Pirke Avot 1:13--“Hillel used to say, one who seeks a name loses his name, one who does not increase his knowledge decreases it; one who does not study deserves death, and one who makes use of the crown of Torah will pass away.”
April 21, 2017
25 Nisan 5777
Shabbat Shmini Lev: 9:1-11:47
Next Monday evening, the Canton Jewish community with observe Yom HaShoah v’hagevurah—Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism. It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan — a week after the seventh day of Passover, and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers). When the 27th of Nisan falls on a Friday or Sunday, Yom HaShoah is shifted a day to avoid conflicting with Shabbat . (The Hebrew calendar is fixed so that the 27th never falls on Shabbat itself.) The Hebrew calendar date for this commemoration is linked to the Jewish uprising against their Nazi oppressors in the Warsaw Ghetto. This was the first time anyone under Nazi rule had rebelled in an urban setting. There was no chance of success, but after watching their mothers and fathers, siblings and cousins, friends put on trains bound for Treblinka and death or watching the Jewish community starve to death on the streets, the remnant of Jews decided they would not go “as sheep to the slaughter.”
In January of 1943, the Z.O.B. (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, which means Jewish Fighting Organization) led by 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz, issued a proclamation calling for the Jewish people to resist going to the railroad cars. According to an article on the uprising on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website we learn, “On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans. The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to camps.”
As we all know, this is a solemn day and ceremony. In Israel, a siren sounds for two minutes and everyone stops what they are doing and stands quiet and still. Every car on every street and highway stops and the drivers get out. Very few Jews in Israel weren’t touched in some way by the Shoah. In Jewish communities commemorating Yom HaShoah, El Maleh is chanted and a special Kaddish is read. Memorial candles are lit by survivors and 2nd generation and 3rd generation and even 4th generation. The Shoah devastated world Jewry and though it appears like ancient history to our youth, it is a living memory in the hearts and minds of the community’s adults and seniors.
Though this has fallen on deaf ears, in every community I’ve served, we’ve tried in so many ways to involve and educate the children. They learn the history of the Shoah in religious school, but they haven’t seen any value in attending the commemoration. At the same time, if the adults in the community don’t see any value in attending, it is certainly difficult to encourage the youth to come as well. As I talked about last week, it is our responsibility as adults to teach the children. Last week it was the seder and Pesach and our journey from slavery to freedom. This week it is about the darkest moment in our people’s history. Next week it is about the reestablishment of the State of Israel. It is a busy few Jewish weeks, but it is who we are and it is about remembering the past to insure a better future.
Let me just add one more thing. In many Reform Jewish congregations, the custom when Kaddish is recited at the end of the service is for everyone present to rise. There may be many reasons for this custom which differs from Orthodox and Conservative congregations where only the mourner rises, but I was taught long ago that we do this for those who perished during the Shoah. Many of those martyrs have no one to say Kaddish for them today. We may not think about this when we stand and recite the words of Kaddish, but it is worth considering.
When you light your Shabbat candles tonight, light one to help us remember so no one ever forgets. Light the other candle and let its light lead us forward to a better tomorrow where all people are respected regardless of where they worship or live.
Rabbi Jon Adland