Deborah Fripp
Teaching the Holocaust through stories of Jewish Resilience

Yom HaShoah in a time of social distancing

A woman at a displaced persons camp after the Holocaust lights Shabbat candles with what she has. (Source: Yad Vashem)
A woman at a displaced persons camp after the Holocaust lights Shabbat candles with what she has. (Source: Yad Vashem)

Can we still commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah in a time of social distancing? Yes! Our new service, Light from the Darkness, allows us to honor the survivors’ memories and to learn from their experiences with a ritual of remembrance that can be performed in our homes.

In fact, you can join us on Zoom for this service on Monday, April 20, 2020 at 8 pm eastern time. Register here.

Yom HaShoah commemorations are traditionally times to come together as a community. They are designed around listening to elderly survivors or their children, often also senior citizens, speak about their experiences. With the spread of a virus that is particularly dangerous to the elderly, most of these gatherings are being cancelled. How can we safely observe Yom HaShoah this year?

There is an alternative. While Judaism is by its nature a communal religion, it is also a family religion. Many of our rituals are performed in community, but many others are performed in our homes.

Traditionally, our mourning rituals – saying kaddish for instance – are performed in community. We are supposed to have a minyan, at least 10 people gathered together, to say kaddish. As Yom HaShoah was originally a time to say kaddish for those who died in the Holocaust, commemorating Yom HaShoah in community is a natural expectation.

However, other holidays that mark atrocities committed against our people, such as Chanukah and Passover, are done at home. The Passover seder, for instance, is a family ritual of remembrance that commemorates a great tragedy, 400 years of slavery, while celebrating our passage to freedom. We now have something similar for Yom HaShoah – a ritual of remembrance that commemorates another great tragedy, the murder and enslavement of millions, while celebrating our survival as a people.

The Passover seder endures because it challenges each of us to see how the lessons of the Exodus relate to our own modern lives. Light from the Darkness challenges us to see how the lessons of the Holocaust relate to our own modern lives. It empowers us with the hope and strength of those who experienced the Holocaust to believe that we can make a difference in the world. It reminds us of the abiding lessons of the Holocaust: Be vigilant against the rise of hatred in our communities; Stand up for ourselves and for each other; Never give up on life and faith.

On Yom HaShoah, we want to hear from those who experienced the Holocaust directly. Light from the Darkness allows us to do this. The story of the Holocaust is told in the words of those who lived it, both survivors through their testimony and victims through their diaries. Without risking exposing the survivors to a pandemic virus, their words, repeated in our own voices, still echo in our hearts.

Like most Yom HaShoah programs, Light from the Darkness was originally designed to be done in community, in both small and large groups. Unlike other Yom HaShoah programs, however, this ritual of remembrance provides us with an opportunity to maintain a connection to our past at a time when community commemorations are not possible.

This year, we will not be able to commemorate the Holocaust in community with survivors. Light from the Darkness provides us with a new tool to continue that tradition in our homes. We are a people of community who maintain our links to communities of today and those of our ancestors through ritual and remembrance. Let us use the lessons of the Holocaust and the perseverance of the survivors to strengthen and fortify us.

Please join us as we observe Yom HaShoah together online, from the safety of our own homes, with Light from the Darkness: A Ritual for Holocaust Remembrance. April 20 at 8 pm Eastern (7 pm Central). Click here to register.

About the Author
Dr. Deborah Fripp is the president of the Teach the Shoah Foundation. Her website ( provides resources on commemorating, teaching, and understanding the Holocaust for communities, families, and educators. You can sign up to hear about her new blogs at
Related Topics
Related Posts