From the Rabbi - May 2019 Print
I was recently honored to be appointed to the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission.  The commission was established in 2009 with 15 appointed commissioners. The commission works in many spheres and with many organizations to educate and raise awareness about the Holocaust and other genocides.

Why is the work of the commission so important?  In short, because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. By learning about the Holocaust and other genocides, we hope to ensure that people today learn to be the kind of people who will stand up and prevent such horrors from occurring rather than stand by and let them happen, to be up-standers rather than bystanders.

As part of its educational programming the Commission provides important guidance on how to teach about holocausts and other genocides. One of these guideline is of particular significance to us today:

Do not teach that the Holocaust was inevitable - “When teaching and learning about genocide, individuals may fall prey to helplessness or acceptance of inevitability because the event is imminent or in progress. The magnitude of the event and seeming inertia in the world community and its policymakers can be daunting, but actions of any size have potential impact. Numerous episodes from the Holocaust and other genocides illustrate this point. History does not have to repeat.”

That last phrase is the most significant - History does not have to repeat.  When learning about the Holocaust and other genocides it’s easy to think that nothing could have been done, that the  weight of history made these and other events as inevitable as they were horrifying. This is a time when we see the rise of so many hatreds, so many people finding ways to dehumanize others because of their differences, and in which we see, in particular, a very troubling rise in antisemitism, even attacks on Jews in America.  It would be easy to think the forces of history are inevitable and beyond our control and to despair of changing its course for the better. 

But learning about history teaches that all these things happened because individuals, groups, and nations made decisions to act or not act in certain ways. Recognizing the significance of those decisions leads to a better understanding of history and human nature and how to make better decisions for people and nations today. Each of us can learn to see signs of prejudice and hatred, to stand up to the  inhumanity of human beings towards those who are different, to be up-standers not bystanders in our own time.  In this time of rising antisemitism each of us can be part of the solution, each of us can play a role in ensuring these events do NOT repeat themselves for us or any other group.  The more we learn, the more we know,  and the more we understand, the more hope we have to prevent the the events of the Holocaust and other genocides from happening ever again, in our lifetimes and for generations to come. 
                    Rabbi Ilan Emanuel