The provisional decision announced this morning by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirms Israel's right to continue defending itself. But to even suggest that Israel — barbarically attacked by Hamas on October 7, its people burned alive, raped, and taken hostage — might be committing genocide is a perverse reversal of reality. The loss of innocent civilian life in Gaza is tragic. It is heartbreaking. But the blame must be laid squarely at the feet of Hamas, which has deliberately perpetrated its attacks from beneath schools, mosques, hospitals, and apartment buildings.
Many others — including Tal Becker, Israel’s legal advisor at the ICJ, and journalist Bret Stephens — have made the case eloquently why South Africa's accusation of genocide against Israel is unfounded and worse. And the court today made clear that it was not ruling on the underlying merits of the claim, a process that will take years to play out. But it’s particularly painful that the court’s interim decision was announced on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Earlier this week, I joined an event at the United Nations marking the day, hosted by Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan.
Ambassador Erdan noted that there are two different days on the calendar to commemorate the Holocaust:
The international community marks Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.
Israel and the worldwide Jewish community commemorate Yom HaShoah on the 27th day of Nissan in the Hebrew calendar (this year, on May 6).
He went on to note that these two days reflect two very different events: On January 27, Auschwitz was liberated. The 27th of Nissan aligns with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
The international community focuses on the moment of liberation, when those who had managed to survive the horrors of Auschwitz were freed — a day of enormous significance. But when designating a national day of remembrance, Israel chose to lift up a moment of audacious resistance and courage in the face of insurmountable odds. A choice that speaks volumes about who we are as a people — and what the modern state of Israel represents.
Wednesday’s program and an accompanying exhibit were titled “We Are Still Standing," featuring recent photographs of survivors. We also viewed a documentary profiling four Holocaust survivors, now living in Israel, who experienced the horrors of October 7. Despite their profound grief, the survivors' message was one of resilience and strength — the same extraordinary resilience and strength that’s been exhibited by so many throughout Israel since the war began.
We are still standing.
On a related but much lighter note, a group of 159 high school seniors from SAR, a modern Orthodox day school in Riverdale, visited UJA's offices this week. (The first of many such visits, I hope.)
As second-semester seniors, they’re focusing on what comes next in life, and they came seeking a lesson in “Jewish civics.” We were happy to oblige.
I spoke with them about UJA’s role as the backbone of our community, supporting the most pressing needs both locally and globally. They asked smart questions, and their enthusiasm was a welcome balm to the heavy days we’ve all been experiencing.
In a lovely note, the principal wrote: “Students are thirsting for meaningful ways to be involved in serving the Jewish people, and so many of them came over to me afterward to say that they are seriously thinking about Jewish communal work for the first time in their lives.”
For all their youthful optimism, a heavy responsibility sits with these young people:
They will be the ones to impart the lessons of the Holocaust when survivors are no longer with us. They will be the ones keeping our community here in New York and around the world strong and secure. And they will be the ones tasked to make sure that American Jewry and Israel stay connected.
Perhaps the most powerful lesson we can convey to these students — watching history unfold in real time — is with our words and actions, a united community, standing together.