Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) starts this Wednesday night in Israel. In Israel, the day is preceded by a week or more of news about Holocaust survivors, Holocaust stories, educational films and documentaries. The build-up will culminate with the sounding of the air raid siren, official ceremonies with candle lighting and featured television broadcasts. Children will partake in ceremonies held at schools and when the siren is sounded mid Thursday morning, the entire country will come to a standstill for a minute’s silence.
It’s a sombre, quiet day which carries a feeling of heritage and responsibility – heritage to commemorate and never forget, and responsibility to always remember. I am certainly part of this heritage in many respects and I make a point of collecting new or forgotten facts about the Holocaust. I find the volume of information immense and overwhelming. Knowing that it is simply impossible to take in a lot of the information, my mind wanders to my experiences of the Holocaust generation and what I remember of it. While the focus of the day is remembering and learning about the past, I do find some solace and comfort during some of my brain-fuzzy moments to ponder the lessons of Yom Hashoah in the present, and for the future.
It is on Yom Hashoah that when one of my children say “Abba” (father in Hebrew), that my promise to “never forget” is being fulfilled. I can’t but remember my grandmother’s silent tears every time her family was ever mentioned. I can’t but remember the looks on the faces of her survivor friends playing cards at her house. I didn’t need to understand the Yiddish preceding Uncle Joe, the group clown, pulling his handkerchief to wipe a blue-eyed tear. I didn’t need to understand why Aunt Fanny looked away at the mention of her home town. I felt it all, without understanding the words. Now, on Yom Hashoah, I understand those words without hearing them.
I understand that “Abba” is a word that my grandmother hardly said. I understand that when my nine year old daughter corrects my Hebrew, I am fulfilling Holocaust survivors’ dreams. I understand that when my son represents the Israeli Scouts in France this summer, I have instilled Jewish pride that was once trampled. I understand that when my older daughter chooses Arabic as an elective, then Israel is a fact, opportunity and triumph. I understand that I will always remember, simply by being the link between my grandmother’s generation and my next generation. I understand that each laugh and each “Abba” belongs to the Uncle Joes and Aunty Fannys, and that I am the connection that will never forget.