourselves.
If I know anything, it's that the Jewish people are a strong people. We have survived countless acts of hatred in the past, and we will continue to persevere in the future. Just because we are weathering the storm doesn't make us want to live in it.
I truly don't understand why it is so hard to practice kindness and respect. We are taught to respect our peers, elders, and environment. Yet, when it comes to respecting Jews, the task grows impossible.
I don’t like pity. I don’t want people to feel bad for me because I may or may not have had a relative die in the Holocaust or because I’ve faced antisemitism first hand. I want others to understand and form a respect for me and my culture, solely for what it is.
Ellie Bombel is the 31st International Aym Ha'Chaverot from Rocky Mountain Region.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
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