Today, Thursday, April 12, is a holiday known as Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. The full name of the holiday is actually Yom Hashoah Ve–Hagevurah – the “Day of [Remembrance of] the Holocaust and the Heroism.” The holiday is a relatively recent one in Judaism, as it was officially created by the Israeli government in 1953. In Israel, this day is marked by our Israeli brothers and sisters standing silently in devotion whilst a siren is heard throughout the entire country for two full minutes. You can find videos of these moments that show whole highways stopping, and thousands of people getting out of their cars to stand silently until the siren ceases. For American Jews, Yom Hashoah activities usually include special services, prayers, or education sessions. Here in the Greater Lafayette area, we hold this time as sacred and I, for one, am grateful to be taking part in the Holocaust Remembrance Conference, whose opening ceremony will take place this Saturday evening at Temple Israel.
The Holocaust, for me, has always been pivotal historic moment in my understanding of what it means to be a Jew today. While at Boston University, I took part in the Lipper Internship at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, wherein I taught at local Boston schools and gave tours at the museum itself in Battery Park. While in Seminary, I was a fellow for the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education in Cincinnati, Ohio. During my tenure, I was able to meet with Holocaust survivors, hear and record their stories, and create museum exhibits to ensure they were never forgotten. It was sacred work.
The importance of Holocaust education has never been more important, as we see Holocaust-denial and antisemitism rising dramatically in our country’s political climate. Holocaust survivors are becoming old and frail and as they pass away, our living witnesses to this horrible event in humanity’s history are significantly reduced. It is therefore up to us to continue to teach and advocate, not just about Holocaust education, but in response to all genocides across history and the world.
This Saturday morning, we will hold our Saturday Shacharit services, wherein we will read Torah, Haftarah, and worship together. We will take a few moments to acknowledge Yom Hashoah at this service, but mostly we will honor the memories of those lost in the Holocaust by engaging in Jewish continuity. Our gathering in a synagogue, our reading from our historic Torah scrolls, and our voices raised in song are living protests against antisemitism, and declarations of the opposite message that Hitler wanted. Instead of our disappearance, our gathering is an expression of am Yisrael chai, the people of Israel live! Before our Shacharit service we will hold a short Munchkin Minyan, wherein our young families and children will gather for Shabbat music and prayer. Our children are the representation of our survival, and their continued learning and engagement in Judaism is a monument to Judaism’s continuity.
We hope that you will join us Saturday morning for worship, on Saturday evening for the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Remembrance Conference, and at all the subsequent events that promote education on the Holocaust. Today, however, as this is the day that Israel will be commemorating Yom Hashoah, as Diaspora Jews, so, too, should we. While we won’t hear sirens ringing throughout our land, I would encourage each of you to find two minutes in your day to pause, to reflect, to meditate, and to pray. This two-minute break in your day shows the strength of Judaism, its resilience, and its beauty.
Zichronam L’vracha – May the memories of those lost in the Holocaust be forever a blessing.