April 7 is Yom Hashoah V’hagevurah, the day designated by the Israeli Kenesset as the day to remember the Holocaust and the Heroism of those who resisted. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we commemorate Yom Hashoah. Some survivors choose to remember by telling their story, others are very reluctant not only to tell the story but to have it know that they have a story at all. Having heard quite a few survivors speak, I understand quite well those who feel that telling the story satisfies a human voyeuristic impulse to gaze upon another’s pain, but can never fully transmit the depth of the actual experience and does not always transmit useful lessons.
What troubles me about the stories is when the survivor uses his or her story as a weapon, a club to beat people over the head with. I heard one such story the last time I took a group to the Halocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills – the survivor repeatedly looked at the audience and accused them of passivity, complicity, and asked them what they are going to do to prevent another holocaust. “This is what happened to me,” the survivor said, “and you” – looking at my Christian college group – “would have been guilty. This is what they did to me – what would you have done about it?”
I fully support Steven Speilberg’s project or documenting, recording, and saving the stories. We need to retain the hard evidence of human stories and suffering to keep the holocaust deniers at bay. However, if the only result of publicly telling a story is to make the audience squirm with guilt that they, who were born 50 years after the end of WWII, didn’t take action, what’s the use of the story?
There are many ways of commemorating Yom Hashoah. My Rabbinic colleagues have created a “Megilah Hashoah,” a Holocaust Scroll, modelled after Jeremiah’s Biblical book of Lamentations. They suggest reading it liturgically on Yom Hashoah just as we read Lamentations on the 9th of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Some fast; most do not. Some say Kaddish for those whose lives were lost. Some give tzedakah to organizations that fight hated and/or murderous dictatorships. Some gather together and tell and hear stories. Some say extra prayers for the souls of the murdered six million. Some demonstrate against ongoing holocausts and other slaughters taking place in Africa and the Middle East today. Any and all of these things are good ways to observe Yom Hashoah. The only thing that should not be acceptable is to ignore the day completely. So take action. Make April 7 into Yom Hashoah. Post a remembrance on your Facebook status. Do something.
I don’t want the world to forget, and I want the remembering to have a useful outcome.
I do a variety of things in addition to writing sermons and bulletin articles, answering questions by phone or email, going to Board and Committee meetings, teaching religious school classes, leading study groups, and visiting members of the congregation. Here are some of my activities of the past month:
- • Unfortunately, we experienced three funerals in the past month, and one additional Shiva home from an out of town funeral.
- • Between Purim and Pesah, I studied a tractate of Mishnah, concluding the book on the morning prior to Pesah with a celebratory meal to break the fast of the first born.
- • I administered the Ma’ot Hittim program – collecting money, buying Meijer gift cards, and distributing them to those who need extra help buying Pesah food.