A Shattered Witness
One cannot understand the Jewish community today without a sense of its past, for it was born in struggle and hope. Geographically, the beginnings of the Jewish community obviously lie in ancient Egypt and Canaan, as is recalled in the Hebrew Scriptures. The experience of slavery and liberation, though, repeated time and again in Jewish history, marks the last two thousand years as a time of movement in exile rather than of liberation.
To withstand intense communal suffering repeatedly, it is necessary to take seriously both the community's history and its promise of freedom. Interpretation of events becomes crucial, even consuming: at the heart of Jewish life is the dialectic of slavery and liberation, a paradox to be thought through in each generation.
For contemporary Jews, the overwhelming experience of suffering is the Jewish Holocaust, the death of six million Jews and the attempted annihilation of our entire people. Interpretation of the event is omnipresent, though insights are diverse and often controversial. One might say that the Holocaust is the formative event for the Jewish community of today and provides the framework from which the struggle to be faithful to our values takes shape.
To delve into the Holocaust world is to be surrounded with the agony of a people on the threshold of annihilation. Survivors' accounts and histories include testimonies of both survivors and perpetrators of the Holocaust. All point to the same incredible reality: a Kingdom of Death built by the Nazis to consume an ancient people–quite simply, to eliminate all Jews from the face of the earth.