Daily Israel Report

Fmr. Chief Rabbi 'We Learned Nothing From the Holocaust'

Rabbi Yisrael Lau, child survivor turned Israeli chief rabbi, says all Jews are 'survivors', laments Jewish youth going to live in Berlin.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 4/28/2014, 3:57 PM

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
Flash 90

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, survived the death camp of Buchenwald as a child in the Holocaust. 

Speaking to Walla! on Holocaust Memorial Day, Rabbi Lau argued that not only he, but all Jews and all future generations of Jews are Holocaust survivors, for if the genocidal Nazi machine was not halted in 1945 it would have continued until it wiped out all Jews.

Rabbi Lau, who was born in Poland, is 38th in an unbroken chain of rabbis, a chain continued most prominently by his son, current Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi David Lau.

Asked about his remarkable path from child survivor to chief rabbi of the Jewish state, Rabbi Lau, who is chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and winner of the Israel Prize for lifetime achievements, recalled those who saved him. First and foremost he noted his older brother Naftali, who protected him after his parents were murdered by the Nazis.

Pointing to a picture of himself and his brother at the time of the liberation of Buchenwald, Rabbi Lau notes he was photographed with a rifle lent to him by a US soldier "to avenge the blood of my parents." 

"We haven't learned a thing from history"

Speaking about the trend of Jewish youth moving to Berlin in recent years, Rabbi Lau remarked "it's very sad, and it shows that all we learned from history is that we haven't learned a thing."

Many youth in Israel and also the former Soviet Union look to make their future in Berlin in hopes of better economic conditions says Rabbi Lau, and in doing so show their historical blindness.

Pointing out the great esteem held by German Jews before the Holocaust, following prominent figures from the Rothschild family to Albert Einstein, the rabbi noted the end that awaited them despite their great contributions to German society - as doctors healing people and professors educating them: "none of that helped us."

Aside from Israel, "we have no other land, this is our home," emphasized Rabbi Lau. "To the youth who return from March of the Living, I say 'kiss the ground (of Israel).' You don't know to appreciate it, but I do."

"Spiritual suicide" of the exile versus the eternal state of Israel

Rabbi Lau also addressed the shocking figures of assimilation and intermarriage among Jewish communities outside of Israel.

"I see in it a turning of their backs not only to the past, but also cutting off from the future. The second you assimilate, Heaven forbid, the second you cut off from the homeland, the nation and the Jewish heritage, you disappear. It's spiritual self-loss, it's actual suicide," remarked the rabbi.

Noting the intermarriage rates of 52% in New York, 70% in California and 80% in Scandinavia, Rabbi Lau appraised that the "strong seed" remains in Israel.

"I'm not worried about the future of the Jewish people in the state of Israel, it will always exist," remarked Rabbi Lau. "We get hit here and there, there's friction and disagreements, but the base exists because the roots are deep - there (in exile) there are no roots."

"I will open your graves...and bring you to Israel"

When asked how his Zionist views integrate with his being a hareidi rabbi, given the fact that several hareidi sects have rejected the state of Israel, Rabbi Lau responded "a Zionist is one who loves the land of Israel and sees in it his home and his future."

"I left the exile with no intention of returning to it ever again. All of my children live in Israel and are active in it, them, their sons and daughters," added Rabbi Lau.

The rabbi noted "some call it the start of the redemption, I don't exactly know to define the ideas, as only G-d has the answers. But there is no doubt that all the prophets spoke about the vision of the in-gathering of the exiles."

Rabbi Lau finished by quoting the prophet Yehezkel's (Ezekiel) vision of the dry bones, saying "Thus said the L-rd G-d: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel" (Ezekiel 37:12). 

Those resurrected dry bones are a metaphor for the present generation, concluded the child survivor turned chief rabbi.