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Holocaust Remembrance Day rings different after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tomorrow is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was created nearly two decades ago by the U.N. General Assembly to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. For many this year, the day rings differently in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks. NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose reports.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Holocaust Museum LA traces the history of the genocide from its origins through liberation.

BETH KEAN: This gallery's important because this is where we talk about 1933 to 1938.

DEROSE: Beth Kean is the museum's CEO.

KEAN: I feel very lucky to have a photo of my grandfather as part of our core exhibit.

DEROSE: She points to a small sepia picture of a group of little boys wearing prayer shawls and peyos (ph).

KEAN: And it looks like he's around 8 years old. He's in the front row on the far left.

DEROSE: He survived and told stories about living in fear of death. One lesson Kean heard over and over from her grandparents was that it could happen again. And so Holocaust Remembrance Day and her life's work are in part, for Kean, about proving them wrong, especially this year following the October 7 massacre of more than 1,200 by Hamas terrorists.

KEAN: This day is an important reminder that the whole world needs to come together now more than ever to stand up and speak out against all forms of hate.

RICHARD HIRSCHHAUT: It is not the Holocaust, but there are very clear connective threads that remind us of the Holocaust because of the experience of October 7 - a pogrom, really.

DEROSE: For Richard Hirschhaut with the American Jewish Committee, those threads include Jews hiding in safe rooms, being shot, mutilated.

HIRSCHHAUT: The sort of evil that was perpetrated upon the Jewish people and millions of other innocents during the Holocaust is not a distant memory.

DEROSE: Which is why, Hirschhaut says, Holocaust Remembrance Day is especially poignant this year. The day serves as a stark reminder for Rabbi Noah Farkas that the Holocaust rallying cry, never again, might have been spoken too soon.

NOAH FARKAS: If I had to use a word to describe how we're feeling, it's disillusioned.

DEROSE: Disillusioned that the world has so quickly turned from the horrors of the Hamas attack to fights on campuses about free speech or at city council meetings over votes to stand with Israel. Farkas heads The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

FARKAS: Starting on October 7, we've come to the realization that the privilege that we thought we'd built, at least here in America, is entirely conditional and that that privilege was completely stripped out from underneath us.

DEROSE: He points to the dramatic rise in antisemitic instances. This current sorrow, Farkas says, echoes the ancient sorrow of a biblical prophet.

FARKAS: I think of Ezekiel's metaphor of the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel sees his temple destroyed, wanders into the desert bereft, and comes upon a valley of death.

DEROSE: Farkas says the lesson from Ezekiel this Holocaust Remembrance Day is not giving in to despair.

FARKAS: Resurrection of the dead, literally or figuratively, begins with the resurrection of hope.

DEROSE: Death and antisemitism don't circumscribe what it means to be a Jew, says Farkas. Rather, he defines his community by acts of loving kindness, by joy and, ultimately, by life.

Jason DeRose, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBBIE SONG, "I'M DIFFERENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.