Akiva Gersh
Akiva Gersh

The first Shabbat after the Holocaust

Yom HaShoah has come to an end here in Israel and after an emotionally powerful and heavy day, I am glad that Shabbat is just a day away. Not that Shabbat puts the blinders over our eyes to the darkness and ugliness of our world, both past and present, or that it makes us believe for an entire day that all is wonderful and well.

But Shabbat does have a unique ability to lift us up so we can see the world from a different vantage point, and not get swallowed up by the pain and suffering that unfortunately and mysteriously has plagued all of human existence and history.

And as I get ready and excited for Shabbat, it makes me think about that first Shabbat that Jews experienced after liberation, as Holocaust survivors and no longer Holocaust prisoners.

What was that first Shabbat like?

I could only imagine that it was like seeing an old friend after years of separation.

Or returning home after a long journey abroad, going to your room and laying down on your very own bed.

Or like hearing the soft voice of one of your grandparents calling out your name after a long time not seeing them.

It’s been said that more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, that Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.

Helping them to believe in a brighter future even when the present moment right in front of us is so dark.

To believe in our ability to improve the world even when we are surrounded on all sides by shattered pieces of our world.

To never lose hope that one day, evil and hate will cease to exist and that goodness will fill our lives and guide our world.

Jews have been through a lot, obviously. And the Holocaust was the peak of all the evils we have experienced.

But throughout our complicated and, at times, challenging history, there was always that first Shabbat after.

After the destruction of the 1st Temple.

After being sent into exile in Babylonia.

After the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

After the Crusades.

After the expulsion from Spain.

After a pogrom.

After the Holocaust.

Shabbat doesn’t take away the pain. It doesn’t make us forget. But it does comfort us. It holds our hands, hugs us tight and, without any words, lets us know that, somehow, things will be okay. And not only okay, but somehow things will get better. Much better.

That’s the power of Shabbat.

And that’s the secret of Jewish survival and continuity.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh is the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (www.becomingisraeli.com), a compilation of blogs and essays that speak of the inspiring and the sometimes wacky and crazy experience of making aliyah. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. He teaches Jewish history at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel in Hod HaSharon. He is also a musician and in 2010 formed Holy Land Spirit, an uplifting and spiritual musical experience for Christian groups visiting Israel.
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