Reflections is a column by Humanity in Action Founder and Executive Director Emeritus Judy Goldstein. In each column, Judy shares her personal insights and opinions about a variety of topics and Humanity in Action’s work.
Humanity in Action Denmark is just completing a number of events recognizing the 80th anniversary of the rescue and escape of Jews in Denmark during the Holocaust. Deliberately, those events have not been celebratory or self-congratulatory but have focused on the resistance of a society that refused to abandon and punish a minority in Denmark.
Humanity in Action started its educational mission in Denmark; to link past histories of resistance to a totalitarian regime and protect an endangered minority. Now that history is being retold within the agony of appalling events in Israel and Gaza. The Danish Prime Minister spoke in the Royal Theatre in the presence of the Queen and thousands of people just a few days ago. “Let us use tonight,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said, “as an opportunity to affirm this: the Jewish people is an inseparable part of Danish society. 80 years ago, the Nazis tried to drive a wedge between us. They did not succeed. As back then also today: you—the Danish Jews—are our compatriots. Our co-citizens. Our fellow human beings. You belong. It will remain like this always.”
These are bold and inspiring words when such assurances are immediately welcome and desperately needed. Similar words have been announced by leaders of many democratic countries: aspirational words in these moments of brutality, verbal and physical violence, hatred, revenge and death. Horrific moments of agony in which there is madness on all sides of the unrelenting conflict.
Let me quote Dutch Senior Fellow Jelle Zijlstra. He recently published an article in a major Dutch newspaper about the raw injustices and punishments perpetrated on all sides of the Middle Eastern conflict:
Not a Competition
The dream of an Israel/Palestine where everyone – from the river to the sea – is free will not be liberated by a gang of misogynist murderers in the service of the ayatollahs. And while the Palestinians’ struggle for freedom is justified, the dehumanization that turns every citizen into a legitimate target is not.
The fact that almost all Jewish Israelis are descendants of survivors of the Holocaust and/or Jews that were expelled from Arab nations between 1948 and 1967, is not in competition with the daily structural violence and the history of dispossession and humiliation that Palestinians face. The massacre in Be’eri is not in competition with the horrific bombings in Gaza.
If we want to fight for a just world, let’s not succumb to dehumanization and bloodlust. Let’s mourn, let’s hold each other. Let’s not just dream of the better world we want to see for those who happen to be the star in our Instagram algorithm, but for everyone.
All in Israel and Gaza are caught in the deadly waves of violence—all subject to inhumanity in action, all reaping the poisons of hatred and the failure to resolve endless conflict. This is Jelle’s message.
But there are other messages of equal importance. The following words from Ketty Nivyabandi, a wonderful Canadian poet who passed on words from the Talmud—words she received from a concerned friend:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
Wherever we stand we must acknowledge that these moments are painful and filled with sadness for all of us. Over the past decades Humanity in Action has not sought to “complete the work” but to engage as members of a community that can share their responsibilities—as “co-citizens” and “human beings.”