This post is a reflection of the thoughts I had on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was observed this past Monday. My mind was awash with so many thoughts – seemingly disconnected, yet, I clearly perceived a thread. I was at minyan (services) with the sixth and seventh graders. They listened to the first chapter of a book they had read on the Holocaust, which described how quickly lifelong friends, one Jewish the other Christian, turned on each other once the Nazis invaded, more than 70 years ago. I then thought about an article I read over the weekend in which the European Jewish Congress concluded that Jewish life in Europe is not sustainable today. Why should I be surprised? Kohelet was right – There is nothing new under the sun! (The Book of Ecclesiastes)
And then I thought about how wonderful our kids are at Hillel and how much they know and understand about what it truly means to be a part of the Jewish people. They engage in our Yom Hashoah activities with such respect, sensitivity and understanding. Later that day, Holocaust survivor and Hillel grandparent, Emery Grosinger, shared his firsthand accounts with our students. As Mr. Grosinger said, “During future milestone commemorations of the Holocaust, many years from now, students can flash back to the formative experiences that built their ability to grapple with these difficult and important events.” They know it is a part of their history – and that they must bear witness. They are connected to their people, tradition and values.
How sad I feel for the hundreds of Jewish children in our own neighborhoods, at their public schools, whose Jewish education lacks the depth of what is available at HDS. Then I thought about the future of the Jewish people. It is well known that civilizations survive only if the children are educated. If children are not educated in their language, culture, customs and history how can a civilization survive? Fewer and fewer Jewish children in America are being given the gift of a meaningful and substantive Jewish education.
I then thought about the recently observed holiday of Pesach when we celebrate the birth of the Jewish people. We became a people because we have a reason, a mission on this earth. And then I realized the very next holiday we observe is Yom Hashoah – a day that commemorates the attempted destruction of the Jewish people. It is interesting that sandwiched between Pesach and Shavuot, we now have three additional holidays – Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day), which will be observed on Monday, and Yom Ha-atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day), which will be observed on Tuesday. It’s as if to drive home the fact that becoming a people and then accepting Torah as a guide requires great commitment, tenacity and sacrifice. Life is fragile as Yom Hashoah reminds us. Preserving and protecting the State of Israel requires the ultimate sacrifice, as Yom Hazikaron reminds us. And having the State of Israel and preserving our peoplehood is worth it as we celebrate, with great joy and simcha on Yom Ha-atzma’ut! The rhythm of the calendar then sends us to Shavuot as the reminder that we have a purpose on this earth and an obligation to God and humanity – another responsibility!!
It’s not easy to be a Jew – never has been. It is pathetic that in the 21st century we still need to worry about the safety and security of our fellow Jews. It is ironic, that at the same time, in America, the land of opportunity, we have to worry that openness and freedom is leading to the abandonment of authentic Jewish engagement – substantiated by the recent Pew study. It’s not easy. The Jewish people seem to always be confronting threat and challenges. And yet, I cannot think of anything more meaningful than to be a part of the Jewish people. Almost nothing worthwhile and meaningful is easy to obtain. This is the message that unfolds for the Jewish people from Pesach to Shavuot. Yet, we are an optimistic and tenacious people by nature. We relish the sacredness of life and look for reasons to celebrate and to improve upon ourselves and the world!
Being Jewish and deriving the full beauty and benefit of what it means to be a Jew requires effort, time and choices.
Every day we must choose. What do we really want for our children? What kind of people do we want them to be? What values do want them to have? Do we really care whether they are Jewishly knowledgeable and connected? Do we care that they will remember the six million and understand their role to bear witness? Are we willing to make the choices and sacrifices to make sure our children truly know and understand? (Are we still willing to give up something for ourselves to give to our children?!)
On Monday, I witnessed Hillel students who come from homes with parents who do care! Kohelet was right – There is nothing new under the sun. Jews have been threatened before and will be again – and yet – as we always have – we will survive and flourish!