As is well known, the date chosen for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the 27th of Nisan, was in opposition to the opinion of the rabbis. Nisan, the month the Jewish nation left Egypt, is a month of happiness. Therefore, the halakha was determined that for the entire month of Nisan, prayers of supplication are not recited and public fasts are not declared (S.A., O.C. 429:2). At funerals which occur during the month of Nisan, eulogies are not said. Many people are custom not to visit gravesites during this month, and one who has a yahrtzeit in Nisan visits the grave-site before Rosh Chodesh. Indeed, after Pesach some mourning customs of the Counting of the Omer are practiced, but these days are not days of particular sorrow or grief.
Obviously then, it was inappropriate to fix the painful Holocaust Remembrance Day in the month of Nisan. As long an alternative day is not chosen, the proper time to remember the Holocaust are the days declared as fast days over the destruction of the Temple, primarily Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), because all of the tragedies which befell the Jewish nation since then, are rooted in the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel from its Land. The Chief Rabbinate chose the fast day of the 10th of Tevet as the time to say kaddish clali, the general mourner’s prayer for those whose dates of death are unknown. The issue of whether to broaden the focus of the existing fasts to express more clearly the period of the Holocaust, or to set an additional and separate day of fasting to commemorate it, has yet to be decided by Gedolei Yisrael.
The Appropriate Way to Commemorate
In any event, it would be proper for all teachers and schools to grant a deep, meaningful, and unique character to the 27th of Nisan, suitable to the spirit of redemption of the month. It should be fixed as a day in which the mitzvah of procreation and the nurturing of a Jewish family is addressed, in the sense of:
“And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you, ‘In your blood [shall you] live! Yes, I said to you, in your blood [shall you] live!” (Ezekiel 16:6).
This, in all likelihood, was the last request of the six million who were brutally tortured and murdered, that any Jew who remained alive, would do everything possible to marry, have children, and carry on the heritage, in order to fulfill the verse:
“But the more they were oppressed, the more they proliferated and spread.”
The Sad Figures
Before the Holocaust, the Jewish nation numbered eighteen million – six million of whom were murdered during the Holocaust. Today, close to 70 years after the Holocaust, we number only thirteen million people. Throughout these 70 years, the world developed and flourished; many nations doubled, and even tripled their numbers. But we, the Jewish people, remain wounded – both physically and spiritually. The number of Jews living in all of the Jewish communities outside of Israel is shrinking – not because they are making aliyah to Israel, but because the Jewish birthrate is low, and assimilation is on the rise.
Only here in Israel is the Jewish population growing and multiplying – thanks to aliyah and a higher birthrate. However, the numerical increase in Israel is barely enough to compensate for the demographic decline in Jewish communities outside of Israel.
The question is: How can we encourage Jews to have more children, and identify more with Judaism? What must we do to accomplish this great and awesome task, which is also the last will and testament of the millions of murdered victims?
First of all – Education towards Jewish Family Values
The Ministry of Education has formulated numerous educational programs, dealing with the topics of democracy, tolerance, individual rights, and other issues. However, the subject of family values has been shamefully neglected. The widespread attitude today in academia and secular culture, which also influences the religious sector, maintains that freedom is the highest value. Family, in contrast – despite all its virtues – is something binding, restrictive, and stifling. True, the natural and customary desire to raise a family remains powerful. Nevertheless, it stands in strong conflict with an entire array of aims conveyed by secular culture.
In the vast majority of schools, including religious institutions, family planning is not dealt with adequately. The value of raising a large family is not extolled, and students are not instructed on how to overcome the impending difficulties.
The cultural environment of secularism and feminism creates an atmosphere in which it is objectionable to speak about having a large family. And if the issue is spoken about, more often than not, the difficulties alone are pointed out: how hard it is to find the right partner (“because men…”); how much domestic violence there is (“because men…”); how difficult it is to give birth (“because men…”); how grueling it is to educate children (“because men…”); and of course, the conflict between career and family (“because men…”).
Instead of concentrating on the problems, the spotlight should be focused on the immense value of raising a family – on the wonderful blessing it provides for loving and giving. In addition, the various difficulties should be discussed as well, pointing out that they are intended to direct us on a more correct, balanced, and accurate path. All the difficulties will then seem as nothing more than an opportunity and a catalyst for progress.
Various studies indicate that married people are healthier, both mentally and physically, and suffer less from depression and disease. Such information should be included in high school curriculums.
There is also research indicating that over fifty percent of people who get divorced regret it a few years later. People divorced because the momentary desire for leisure and comfort prevailed, but in the long term, they discovered they had lost out on much more valuable things.
Children vs. Leisure
For many, the short-term desire for leisure and comfort overshadows the challenge of raising a large family. Children cry at night, nag and annoy, demand attention, interfere with pursuing a career, prevent their parents from going out in the evenings, and get sick just when vacation time rolls around. For someone who feels leisure is the most precious value – children are a serious nuisance.
However, it should be taught and explained that leisure and comfort are not the purpose of life. Leisure is desirable in order for a person to rest and accumulate renewed energy for the real challenges, primarily – raising a family. But leisure in itself is a meaningless value.
Freedom, on the other hand, is already a much more important value, but the difference between leisure and freedom should not be confused. Freedom allows a person to fulfill himself according to his personality, without foreign or external influences.
Deep down, most people realize that the greatest and most profound achievement in life is their children – raising and educating them.
The Regret of Grown-ups
It is important to tell young adults that most grown-ups who were not fortunate enough to raise a large family – in a moment of honesty – are sorry they did not try harder to have another child or two. When they can reflect on their lives with an overall and intellectual perspective, they realize they were negligent in their most important mission in life.
This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.