We move this week from a celebration of the Exodus to a commemoration of the Holocaust. April 27-28th, the Jewish community honors Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. The full name of the holiday is Yom Hazikaron lashoah v’ lagevurah, (יום הזכרון לשואה ולגבורה), literally The Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism. It was chosen because today is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Almost eight decades have passed since the concentration camps were liberated, but the scourge of antisemitism remains with us. As the very last survivors of this singular crime begin to leave us, it is important that we sustain the memory of this darkest chapter of our history, so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The duty of memory is not one that we can afford to shirk.
Yom Hashoah is therefore not just about the horrors and the genocide. It’s also a testament to our commitment to the words Never Again. In that way, Yom Hashoah contains within it a balance – we memorialize the history of the past in order to imagine a better future.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is remembered as one of the few inspiring, hopeful moments of the Holocaust. No matter the odds, we the Jewish people always have the ability to fight back against those who would do us harm. It reminds us not to be complacent in the face of rising antisemitism. So on Yom Hashoah, we know that we have to do more than remember.
We must continue to promote Holocaust education and raise our voices in the fight against antisemitism. This month several states adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, a landmark occasion that marks the majority of states in the United States to have done so. The IHRA definition, which has become the gold standard for identifying – and thus combating – antisemitism, was adopted by a wide range of local, state, national, and international bodies. It is crucially important because it has allowed us to identify antisemitism in all its guises, including antisemitism that masquerades as criticism of the state of Israel.
We must combat antisemitism by calling out Jew hatred whenever and wherever it appears. We must combat antisemitism by ensuring that our Jewish communal institutions are safe and secure. We must combat antisemitism by encouraging workplaces and schools to adopt diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies that account for the Jewish community. To successfully combat antisemitism, it is imperative that our non-Jewish allies join us in speaking out against this insidious hate.
We live in a time of dangers, new and old. How we confront them depends in great part on how we engage with the past. In the present, let us commit to preserving the stories and voices of Holocaust victims and survivors.