Yom HaShoah: Remembrance and Urgency

Today marks Yom HaShoah, our annual, communal observance of Holocaust Memorial Day. Our congregation joined with one of our neighbor synagogues to commemorate this event, sharing an evening of prayer, poetry, music, and memory. We had the privilege of hearing a first-hand story of survival from Agnes Vertes, which included her harrowing childhood escape from Budapest, Hungary. I know that so many of our communities hold the stories of these survivors so close to our hearts as we acknowledge that their numbers are diminishing.

For many years, many of us observing Yom HaShoah have experienced the communal gathering as a memorial to something that took place so long ago – to us, to relatives, or to generations past. The Holocaust feels like it took place all the way BACK THEN. The nightmare of anti-Semitism, while so prevalent throughout centuries and centuries of Jewish history, now felt like a powerful, yet relatively distant, memory.

However, this year, we gathered with freshly broken hearts and wounded souls. This year, Yom HaShoah is different. We know with rising urgency that anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past. Rather, it is growing around the globe.

In the ADL’s most recent Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, we learn:

In 2018, ADL recorded 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. White supremacists stepped up their activities, and the number of incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism remained at near-historic levels.

It also found:

A dramatic increase in physical assaults, including the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

A wave of robocalls targeting Jewish schools, JCCs and synagogues.

A significant number of incidents at K-12 schools and college campuses.

We know that our Jewish brothers and sisters in Poway, CA, just a few short days ago, experienced a violent attack while celebrating the last day of Passover. We know that the Jewish community of Pittsburgh continues to recover from their brutal attack exactly six months prior. These precious souls were murdered here, in America, simply for being Jewish. What seemed unimaginable for so many of us is now reality.

Thus, this year, I urge us all to recommit ourselves to NEVER AGAIN. As we mourn, as we share moments of silence, as we recall the stories of horror as well as the stories of heroism, that we vow to eradicate senseless hatred, domestic terrorism, and further dehumanization of the Other.

So, what do we do to counteract these growing waves of hatred and violence? I have five suggestions:

  1. Reach out to your local interfaith communities. Create programming together: social, educational, text-based, or informal. Eat meals together. Learn about each other’s heritages. Synagogues, Mosques, and Churches must actively work together to educate, to build fellowship, and to demystify our faith traditions. Encourage clergy of other faiths to preach openly about the growing incidents of anti-Semitism locally and nationally.
  2. Write an op-ed or a letter to the editor of your local paper, asking your neighbors and community members of all faiths to openly acknowledge the rise in anti-Semitism and to ensure that their children and grand-children are taught values of respect and compassion for every single human being. 
  3. Remember what you love about being Jewish. Access that joy, that pride, that history which leads all the way – l’dor vador – to you and your generation. We must not let fear overtake us. As Nachman of Breslov taught us, “The world is a narrow bridge, but the most important thing is not to be afraid.”
  4. Consider taking action based on the ADL’s recommendations of “5 Things You Can Do to Combat Hate.”
  5. Visit the Religious Action of Reform Judaism’s Advocacy and Education page about Anti-Semitism to learn more history, as well as research advocacy opportunities with our members of Congress.

May our children and grand-children feel only pride and peacefulness in their Jewish identities. May we demand that adults and children alike learn from the horrors of history, and acknowledge the worst deeds which humanity does to itself. May we, instead, use our 21st century resources, and the power of social media, to eradicate hatred, oppression, and fear, and to spread teachings – found in all of our faith traditions – of acceptance, compassion, morality, and peace.

NEVER AGAIN.

About the Author
Rabbi Marci N. Bellows is the spiritual leader at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Connecticut. A native of Skokie, Illinois, she received her BA in Psychology from Brandeis University in 1999 and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2004.
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