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May 7 2024- 29 nisan 5784

05/06/2024 03:44:41 PM


Early in the 1950s Knesset—Israel’s Parliament—selected 27 Nisan as the day of remembrance for the loss and heroism of Jews at the hands of Nazism. In exceptional cases, as this year, the Hebrew date of Yom Hashoah v’ha-gevurah is shifted to neither immediately proceed nor immediately follow Shabbat. Yesterday, May 6, 2024, was thus the occasion of an extended, continuous siren being sounded throughout Israel silencing all other activity.

The tradition of remembrance has a deep and significant history in Judaism. On a personal and private level, the rituals of mourning including annual Yahrzeit, Yizkor (4 times on Yom Kippur and each Festival) and the regular inclusion of Kaddish Yatom—Mourners’ Kaddish—in each of the three daily services are all consistent with the slogan now too glibly attached to Holocaust Remembrance: Never Forget.

In the early 1990s, as the remembrance movement was concretized in the USA through the establishment of the enduringly successful US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), the project was shaped by an array of survivors and their descendants reflecting widely varied experiences. These were dependent upon where the individual lived on September 1, 1939; or where an individual took refuge in the lead up to the all-out war that engulfed Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains. What to remember, whose narrative to follow and where to focus the account of Jewish destiny were debated among literary luminaries, sociologists, diplomats and myriad individuals whose biography was altered through the dozen years Nazis articulated, then carried out, the ‘Final Solution’. We are here because it was ultimately not successful.

The price was very high: 6,000,000 Jews, including 1,000,000 children—without regard to religious practice, social status or state of health. Exploitation, pseudo-science, and base cruelty were the rule of the day. There were helpers, but they did so a enormous risk, so that only a few of these many moral heroes survived. Many have been honored as Righteous among the Nations. 

The main acts of public remembrance began in the (then) new State of Israel at locations bearing names like Lochamei ha-Geta’ot, Yad Mordecai, Beit Terezin. * Yad vaShem—the national memorial at the edge of Jerusalem—took center stage. Israel, in its unique way sought to point out not only the victims; more important was the Gevurah—heroism—resistors and partisans provided. Not led ‘like lambs to slaughter’ but fighting the existential battle that enabled the in-gathering of Jews from all directions.

Over the next days, this period of remembrance continues, propelling us from the near-death experience for Jewish culture between 1933-1945: The ancient mitzvot of Sefirat ha-Omer ** from Pesach to Shavuoth has long had a limiting, sad aspect to it. Some argue it was once a period of plague, lifted on the 33rd day; others claim it was a spiritually challenging time during which the difference between liberation from Egypt became differentiated from the freedom achieved at Mount Sinai with the revelation of Torah. In 1948, the withdrawal of the British from their role as rulers of the Mandate in Palestine set the stage for Israel’s declaration of Independence. 5th Iyar came to be Israel’s Day of Independence 76 years ago.

The context becomes the text: the achievement of a restored homeland was the success of decades of Zionism and centuries of aspirations. The idea is expressed in the text of Israel’s National Anthem, Hatikvah [Hatikvah - Wikipedia, the web page includes lyrics and melody]. 

This seventy-sixth year has not been an easy one for Jews in Israel or the diaspora. The October 7, 2023 attack by Hamas, the collusion of other Iran-backed groups and the reluctance of most of the neighboring states, isolated Israel as much as the extremely aggressive pursuit of retribution by the IDF (Israel Defense Force) in Gaza. The death of about 35,000 Gazan Palestinians—likely non-combatants many of whom were human shields—led to strong reproaches from enemies and allies alike. 

Israel’s governing coalition was elected through an established process, that in this instance took five elections to achieve a somewhat stable group. It includes—much to my regret—numerous adherents to ideas that counter previously accepted recognition of the legitimate claims of Palestinians. That is beyond unfortunate, even as the success of the Abraham Accords of recent years moderated the relationship of Arab States into recognition of the existence of Israel. Those accords work because they offer economic benefit, political stability and growing economic diversity that moves away from dependence on fossil fuels. Win, win, win.

As we prepare for the weekend ahead, for remembrance that far too many Israelis have fallen in the battle to defend the Land, and to the celebration a week from today (May 14, coincidentally the secular anniversary of 1948) and year 77 begins, let us have hope that there can be peace, security and benefit for all in the land divided by the UN from the remnant of the British Mandate for Palestine.

Lu yehi…let it be.

  • Kibbutzim bearing these names meaning ‘Ghetto Fighters’, ‘Mordechai Analewiecz Memorial’, and ‘Theresienstadt House’ on Givat Chaim Ichud served as focal points for the remembrance programs.
  • Counting the measure of grain (Omer) to be given each day of the grain harvest to the Kohen. It was all-consuming labor.
Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784