Yom Hashoah: Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism

We are posting in honor of Yom Hashoah. The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“–literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.” Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew) is a national day of commemoration in Israel, on which the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are memorialized. It is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 27th of the month of Nisan and ending the following evening, according to the traditional Jewish custom of marking a day. This year it fell on April, 28th, 2014 and places of entertainment are closed so that memorial services can be held throughout the country.

There are two important ceremonies that take place: one in the evening and one the following morning. Both are held at Yad Vashem and broadcast on television for those who cannot attend. In attendance are the President of the State of Israel and the Prime Minister, dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors and their families, as well as those who wish to show their respects. The memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for two minutes throughout the entire country. For the duration of the sounding, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars pull off to the side of the road and everybody stands at silent attention in reverence to the victims of the Holocaust. Afterward, the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives of survivor groups and institutions.

Other sites of remembrance in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, also host memorial ceremonies, as do schools, military bases, municipalities and places of work. Throughout the day, both the television and radio broadcast programs about the Holocaust. In recent years, other countries and Jewish communities have adopted Yom Hashoah, the 27th of Nisan, to mark their own day of memorial for the victims of the Holocaust.

In the article, “Yom Hashoah: The value of memory” by Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz he poses the question: what is the relationship between memory and action for us today?  He answers this question through many deliberations:

He asks”but why did God so often model the behavior of remembering and then acting? And why should the rabbis have preferred action preceded by study to action alone?” The answer may be found as he develops his argument:

In the case of the Holocaust and other tragic episodes in Jewish history, one could argue that we don’t have a choice but to recall our painful past. Psychologists suggest that trauma lasts for seven generations, and if so, Jewish parents, in this generation as in previous ones, must give their children the intellectual and spiritual tools to make sense of this trauma and to understand our history. Further, when action is done with a deep foundation of memory, we can create layers of meaning that generates real transformational and systemic change (Yanklowitz 2)

Essentially, he notes that there is more willingness to practice “spiritual activism” (Yanklowitz 2) He continues, “And now there’s evidence to suggest that those two elements of what it means to be Jewish are connected, and that studying or remembering, particularly as a group, can make all the members of that group more committed to collective action” (Yanklowitz 2).

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