It is now 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps and concentration camps. The liberation marked the end of the Holocaust, during which some six million Jews were murdered. This evening marked the start of Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah in Israel - Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. We began our commemoration of the day by attending the City of Ra'anana's Yom Hashoah ceremony at the centre of the city - "Yad L'Banim."
On the evening of Yom Hashoah, stores and restaurants are closed across the country. The main street in Ra'anana is closed off to traffic. Residents come from across the city to the ceremony, which is very powerful.
The event included a speech by Ra'anana's Mayor Ze'ev Bielski, whose grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust. His young parents had left years before the war began to travel to Israel to help build the not yet established state. He was named after his late grandfather. It was a powerful speech. He spoke about his participation in the March of Living in Poland. He recalled that as he had sat at the main March of the Living ceremony in Poland a few years ago, he had wrapped himself in a Tallith. He had looked across at the Polish dignitaries who were in attendance and he had felt pride at participating in an event which recognized that Jewish pride and the Jewish people had not been defeated. Despite the fact that one third of the world's Jews were murdered, the surviving Jewish people had found a way to establish the State of Israel and to embark on a rebuilding process.
Six Holocaust survivors were called up individually to light six different candles. As each survivor came to the podium, usually accompanied by grandchildren, a narrator described the survivor's life story. These were all people who had lost almost all of their families in the Holocaust. They were also almost all people who had come to Israel after the war, married and established families with children, grandchildren and in some cases, great grandchildren. Some were accompanied by grandchildren who now serve in the Israeli Defence Forces. The theme echoed the theme of the Mayor's speech. That despite the terrible ordeals that these survivors had faced, they had, each in their own way, and against incredible odds, made it to Israel and participated in building the Jewish state and rebuilding the Jewish nation.
The ceremony also featured several musical pieces, with orchestral accompaniment including a Czech piece that had been written by Thereisenstadt prisoner who had perished in 1944. Her musical composition had somehow been preserved and was now being performed in Ra'anana some 70 years after the liberation of the camp.
After the special El Maleh Rachamim prayer, the evening closed with a power Hatikvah sung by a teary eyed crowd.
It was really one of those ceremonies that brought home the great fortune of being able to live and participate in a Jewish state, something that would have been unimaginable to the Jews of Europe during wartime.
Tomorrow, Israelis across the country will observe two minutes of silence, wherever they are, as sirens wail across the nation to mark the time.
The thought on the minds of many Israelis will be the enormous burden, responsibility and obligations of being the next generation of Jewish people - faced with preserving, continuing and strengthening the Jewish people, while defending the country against the existential threats it faces. It is now up to this and future generations to ensure that "Never Again" is a reality.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Tonight marks that start of Yom Hashoah v'Hagvurah, Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes' Remembrance Day, in Israel and across the world. The annual date for commemoration of the Holocaust coincides closely with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 69 years ago.
As people across the world, Jews and non-Jews alike, try to come to grips with the enormity of evil, the murder of six million Jews and millions of non-Jews, Israel is holding commemorative ceremonies across the country.
According to Yedioth Ahronot, one of Israel's major daily newspapers, there are approximately 198,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today. Last year, some 11,700 died and the remaining survivors are not getting any younger. Many of these survivors are still able to tell their stories and we hope that we will have the privilege and opportunity to listen and to hear their words.
In many of the ceremonies, detailed accounts about specific Holocaust victims or survivors are recited. One of the recurrent themes of Israel's Holocaust Memorial Center, Yad VaShem, has been the idea of individual dignity. "L'kol Ish Yesh Shem" - Each person has a name. Despite the fact that six million people were murdered, we remember that each person had a name, a life, dreams, hopes and a family. Each person had a story. By recounting these individual stories, of victims and of survivors, we remember the individual humanity of the millions of victims and survivors.
For some, Holocaust commemoration is accompanied by a universalist message; that people everywhere must fight prejudice and hatred and that we must be vigilant in ensuring that the world takes steps to actively prevent and stop genocide from occurring. This is the message that is powerfully imparted at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Washington, D.C.
While many in Israel share this view and reflect on this universalist message, there is another message that is of equal if not greater importance. For Israelis and for many Jews across the world, the Holocaust demonstrated that the Jewish people could not rely on anyone other than themselves for their survival as a people. That message resonates at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Center, which has a less universalist focus than its newer Washington counterpart. For many Israelis, only a strong and powerful Israel can protect the Jewish people against the many worldwide threats.
At this evening's Yom Hashoah V'Hagvurah commemoration in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu cited the Iranian threat, an existential threat to Israel and the Jewish people that focuses on the latter of these lessons. Yet in a world in which a Norwegian Nazi-inspired mass murderer is trying to use a trial to promote a message of hatred, and the Syrian dictatorship continues to massacre Syrians, we cannot help but also consider the other lessons of the Holocaust as well.
Aside from the importance of Israeli strength and Jewish resolve, and of the importance of the universalist fight against evil and intolerance, tonight and tomorrow, above all else, we remember the millions of victims who perished during the Holocaust, their lives and their stories, and the lives and stories of the survivors who were scarred for life.