Overview and history of the day
Yom Hashoah is a relatively new addition to our calendar, established in 1953 as an official Memorial Day in Israel. Due to the fact the modern state of Israel was founded on the ashes of the Holocaust, it is ingrained in Israeli culture as a pivotal day in the calendar.
The question begs however, does it carry the same strong message for us, living in a diaspora community? Well, ironically, perhaps we should have even more reason to remember because we are still living in the diaspora, and perhaps more vulnerable to Antisemitism than in Israel. It was thought in Germany, in the 1930s, that a modern, cultured, progressive and democratic nation could never commit those heinous crimes. They did.
Insight into the day
The word zachor in Hebrew means to remember. Remembering is far more than just putting down one’s head for a minute of silence. Remembering must be a process which leads to action. We use the word zachor also when we make kiddush on a Friday night, for example, to remember that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on Shabbat. We don’t just remember this as a reminder of the creation story, but rather that Shabbat presents an opportunity to take a step back, have a day to reflect on the week that was and create resolve, energy and determination for the week to come. This process of remembering once a week creates a rhythm, for active living.
The same can be said for a day like Yom Hashoah, a day of remembrance and mourning. It commemorates possibly the greatest ever loss for the Jewish people. 6 million Jews were murdered simply for being Jews. A baseless obsessive hatred by one man stirred up almost an entire nation to feel the same way. When one thinks about it, we can hardly believe it actually happened. However, for Yom Hashoah to have real meaning it needs to stir within us some call to action, no matter how small. That has always been our way of remembering; whether it’s working in some way to fight anti-semitism, racism or baseless hatred of any people or finding resolve to strengthen our own community’s identity through unity, instead of divisiveness.
Steven Spielberg famously noted in the NY Times after the release of Schindler’s List, that as a child he was completely ashamed to be a Jew, however, after making the film he was prouder than ever of his Jewish heritage.
Remembrance that leads to action creates meaning.
How Herzlia Remembers 2021:
There will be Yom Hashoah commemorations throughout the UHS schools, each at the age appropriate level. The Junior and Senior High School pupils will be having an online ceremony to mark the day and screening the Cape Town Jewish community SAJBD memorial video (included below), which some of our pupils were involved in creating.
Wishing our entire community a meaningful Yom Hashoah.
RABBI SEAN CANNON
Head of Jewish Life & Learning UHS