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Michael Zoosman

‘Never Forget!’ The Jews Against Gassing Coalition’s Passover Action

Image: Screenshot of local news coverage of Jews Against Gassing protesting in Louisiana. Source: https://www.brproud.com/news/louisiana-news/jewish-group-supports-louisiana-bill-that-would-remove-nitrogen-gas-from-execution-methods/ (No known copyright.)

The Louisiana Jewish community’s newly-minted Jews Against Gassing Coalition stands poised this upcoming Passover to fulfill one of that holiday’s most important lessons: namely, to never forget. This coalition is comprised of the members of Louisiana’s Jewish community who are united in their belief that their state should not execute people via gassing (nitrogen hypoxia). As per their mission statement, the group is “deeply pained and disturbed by the prospect of the State of Louisiana utilizing a method similar to the method of extermination used by Nazi Germany to annihilate millions of our Jewish ancestors.” This gassing method of execution was added to Louisiana’s statutory law earlier this year (along with electrocution and secrecy) during a special crime session. Since then, the coalition has spearheaded a movement in that state to push Senate Bill 430 in the regular session to repeal that method. SB 430 passed unanimously out of the Senate Committee on April 16th, and now this coalition is working to ensure that SB 430 will become law. (Louisianans who wish to learn how to get involved with this group and to receive updates can fill out this interest form and follow Jews Against Gassing on facebook and instagram.)

After passing through the Senate committee without objection, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about this gassing repeal’s chances of success on the Senate floor. Still, the outcome will not be known until the actual Senate vote happens, which is likely to be this upcoming Monday or Tuesday.

As the universe would have it, those days fall directly at the start of Passover, a festival that brings with it the inherent mandate of never forgetting the sufferings of the past, lest they be condemned to repeat. Passover Seders remind the Jewish world of its obligation to retell the Exodus narrative and to reenact what it was like to have endured slavery in Egypt, and to have experienced the joy of liberation. The intention of this sacred ritual is to ensure that each generation always remembers this saga.

In line with this tradition of enshrining sacred, if harrowing, historical memory, Jews the world over also feel compelled to guarantee that the lessons of the Holocaust are continuously reviewed in humanity’s collective consciousness, so that the world “Never Again” will witness the likes of Nazi genocide. The permanence of this historical memory is by no means a foregone conclusion. On the contrary, as of this writing in 2024 the generation of Holocaust survivors –  like my own late grandparents – has almost entirely died off. At the same time, Holocaust deniers continue to proliferate, and incidents of antisemitism have increased exponentially since Hamas’ terror attack on October 7th, 2023. There the more reason now – perhaps more than ever –  to remain just as vigilant about educating the non-Jewish community about the incontrovertible reality of the Shoah/Holocaust.

The Jews Against Gassing Coalition is in effect doing just this by its Louisiana campaign to repeal gassing in that state. Its members are attempting to effect what Arizona’s Jewish community tried when they filed a lawsuit in that state to try to remove Zyklon B – the gas used in Auschwitz – from that state’s execution protocol. They are taking action similar to what Jews across Ohio and Nebraska have done to protest the sceptre of using nitrogen gassing for state killing in those states.  They are responding just as Jews in Alabama – and across the world – have hoped to do in the wake of the torturous nitrogen gas execution that that state inaugurated with its gassing to death of Kenneth Smith earlier this year on January 25th, just on the heels of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As the co-founder of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty,” a group with nearly 3400 members, I myself received many such messages from Jews in various communities after Alabama’s “novel” gassing execution. They wrote expressing their sheer terror upon learning of what gassing victim Kenneth Smith experienced while writhing and being put to death, and asked how they could help in the fight against gassing by signing petitions and taking action. These calls came from fellow death penalty abolitionists, as well as some who were generally in favor of capital punishment, but who could not conscience the use of gassing given the Holocaust memories it evoked and the intergenerational trauma it triggered. L’chaim, of course, stands against the death penalty without exception and no matter the method, including that of lethal injection, which itself also is a direct Nazi legacy. As such, L’chaim certainly can agree with and support those who seek to end any form of state killing, including via the unconscionable Nazi legacy of gassing human beings to death.

While this Passover vote in Louisiana will indeed be vital, the fact remains that even if the bill for repeal passes through the veritable parted waters of the Senate floor, it still will have to pass the state’s House of Representatives. Nonetheless, a Pesach victory will indeed offer a pathway to success. Perhaps the greatest obstacle will be ensuring that the recently-elected Donald Trump supporter Governor Jeff Landry will not veto any such repeal of gassing so as to curry political favor with Trump – who is ardently pro-death  – and hardliners in his party. Let there be no doubt: in that eventuality, Louisiana’s Jews Against Gassing Coalition will certainly petition their governor not to forget the Nazi legacy that gassing in his state would perpetuate. Like Moses calling upon Pharaoh to “Let my people go!”, it is the hope that their call will moderate the governor’s hardened heart, which blinds him to the history of gassing and its impact on his Jewish constituents.

For all these reasons, the thousands of  members of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty” stand firmly from across the world alongside the women and men of Louisiana’s Jews Against Gassing. May their new coalition succeed in their sacred mission this Passover of ensuring that this Nazi legacy of gassing – like the slavery of the Jews in Egypt  – is never forgotten, and never repeated.

Cantor Michael J. Zoosman, MSM

Board Certified Chaplain – Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

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

Advisory Committee Member – Death Penalty Action

About the Author
Cantor Michael Zoosman is a Board Certified Chaplain with Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC) and received his cantorial investiture 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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