Michael Zoosman

Another Holocaust Memorial Day Observed with a Florida Execution

Image: Screenshot of a banner for Florida, nicknamed the Sunshine State. No copyright. 

Politically motivated executions are the foremost mark of a repressive regime, and Florida now clearly fits this bill. In a wanton pursuit of political aspiration as he prepares for a White House run, Governor DeSantis once again is unleashing the shadow death upon Florida, darkening the so-called Sunshine State with a cascade of state-sponsored murder. De Santis signed the first execution warrant of 2023 just days ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day this past January. Now, he calls for state murder on April 12, just five days ahead of Yom HaShoah – the date on the Jewish calendar dedicated to memorializing Holocaust victims.

As Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (including former Florida death row prison warden turned death penalty abolitionist Ron McAndrew) will tell you: this is not a political issue. It is a human rights issue; indeed, an issue of life itself. Seventy-percent of the nations of the world know this.

We, the thousands of members of L’chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty,are keenly aware of the existential threat of politicians who dole out death for personal gain. This danger will be at the forefront of our minds as the next execution victim prepares for his death march just as the Jewish world prepares to observe Holocaust Memorial Day.  Many L’chaim members are, like myself, direct descendants of Holocaust survivors. (My own grandmother recently passed away in her West Palm Beach home, where spent the twilight of her life after growing up in war-torn Europe.) We know better than most that the Holocaust was a singularly devastating event in the course of human history and not the same as capital punishment. We also know better than most that the lessons learned from that mass murder must lead to action if in fact “Never Again” is to have any meaning.

Gov. DeSantis hopes to change state law so that a unanimous jury no longer is required to secure a death sentence and to expand death-eligible offenses for non-lethal crimes. He has opened a Pandora’s box for the ritual slaughter of human beings, just as capital punishment for abortion now is being proposed in multiple states across the USA. 

We at L’chaim make phone calls every day to American political leaders who hold the power to grant life and death to our condemned pen pals.  We remind them that lethal injection was first implemented in our world by the Nazis as part of their infamous Aktion T4 Protocol used to kill people deemed “unworthy of life,” as designed by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician of Adolf Hitler. Every use of this so-called “Nazi needle” or any form of state-sponsored murder directly carries on the Nazi legacy of the same. Some jurisdictions offer their condemned the gruesome “Sophie’s Choice, 2.0” of a preferred form of execution, which in some states includes the option of the gas chamber. In Arizona, that chamber features death by Zyklon B – the gas used in Auschwitz. For these states, we amend our script accordingly.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) knew that no government should have the power to kill those it incarcerates. “With every cell of my being,” said Wiesel, “and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.” This is L’chaim’s anthem, as is Weisel’s famous comment about capital punishment: “Death is not the answer.” 

Just as Wiesel connected the idea of the Angel of Death with the death penalty, Florida’s slated April 12th execution will occur during our Passover celebration, when the Jewish world will read about how our ancestors in Egypt, led by Moses, did all they could so that this same Angel of Death would pass over their homes during their Egyptian exodus. We shall indeed follow Moses’ example by calling Governor De Santis’ office every day until that time demanding that he banish the Angel of Death, exhorting “Never Again to State-Sponsored murder,” and chanting – instead – “L’chaim…to Life!” 

For the sake of all of civilized humanity: please join us.

Cantor Michael Zoosman, MSM

Board Certified Chaplain, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

Co-Founder: “L’chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty” 

Advisory Board Member, Death Penalty Action

About the Author
Cantor Michael Zoosman is a Board Certified Chaplain with the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC) and received his cantorial ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 2008. He sits as an Advisory Committee Member at Death Penalty Action and is the co-founder of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty.” Michael is a former Jewish prison chaplain and psychiatric hospital chaplain. Currently, he is a multi-faith hospital chaplain at a federal research hospital, the National Institutes of Health - Clinical Center. His comments here represent his own opinions.
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