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Rabbi Stiefel's Monthly Article

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

I recently taught a class on “Why be Jewish?”  Our discussion included past motivators and current day realities. The Holocaust, of course, was raised as a significant topic in the American Jewish psyche.  Emil Fackenheim, the great 20th century philosopher, devised a 614th commandment to add to the traditional 613 mitzvot incumbent upon Jews: “Do not give Hitler a posthumous victory.”  What he meant was this: if Jews don’t live Jewish lives, the Nazis will have succeeded in their goal of eradicating us.

What role does the Holocaust play in Jewish identity today? A 2013 Pew survey reported 73 percent of Jews say remembering the Holocaust is essential to their sense of Jewishness -- more than any other quality that Pew asked about.

We know however, that the Holocaust alone is not a sufficient reason to remain Jewish. Yes, we remember and learn from the Holocaust, but Judaism will continue because it is a rich tradition, full of insight and celebration, not only of mourning.

Remembering the Holocaust is not only important for Jews and Jewish continuity but so all humanity can avoid such atrocities today and in the future.  And yet, ignorance in the wider world about the Holocaust is growing. In spite of our efforts to “never forget,” the opposite is happening. A survey conducted a year ago by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany revealed that “thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.” Obviously this is a comment on Holocaust education and the need for more of it.

The times are changing. The number of living survivors able to tell their personal stories is dwindling, with many of them in their 80’s and 90’s. All the books and exhibits cannot compare to the testimony of a survivor.

I hope you will join me in observing Yom HaShoah in three ways this year in our Jewish community. This year’s annual community commemoration will be held on Thursday, May 2 at Bet Shalom at 7 PM. The theme is: Never Again Begins with ME.

And at Mayim Rabim on Friday, May 3, we will observe Yom HaShoah with our member Chaim Teitelbaum sharing from his father’s memoir about living through World War II in Hungary, Auschwitz, Treblinka and Austria.   Then on Sunday June 2 at 1 PM, we will host a concert, The Garden of the Righteous, honoring individuals who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

I hope you will participate in these opportunities to “never forget” so we can create a world where we make the pledge of “never again” a reality.