It’s that time of year again, and my newsfeed is littered with pictures of apples doing honey bucket challenges, and smiling families wishing everyone a happy and sweet new year.
For Jewish people around the world, this year has been pretty much the opposite of happy and sweet, and the situation in Israel has been foremost in all of our minds. The homes of the three boys who were taken and murdered earlier in the year will have empty places at their tables this Rosh Hashana, and many Israelis are still living in fear. But despite this, I have received calls and texts, messages, emails and even the odd card through the door, wishing me and all the Jewish people all the best for the year ahead. And it makes me proud.
Earlier this year, a teen evoked a small media frenzy, and a slightly larger social media backlash to a photo she took of herself at Auschwitz while on a class trip. The world erupted with anger at the ‘Auschwitz selfie’ taken at the scene of so much horror and tragedy, and that she had the nerve to stand smiling with a face full of make up at the site of murder and genocide.
And I knew at once why she did it. (Or rather, I knew at once why I would have done it. As it turns out, it was some kind of memorial to her late father, and she had none of the intentions that I jumped to conclusions over, but it got me thinking.) So here is why I would be proud to take an Auschwitz selfie.
I was 19 when I visited Poland, in the year of mourning for my dear father, and a few months on from my year living in Israel. I had probably never felt quite so close to God, and if I’d realised how fragile and transient that stage is, I would have appreciated it a lot more. I remember being told that concentration camps were a place of death, and it was right to be sad and to cry. But cemeteries, they were a place of life, a place to rejoice. If these people had graves, with names on, with markers or even headstones, that meant that someone buried them. Someone lived on after them to remember them, to place the memorial, to visit and to upkeep it. We were there now, reading these peoples names, wondering and imagining about their lives, and then most importantly, going home to continue our own, because of them and others of their generation and their bravery.
A selfie at Auschwitz? A smiling face amongst all that terror and death? I see it as a flag, a symbol of our endurance. After all, there are no smiling selfies of Nazis. Just last week, a Nazi of almost 100 years old was prosecuted for being an accessory to nearly 300,000 murders. But we Jews? We are still here, we exist, we live on. We smile.
And as I look over my newsfeed, at hopeful and excited faces and witty cartoons, happily taking the place of the videos of Hamas insisting Israel are driven into the sea, calling for the death of each and every one of the Jewish people, I can see life everywhere I look. It is our ability to look to the future, to believe in the strength of our faith and our homeland, and to smile in the face of terror that keeps us united. More than that, it is what keeps us alive.
Wishing a happy, healthy and successful new year to each and every one of you!