Thursday, April 12, 2018



One week after Passover is Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom Hashoah. Once a year the nation takes a day to remember, to listen to the stories, to cry and contemplate.
In other countries (those that bother), people talk about commemorating the Holocaust. In Israel the day is officially named “The day of remembering the Holocaust and remembering heroism.”
Memory is a tricky thing. Can you remember something that didn’t actually happen to you but rather to your grandparents? Or your great-grandparents?
Part of the ritual of the Pesach holiday speaks of remembering being slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. The Passover Seder is a tradition deliberately designed for children, to pass on the memory of being personally rescued from slavery in Egypt.
The Jewish people have not designed a tradition or ritual to help us pass on the lessons of the Holocaust as we have the story of the exodus. Memory of the Holocaust is tattooed on some of our bodies. The survivors that are still alive can teach us. First generation children of survivors and for the second and third generation have, to some extent or another, the horrors of the Holocaust seared into our souls. The effects reverberate through the generations.
It is for the third generation and those who come after to define how to pass on what we have learned. Remembering does not only mean focusing on the horror, it is also about acknowledging the extraordinary heroism of those who rose from the ashes.
Like a painful letter shoved in an attic corner, the memory of the Holocaust is something that Jews rarely look at. It is terrible and gut-wrenching but when we move to a new home, like all other memories, our possession, this too is packed up and brought to the new home. Memorial Day is the day we force ourselves to go up into the attic, shine light on the letter and read it. The pain is raw but this is the fire that forged us. We are who we are because we rose from those ashes.
Actually, to be more accurate, and it is crucial to understand this – we were able to rise from the ashes because of who we are. The fires of the Holocaust did not forge us, it is those fires that brought out the greatest qualities of the Jewish people: heroism, hope even in the darkest places, love and sacrifice. Like metal heated to the point of glowing, the example of the Jewish people, shines for the world to see.
I heard a Holocaust survivor say that the one thing he wants his granddaughters to remember is the experience of their now deceased grandmother. When the concentration camp was liberated their grandmother, then a young girl, did not want to come out of her hiding place. She was alive and there was no one to tell. No mother, no father, no brother, no sister… This survivor didn’t continue speaking because he couldn’t; he was too choked up to be able to express himself.
That is one tiny example of why this day is called “The day of remembering the Holocaust and remembering heroism.” I’m sure most people think of people like Oscar Schindler when they hear the words Holocaust and hero together in the same sentence but that overlooks so much heroism and nobility of the human spirit.
Heroism is in the fact that the girl who had no one in left in the world to care that she survived DID leave the concentration camp. How much strength and dignity does it take to walk out of the horrors of such a place? After humiliation, starvation, torture and psyche twisting experiences we can’t even imagine? How is it possible to create a life for yourself after your world was so cruelly shattered, smashed to smithereens?
That girl did it. So did millions of others.
THAT is heroism.
That girl not only left the concentration camp – she moved to Israel, grew up, married, and had children and grandchildren. She rose from the ashes of her parents’ corpses to create new life.
Israel was built on heroism and survives because of it. This is the legacy of that grandmother and others like her.
Living, surrounded by enemies threatening the very existence of Israel is very difficult. Living well, full of hope, happiness and always striving to improve the world while under existential threat is a breathtaking accomplishment.
And that is what the people of Israel do, every day. 

We remember and we LIVE in their honor. 




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