17 April 2020
Living as we are through a period that will undoubtedly be remembered in the history books, it might feel odd to set aside time to consider our past. But as we approach Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we are compelled to do just that. Yom HaShoah, which begins on Monday evening, gives us sacred time and space to commemorate the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust, honor the survivors, and pay tribute to the many helpers who demonstrated courage and resilience in the face of extreme horror. Indeed, doing our part to teach each generation about the depth of human cruelty—and the fortitude of human endurance—is one of our most sacred responsibilities as Jews.
For those who have ever been in Israel for Yom HaShoah, you know what a profound feeling it is to take part in a collective moment of silence. I remember pulling over on the highway as everything came to a halt for two minutes in honor of those we lost. There is something powerful about standing side by side with strangers in strength and solidarity. Of course, this year, we won’t be able to gather in one place, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still feel each other’s presence. Virtual commemorations will allow us to come together as a community to remember this chapter in our history, even as we stay home to stay safe.
- On Sunday, our partners at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) will be hosting their annual Yom HaShoah Community-Wide Commemoration online. Register here for a link to the livestream and the program booklet. The event will feature a discussion with Holocaust survivors, a memorial candle lighting, a keynote presentation, music, and poetry.
- The JCRC will also be joining with Sixth & I, 3GDC, and Adas Israel Congregation to host Holocaust Remembrance Day: Voices of History, Lessons for Today to take place via livestream on Monday evening.
- Additionally, you can join the JCRC’s annual Dor L’Dor (generation to generation) conversations, taking place online this year on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday—some in partnership with local synagogue congregations. These conversations are unique and valuable opportunities to spend time in dialogue with Holocaust survivors as they share their war-time experiences. As the JCRC notes, these conversations are designed to help us “become inspired to speak truth to power, seek justice, and fight against hatred of all kinds.”
No matter how you choose to participate, I encourage you to join with our community to mark this moment. We owe it to the 2,000 Holocaust survivors in the Greater Washington region to tell the stories and read out loud the names of those who perished. We owe it to people like 85-year-old Aryeh Nativ, who hid for a year and a half with 39 other people under the floorboards of the house of two Polish rescuers, and is now living under quarantine in Israel. And to people like local Bethesda resident, Louise Lawrence-Israëls, who have made it their mission to educate people about the Holocaust. Louise spent the first three years of her life hiding from the Nazis in a storage attic in Amsterdam. She has served as a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for 26 years, and frequently speaks to students and other audiences about her experience.
It has never been more important to commemorate our history and remember who we are as a people. No matter what has come our way, we have always done what we can to be there for each other. Now is a time to be there for each other, once again. Though our rituals and traditions will look a bit different this year, they will surely be strengthened by our communal spirit and our commitment to find safe and creative ways to honor our past and cultivate hope for the road ahead.