Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, was observed at Temple Beth Israel on April 16, as it was in Synagogues all over the world. During Shabbat services this past Saturday, as I read a long list of members of our congregation who are no longer with us and of their family members as well, I couldn’t help but notice that many people on the list had the same last name.
It could have been just a coincidence, but it wasn’t. Several families had the same last name because they were all from the same family. Someone asked me how hard it must have been on these families to have so many of their kin die in such a short period of time. But the fact of the matter is that their family members who put them on the list to have the memorial prayer recited for them each year are not even sure when their loved one’s died. You see, each of them perished in the camps during the horrors of the Nazi movement.
And so it was that these families picked a date to remember their loved ones and to honor their memory. When someone we love passes away in our day here in America, we take for granted that, not only the date, but the time of day and the cause of death will all be recorded in the medical chart and will be made available to us. But imagine not knowing how or when a loved one died.
Oh, we know the cause; the cause was hatred; the cause was that there were those who wanted to exterminate the Jews; the cause was that there were those who saw the Jews as less than human; the cause was putting such horrific labels and blame on us that we were little more than dirt in other’s eyes and, sadly, to this very day, there are many people throughout the world who feel that way toward us and, if not toward us, then toward another group of “others,” of “outsiders” of those who are “different.”
Each year on Yom HaShoah, survivors are called upon to speak. The odd part is the stories all begin the same way. Each of the survivors can recall a …. you should pardon the expression … “normal, ordinary life.” Each woke up in the morning. Each went to sleep at night. Each ate meals. And each had goals for the future.
And then, the unthinkable happened. And, in what must have seemed like a blink of the eye, all the rumors, all the gossip, all the whispers became a horrific reality.
Jews were barred from schools, from professions. Jews were barred from getting money, their own money out of their bank accounts. Jews were barred from possessing guns. Jews were beaten. Jews were rounded up. Jews were sent away never to be seen or heard from again.
Each year, we have fewer and fewer survivors left to tell the story. Each year, we have more and more people in the world who deny that the Holocaust ever took place. Each year, our enemies who used to complain that we were always bringing up the Holocaust, now use the term “Holocaust” and “Genocide” against us.
And our survivors call out, “Don’t just remember the past; learn from it!” And so, as we recited Kaddish for those who perished in the Shoah, I couldn’t help but remember the words of Elie Wiesel who wrote:
“Let us say Kaddish not only for the dead, but also for the living who have forgotten the dead and let the prayer be more than a prayer, more than a lament; let it be outcry, protest and defiance. And above all let it be an act of remembrance. For that is what the victims wanted: to be remembered, at least to be remembered. For just as the killer was determined to erase Jewish memory, so were the dying heroes and fighting martyrs bent on maintaining it alive. They are now being defamed or forgotten – which is like killing them a second time. Let us say Kaddish together and not allow others to betray them posthumously.”
Shalom my friends,
Rabbi Craig H. Ezring
Rabbi Ezring is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth Israel of Deerfield Beach (201 S. Military Tr., Deerfield Beach, FL 33442). Regular Shabbat services are open to everyone on Saturday mornings from 9 to 11:30 a.m.