Torah Thoughts: Yom Hashoah 5779
Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read Parashat Acharei Mot. However, my Torah Thoughts for this week will be dedicate to Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day or, as we say in Hebrew, Yom Hashoah Vehagvura. We remember the six million of our brothers and sisters who were killed by the Nazis and their partners in crime during the dark years of 1939-1945. Yom Hashoah happens every year on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nissan. This year it begins on the eve of May 1st and continues through May 2nd.
The official name for this commemoration of the victims of the Shoah is Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah, “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day.” We remember what the Nazi regimen did to our people, but we also remember the heroism of all of those who actively resisted the Nazis during the Shoah. We remember the anti-Jewish hatred and systematic murder of Jews perpetrated by the infamous Nazi regime. And we don’t forget how heroically our parents and grandparents tried to resist and oppose the Nazis.
This year in particular, American Jews commemorate Yom Hashoah with an especially bitter feeling. For years we were used to saying, “let’s not forget, so this cannot happen again.” We followed with amazement how other countries, especially in Europe, were experiencing antisemitism over and over again. Antisemitism seemed to be on the rise in many parts of the world, but here in America, we Jews felt safe and relieved.
Unfortunately, we also witnessed a rise in antisemitism in the US, with bomb threats to Jewish institutions and vandalism in synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. We became really alert when during a torch-light parade outside a synagogue in Charlottesville in August 2017, people dressed in white capes and hoods chanted that “Jews will not replace us.” Finally, this past year we were shocked when 11 Jews were murdered while at prayer on a Shabbat morning in a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. And only last Shabbat morning during services, we had another shooting in a Chabad synagogue in Poway, San Diego. A woman (Lori Gilbert Kaye z”l) was killed and three people, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, were injured.
This is why I believe this Yom Hashoah in America is different than previous Yom Hashoahs. Now we are sadly aware that antisemitism is real in this country and that hate crimes against Jews can happen here too, not only in countries abroad.
There are three main messages I would like to deliver here. The first one is that we have to be alert. To think that something like this could never happen here is an illusion. Jews in Pittsburg and San Diego thought the same thing before their tragedies. We need to do our best to make sure that our Temple continues to be a safe place for us and for the visitors that come to join us for services, classes or other programs.
The second message is that we must stand together with people of all faiths and beliefs and demand that hatred not be tolerated. Apart from being united as Jews, our biggest strength is the support from the community at large. We felt it after the Pittsburgh attack; we were able to understand that the majority of American society does not tolerate hatred and discrimination. It is really important that we show that this is not only an attack against the Jews but also an attack on the esteemed values of this country. Any attack on a minority group must be considered an attack on the whole country. We need to stand together against any attack on a minority group.
The third and final message is that we should not allow Judaism to be a way to foil the antisemites. Jews should not choose Judaism in order to defeat the enemies of Judaism or the Jewish people. In other words, fighting antisemitism must not be at the center of Jewish belief and practice. Jews should take hold of Torah because the Torah teaches a profound and joyful path through life, a proven source of community and meaning, a path of great wisdom that has made and continues to make everlasting contributions to the world.
Being alert and strengthening our security, standing together with the others against any attack and/or discrimination against minority groups, and putting Torah and the Jewish tradition, and not antisemitism, at the center of our Jewish experience. These are three concrete things we should think about during this year’s Yom Hashoah. As we used to say every year during Yom Hashoah, we do not forget. And this year we consciously add, we will not allow this to happen again.