Being a Jewish advocate for human rights is especially poignant for me on April 19th, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This was the largest act of Jewish resistance in the face of German-occupied Poland during World War II. The uprising began 73 years ago today when Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto decided to pick up arms and battle the Nazis who sought to transport them to the Treblinka extermination camp. Their heroism was unparalleled and inspires me to this day to stand with all who face genocide, ethnic hatred and injustice.
I am awe-struck by the courage of those who fought for their rights and dignity, at all costs. Just last week, I read about Rose Klepfisz, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, whose strength and ingenuity enabled her to reunite with her two-year-old daughter and live to be 102. I cannot imagine a more moving story.
This spirit of resistance, the desire to shape one’s own future, the unwillingness to surrender to one’s oppressors, and the unyielding pursuit of dignity—even at the risk of death—are values that make me proud to be a Jewish advocate for human rights.
When I think about the Warsaw Ghetto fighters, I’m reminded of AJWS’s grantees—hundreds of global activists who are entrenched in their own struggles against ethnic and religious hatred, as well as genocide, in the face of great danger. Their world looks very different from that of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto but also has much in common. They share the same desire to shape their own futures, to liberate themselves from oppression and build a better world.
As I prepare myself for the journey of Passover, the Festival of Freedom, I am drawing inspiration from the strength of courageous activists—those who are Jewish and those of other backgrounds; those who lived in 1943 and those who live in 2016. Their thirst for dignity and justice inspires me every day.
Robert Bank, currently the executive vice president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), will be the next president of AJWS, starting on July 1, 2016.