Choose Life: A Speech by BWC Member Helen Raizen

In the hours leading up to Shabes this past Friday, 10/27, the Boston Workers Circle co-sponsored a rally with IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace called “Boston Jews Say Ceasefire Now!” After gathering on the Boston Common, we set out on a march to the JFK federal building to support six Jewish activists sitting in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office reciting the mourner’s Kaddish, singing, and asking to meet with the senator to relay our demand for a ceasefire. Dozens of BWC members of all ages attended the rally and march, coming from committees ranging from the Israel Palestine Committee to AFREJ (Action for Economic and Racial Justice) to A Besere Velt, BWC’s Yiddish chorus. Some of those who marched had joined BWC very recently, outraged by the JCRC’s decision to expel us for our ceasefire call and inspired by our principled position.

The response of those on the Boston streets to hundreds of Jews and allies chanting “Ceasefire Now,” “Not in Our Name,” and “Let Gaza Live” was overwhelming and heartening, with folks chanting along and filming the marchers on their phones, while women in hijabs flashed the peace sign. At the JFK building, after speeches, stories and singing, a powerful ceremony was held in which each attendee placed a pebble or stone on a banner reading “Jews Say Ceasefire Now.” Doing so recalled the Jewish custom of placing stones of the grave markers of the deceased, and was followed at the close of the event by a recitation of the mourner’s Kaddish in honor of the lives lost so far, many thousands of them women and children. After the stones were placed and before the Kaddish, BWC’s Board President Rachel Hess and IPC co-chair Helen Raizen spoke. Helen’s speech struck a deep nerve with many listeners. Here it is:

Choose Life
by Helen Raizen, October 27, 2023

During the Holocaust, the dehumanizers took our humanity away a piece at a time. One of my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side, Isador Krys, was sent to Buchenwald (we don’t know the specifics). The dehumanization was just beginning, and, when he died in March of 1940, at age 66, his body was sent back to Vienna for burial in the Jewish Cemetery. My other great-grandfather, Adolf Amon, had diabetes and died in September of that year, age 71, because the Nazis withheld insulin from him, so he is also buried in the same cemetery. I’ve been to that cemetery and left pebbles on each gravestone. Their wives, two of my great-grandmothers, Helene Amon and Rosa Krys, survived in Vienna long enough to be deported by train, Helene to Lodz in 1941 and Rosa to Izbica in 1942. Each of them was 61. By then we’d lost the humanity of even having a body worthy of burial.

One thing that I know in the depth of my bones is that the dehumanization of my four great-grandparents and the other six million killed in the Holocaust should not be compounded by the dehumanization of 2.3 million Palestinians, the majority of whom are refugees and their descendants from the 520 Palestinian communities that were erased in 1948 and all of whom are being deprived of food, water, electricity and medicine today in Gaza – a deprivation eerily similar to what my elderly ancestors experienced in Vienna more than 80 years ago. I wonder how many insulin-dependent diabetics in Gaza are experiencing the same terrible fate of Adolf Amon in 1940.

The slogan “Never Again” seems very hollow to me. I found on Wikipedia a list of genocides that strictly meet the UN definition and counted 19 since the Holocaust, not including any that might have occurred this year. That’s about one every 4 years or so. Can we stop the dehumanization that has led to the killing of over 2700 children in the past three weeks? Can we stop the dehumanization that has led to the displacement of over 1.4 million people – humans – and the destruction of almost half the housing units in Gaza? I don’t know, but I know we are all here today to try. Maybe this time we can actually make NEVER AGAIN mean it, because we’ve failed miserably up until now. END THE SIEGE OF GAZA. RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS and HOSTAGES. CEASEFIRE NOW. It’s time to CHOOSE LIFE.

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