Michael Zoosman

The Death Penalty on Yom HaShoah/ Holocaust Memorial Day in Florida

Image: While this Yom HaShoah/ Holocaust Memorial Day flame burned in the writer’s home, Florida’s Senate voted to expand state killings to crimes that do not include a homicide.

On April 18, 2023 – which was Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Memorial Day in the Jewish calendar – Florida’s Senate passed a bill that will make that state the only member of the Union to allow for the death penalty for a crime that does not involve a homicide. Specifically, this bill expands capital punishment to child sex crimes, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, which held that such a law is unconstitutional. There is no doubt that Florida Governor DeSantis will sign this bill, given his vociferous advocacy for this exact measure. As if to erase any doubt, just one day later, on April 19th – the day after Yom HaShoah – De Santis signed into law another bill allowing for non-unanimous jury votes to be enough for the imposition of a death sentence. (The Yom HaShoah death penalty bill for sex crimes also permits non-unanimous juries to render a death verdict).

 Governor DeSantis’ politicization of state killings as he readies for a White House run in 2024 is matched in its debauchery only by the readiness of the Florida Legislature to honor his wishes. Florida already had proven itself not to be “pro-life” when it re-opened the Pandora’s Box of state killings. Now, by advocating for death when no death has occurred, the state might as well be throwing away the lid to that very same box. This vote calls into question any assumptions about the most fundamental of all human rights: the inherent inviolability of life itself.

Many of the thousands of members of our group, “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty,” are, like myself, direct descendants of Holocaust victims. We know very well the dangers in playing politics with death and in expanding the justifications for state killings.  We, therefore, were shocked that the Florida Senate would deign to pass this bill at all, let alone to do so on Yom HaShoah, a day when we most audibly chant “NEVER AGAIN to state-sponsored murder!” Florida’s action on this day of all days was a veritable slap in the face to descendants of Holocaust survivors like us who are trying to end the direct Nazi legacy that is lethal injection. (Lethal injection, of course, was first implemented in our world by the Nazis as part of their infamous Aktion T4 protocol to kill people deemed “unworthy of life,” as devised by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician of Adolf Hitler.) 

By making it easier for lethal injections to take place in Florida, the Senate has enabled this Nazi legacy to perpetuate and further darken the soul of the Sunshine State. Rather than seeking to put an end to this abomination, Florida used Holocaust Memorial Day to expand its use. Like Martin Buber and countless other Jewish human rights luminaries who opposed the execution of the Nazi perpetrator Adolph Eichmann, we at L’chaim protest state-sponsored murder in all cases, and in ALL forms. This includes lethal injection, hanging, electrocution, firing squad or via any of the gas chambers currently available in the United States, including Arizona, which features Zyklon B of Auschwitz infamy. We hold by the words of Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel, who famously said of capital punishment: “Death is not the answer.” Wiesel also said this: “With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.” 

The only comfort that we in L’chaim take in this 2023 Yom Hashoah Florida Senate debacle is the fact that State Senator Lori Berman, who is Jewish, was one of five senators who voted NO to this bill. We offer to Senator Berman the same toast that we made to Jewish Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania when he stated his change of heart and newfound opposition to the death penalty earlier this year. To them both, and to all who join our cause, we gratefully and loudly chant: “L’chaim – To Life!”

Cantor Michael Zoosman, MSM,

Board Certified Chaplain, Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains

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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