This is a powerful and poignant time of year. Yesterday we commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, and next week we will commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s 74th Independence Day.
I returned this week from my second trip to Israel in the past month, this time with my family for Passover. Perhaps because of the time of year, perhaps because of the ongoing war in Ukraine, perhaps because there is something almost cathartic about being in Israel after two years of COVID, these trips felt particularly powerful and emotional.
During my travels in Israel, I visited the headquarters of The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the other organizations that built the State of Israel. I felt the magnitude of the history of that place and of the historic moment we are living through right now. It was awe-inspiring that yesterday, as Yom HaShoah ceremonies took place around the world, Holocaust survivors from Ukraine landed safely in Israel.
For me, and I suspect for many of us, the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine gave Yom HaShoah an added level of significance this year. War is unfolding in the same place where our ancestors suffered the worst atrocities in human history. This reminds us that it can, indeed, happen again.
Reflecting on Yom HaShoah, I was moved by a 2011 speech by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z”l):
“And so it has been throughout Jewish history. We carry with us all the fragments of our people’s past, the broken lives, the anguished deaths. For we refuse to let their deaths be in vain. They, our past, live on in us as we continue the Jewish journey to the future, to hope, and to life.
And so it is with the victims of the Shoah, the lost lives, the broken communities, synagogues desecrated and set on fire, the sacred scrolls burned and turned to ash, the children, a million and a half of them, an entire murdered generation. What our enemies killed we keep alive in the only way we can, in our minds, our memories, and our memorial prayers.
[...] Jerusalem was destroyed many times[...] [But] Out of the ruins of the past, Jerusalem has been rebuilt, and out of the fragments of the memories of the past, the Jewish people have been reborn.
So today we say to the souls of those our people lost in Europe’s dark night: we will never forget you, we will never cease to mourn you, we will not let you down, until Jews can walk the world without fear, witnesses against those who choose death, to the God of life who told us: ‘Choose life.’”
This Sunday, I hope you will join me to (virtually) commemorate Yom HaShoah with survivors and civic leaders here in Boston.
When we commemorate Yom HaShoah, mourning those whose lives were cut short and honoring the indomitable spirit of those who survived and rebuilt; when we mobilize millions of dollars of support for Ukraine; when we renew and reimagine Jewish life by creating joyous Jewish communities here in Greater Boston; when we send our children to Jewish schools, camps, and Israel; when we work for a more compassionate, just, and democratic American society; when we do any and all of these and more, we fulfill our sacred responsibilities to remember, witness, and choose life. That is how we honor the past and build the future, together.
Rabbi Marc Baker
About the Author
CJP President and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker is an educator, writer, and leadership mentor who is devoting his life to Jewish learning and building Jewish communities.