The Jewish calendar is a complicated thing.
Pesach, the spring holiday of our liberation — from Egypt then, from winter now — leads directly into Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. That’s not coincidental. Yom HaShoah was set to fall on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which happened on the evening of the first seder in 1943.
It takes a certain emotional lability to go from one to another. It’s a not-uncommon flip that Jewish life demands of us. Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance for the dead in Israel’s war of independence, goes immediately into Yom Ha’Atzamaut, which celebrates the country’s birth. And we say Yizkor, the communal memorial prayer for the individual dead, four times a year, and on every one of those days, we also say Hallel, the service that thanks and praises God, and that, if you’re lucky enough to go to a shul that takes its music seriously, is full of joyous noise. (I have never understood how anyone could have the emotional flexibility to switch between those two modes of being, but apparently many people do.)
And that brings us to Yom HaShoah.
As we are blessed with the presence of fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors, as time does its natural winnowing, it becomes ever more important that we keep the memory of what happened alive. And we have to figure out how to do it in ways that make emotional sense; if we batter our children, even metaphorically, with more horror than they can compute, then we will have gained no more than we would have had we not talked about it at all. It’s another hard balance.
Meanwhile, the pandemic keeps raging, even as the rate of vaccination skyrockets. So far, more than 550,000 people have died in the United States. That’s a jaw-dropping number, and it will rise.
We have to stop it. It’s just as important as ever to be careful, but it’s becoming harder and harder to be good. But we have to. We want this to end.
At the same time, outside there is exuberant spring.
Everything’s changing, and it’s wild. Last Monday night, the night of the winds that seemed to come at us straight from the Rockies, I looked up at the sky and saw the full moon. (Fun fact — according to my good friend Google, Native American tribes call that this the Worm Moon, because that’s the time of year when earthworm casts are visible, both by day and by moonlight.) The wind gusted jagged silver clouds across the moon, so fast that to stand still and look up was to feel as if you were moving. (You know how the poetry you learn as a child lodges in your head forever? “The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,” I kept thinking, with nostalgia. It’s a bad poem, The Highwayman is, but it gets the moon exactly right.)
That morning, there had been no forsythias. The next morning, there were forsythias, all pale shy yellow, and the trees started to bud overnight. Passover and Yom HaShoah, the liberation and the evil, both unfold surrounded by beauty.
We acknowledge the evil, and we hope to be free to revel in the beauty.