Yom HaShoah – A Different Day

74 years after the liberation of Auschwitz and 71 years after the foundation of the State of Israel, the Holocaust still looms large. Perhaps that is because Anti-Semitism has awoken from a seemingly light slumber. Perhaps it is because in Jewish history, 74 years is a blink of the eye. Perhaps it is because an atrocity of this magnitude does not wane from our memory. Like our Exodus from Egypt, the Shoah will shape the DNA of every Jew from 1939 until 2539, at least.

Last night I was at the National Ceremony in Israel commemorating this solemn day, held at Yad Vashem. There, 6 survivors lit torches and shared their stories. The President and Prime Minister spoke and the nation mourned.

How does an entire nation mourn? By remembering those they didn’t know. By a national law that forbids the sale of alcohol in restaurants and bars and stores. By closing movie theaters and concert halls and pubs. By sounding a siren from border to border and pausing in memory of the 6 Million.

I was at the airport, headed home when the siren sounded this morning. The entire security team of the Ben Gurion airport assembled in a giant circle surrounding a large light that had the words Yizkor emblazoned on it. This blasts shrieked like a painful cry for 90 seconds. The entire airport stood at attention. Then, the security team went back to work and travelers went back to the business of getting to thier destinations.

Each check in counter at the airport, regardless of airline or destination, displayed a Holocaust memory picture instead of a gate number. Over the duty-free stores, pictures of yahrtzeit flames flickered. All television stations are portraying survivors, their stories and their children and grand children embracing their legacy. Talent personalities take to the airwaves to sing songs of reflection, read poems and cry.

Next to my check in counter to Newark was a check in to a flight to Egypt. The gate agent there wore a hijab and spoke Arabic. As the siren went off, the Muslim agent – very respectfully, mind you – video taped the silence and awesomeness of our attention during the alarm and our silent unity. While bowing my head I kept an eye peeking towards her and her hand steadying the camera phone to capture the emotion and the moment.

If I were reading her face, I would say she looked almost jealous. Not of our loss, but of our commitment to memory and of our solidarity.

For us, it is hard to determine if we are the chicken or the egg. Do we unite and commit to memory because of our past or in spite of it? Regardless, memory and unity are a part of our DNA. They are the connective ligaments from yesterday to tomorrow.

On this day of memory, allow us to unite in grief and solidarity. Enable our actions to make the memory of the 6 Million proud of what we offer the Jewish nation, each day. May we continue to be a people that fuses memory with our future and uses yesterday as our foundation for tomorrow.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis, President of the NJ Board of Rabbis and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel commission and is a member of the Chancellor's Rabbinic Cabinet at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
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