Darcey Walters

Reflections on Yom HaShoah

Jewish music is a very big part of my life – whether that is at the Shabbat table every week with my family, the music I listen to in my spare time, the tisch I have on camp or the traditional songs we all know that allow me to embrace being part of a nation. When I was 17 I went to Poland and all I can remember was at every place we encountered, the experience was uplifted by song. Last year I spent my gap year at Midrasha in Jerusalem and my love for Jewish music was uplifted so heavily, and it was part of the culture where I studied. When you sing, of course it radiates positivity and makes you feel part of something bigger and Jewish music really captures that, but it is also about your individual connection with God. We must put the collective and the individual together especially in this instance. Connecting to this, something I truly have learnt over the past year stems from the song Tov Lehodot Lashem. It says “l’hagid baboker chasdecha v’emunatcha baleylot”. The “leylot” the night, which is the darkness is so powerful. We experience dark times in our lives, and the Holocaust was the darkest of times. Yet, what is so important is that we have faith “v’emunachta”. We must have faith in God during all the dark times in our lives, which should allow us to keep going and remember that we are part of something so big and we have a unique identity.

The one place I remember the most when I went to Poland was Tarnow and the childrens graves. It still gives me shivers down my spine when I think about it, and I think a lot about child development; these children had so much ahead of them. They had so much they could have done to contribute to their identity, yet that was taken away. I think about the things that really bring out Jewish youth – such as informal, education, going on camp, youth movements, going on gap years, and all of these things change lives, they keep people going, and people’s identities going, and could’ve done exactly that to so many young Jews who had so much ahead of them to make a difference. Waking up to a closet of clothes and being able to say Shema before I go to sleep. I don’t say ‘Shema Yisrael’ because my life is in danger, rather I say it because I have a bed to go to sleep in and have completed a whole day of regular things, and there is so much ahead of me. I’m able to learn Torah with my friends, even friends on the other side of the world. We are in a safe space, where we can brush our teeth in our bathrooms and drink clean water.

Going to a childrens grave can only lead you to think about family and what your family means to you in your life. I remember visiting Tarnow, the childrens grave on a Friday morning which of course was Erev Shabbat. The significance behind this was that as a child of a strong Jewish mother, I felt grateful that I have continuously had the opportunity to light Shabbat candles with her every single week, which these innocent children who were murdered couldn’t do. As I also reflect on my brothers upcoming bar mitzvah, I think at this moment of how so many of these children could’ve celebrated their bar or bat mitzvah with their families and had simcha spreading throughout their homes. This only teaches us to appreciate and take in everything and really remember on Holocaust Memorial Day in a way that we can understand that we are so lucky, but also every day we should do so too.

Going back to music, this brings me to the song Vezakeini. Of course, this song is what a lot of women traditionally sing after they have lit Shabbat candles. I remember it being played when I walked out Tarnow and the childrens grave. It is an extremely powerful song. Essentially, the hope of every Jewish parent is encapsulated in this song. Our mothers daven for us to be the best possible, and want virtue and dignity showered upon us, so that we can thrive as Jewish youth. This song teaches us something so deep though. We can light up the world with absolutely everything we do, in any situation. Learning Torah and fulfilling mitzvot generates kedusha, but there is more than that. It is taking our emunah, from Tov Lehodot, and serving God in every moment to light up the world with all the opportunities we have. We are so fortunate enough to live the lives we live, not in gas chambers, rather as we spend our days walking to the grocery store, going to the gym, getting on a train to work in the city, it is whatever we are doing … We have to know that God is with us, and we are with God. And even when we have a bad day, and don’t get the results we want on a test, or fail our driving tests, miss out on something, or whatever it is. Whether we are in London, Teaneck, Israel … it is about remembering we are with God, and that is through everything we do in life.

May we light our Shabbat candles this week and remember the Holocaust whilst feeling grateful for what we have in this world, remembering God is with us.

About the Author
Darcey is from London, where she works in marketing, and invests her time in various Torah education initiatives, working independently and with various organisations. She is the founder of the "Desert Island Torah" podcast which has reached tens of thousands of people across the globe, in over 50 countries. Darcey has written many articles and two books, and is working on several other works to be published in 2024.
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