The dawn of the Trump era saw the revival of a protest slogan born in heroic defiance of Nazi terror: Mir veln zey iberlebn — We will outlive them.
The story goes that a group of Hasidic Jews from Lublin, Poland, were ordered to sing to their own execution. According to an eyewitness, a man began a prayer of reconciliation, which inspired no one to join his song. In a moment of divine genius, he changed the words to “Mir veln zey iberlebn, iberlebn, iberlebn” — “We will outlive them.” It was then that the crowd began singing and dancing. They continued to sing even as the Nazi troops attacked and killed them.
In the face of continued physical and rhetorical attacks on our people, I find my social media feeds inundated with this song, which was recently re-popularized by leftist klezmer band Tsibele. It has also appeared as a large banner at protests in New York and on patches sold by Tsibele that can be seen worn by Jewish protesters.
Much like we do in the waning hours of Yom Kippur, when we recite the stories of Jewish martyrs, we are forced to ask: When confronted with neo-Nazis in our communities, will we live up to the defiant last words and deeds of our martyrs?
In moments of weakness after these attacks, I ask myself: How can you bring a kid into this world? But, as my wife and I prepare for the coming of our second child later this month, I answer myself with another question: How can we not build a family in this world? If we do not take the risk to create a new generation, we cannot keep the promise made in Lublin when we sing their song.
We are raising our 4-year-old son in a terrifying world with help from our loving families and friends, teachers, and smiling strangers on the bus who listen to his semi-coherent stories of playground exploits.
Of course, he will grow up to live in our world and learn about the complex mess we have handed him. But he is still young, and perhaps he can hold on to those sources of joy for longer than I could. Maybe he will remember the support of his family, friends and smiling strangers, and live a joy-filled life despite it all — and that this is how we outlive the bastards.
I do not know if the men of Lublin were thinking that way when facing down those Nazis or if they simply would not give their murderers the satisfaction of killing their souls along with their bodies. But I choose to believe they were singing for their children’s children. I believe that they chose those words to represent the smiles and laughter of the children of Lublin — children who would be born to families in Pittsburgh and Poway, Christchurch and Charleston — because that is what I do when I sing these words.
Our families, lives and choices look different than they did in Nazi-terrorized Lublin, but our fight is the same. Someone will always rise to kill us, but we know how to beat them. We win by living for the children of our community. We learn and laugh and love and bring new life into the world by singing without any hesitation: Mir veln zey iberlebn— fur die kinder. We will outlive them — for our children.