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  • Writer's picturerabbijonathanf

Yom Hashoa: True Strength of the Spirit

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

It is an honor to be commemorating Yom Hazikaron L’shoa ugvurah, the day of remembrance for the Holocaust and Heroismin Israel. The day is meaningful to me because my mother escaped from Austria to England on a kindertransport right before the outbreak of the war, and my grandparents fled through France eventually coming to the United States two years later. At the same time my father was fighting for the US forces in Europe. This day is so important to everyone here, because whether you have a family history linked to the Shoah or not, it is so important to hear the testimony first hand from a survivor. You will be able to tell your children and grandchildren, or future generations I was there and I heard it directly from them.

Yom Hashoa is a painful day, marking the genocide of 6 million Jews, and the pain and the suffering of the survivors and the dislocation of refugees. We commemorate the souls of the six million, as we did by lighting the candles, by keeping their memory in our hearts and by offering prayers in their merit of their souls.

This is my first Yom Hashoa in Israel, and it takes on a totally new meaning being here. Yom Hashoa is so different here in Israel, because having Israel means that we as a Jewish people now have the ability to defend ourselves. This does not mean that we did not always try to defend ourselves. Yom Hashoa l’hagevurah recognizes the heroism of those who resisted and fought back. People after the war asked why did Jews go passively to their slaughter, but we did not. There were uprisings in ghettos of 5 major cities, 45 provincial towns, and in 5 major concentration and extermination camps, as well as in at least 18 forced labor camps. The most famous was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, however Jews also revolted in Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz, setting fire to the camps, destroying some of the crematoria and trying to escape. The Jews knew they would ultimately be overcome, but through resistance they, in their own words ‘chose themselves how they would die.’ Just as important than the physical resistance was the spiritual resistance.

This idea of resistance of the spirit is the foundation of what it means to be a Jew.

As Jews we survived for thousands of years thanks to the strength of our spirit, we survived

the Shoah thanks to the strength of our spirit, and modern day Israel survives thanks to our strength of spirit. In the Torah we call this emunah, belief and trust in G-d. For some it is the Jewish affirmation of life and of humanity. We are the oldest continuous civilization, and for the past 2000 years we have been disempowered, yet we have survived thanks to our emunah. After the Shoa it is a test to keep our faith in our fellow men, in life and in G-d, yet we if we do so, we do so thanks to our emunah. Holocaust survivors have more health issues than their peers, yet the live on average 7 years longer, this can only be due to strength of spirit. And Israel today as we know it is surrounded by enemies who greatly outnumber us, and we survive on emunah. And now the Jews in the diaspora are being challenged. Yes, they have to defend themselves, but ultimately it will be a challenge of emunah. When it is potentially dangerous to go to synagogue, will they find the strength of spirit to continue to do so?

On this Yom Hazikaron l’shoa v’ligvurah, we are challenged to continue to mine that precious resource of emunah, and to remain strong in self-defense, as we say never again and in spirit, as we re-dedicate ourselves to the values of what it means to be a Jew. Yes we say ‘Never Again’, and it is important to be proud as a Jew and to defend ourselves and the most important is to have Israel to defend all Jews throughout the world. But we do not survive just to survive. We survive so that we can elevate ourselves and the world which we do through the strength of spirit. This is done by embodying and living our Jewish values words of the Talmud, to be merciful, to be humble and to do goodness and charity, and to be a light to the world. Thank you for coming together for this Yom Hashoa.

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