i find it extremely poetic and of seminal importance that while the world may claim today (1/27, the date of the liberation of auschwitz) as international holocaust remembrance day, much of the jewish and israeli community do not. we do not celebrate the day a handful of troops took starving and desperate prisoners out of concentration camps. we do not commemorate or memorialize the end of one dark period of history and the beginning of another. one camp was liberated that day, but the struggle for survival did not end then. it continued. some may say that it continues. it will always continue. there are bleak and darker spots in time, but the threat is always there, always deep, always looming.
i find it extremely poetic and of seminal importance that we celebrate yom ha’shoah instead. yom ha’shoah falls near the date of the warsaw ghetto uprising. it lands eight days before yom ha’atzmaut. an old israeli language teacher of mine use to tell me, leaving red lipstick on her china mugs, that most people stop in silence for the two-minute national siren. there is a brief stop, a breath of memory, an acknowledgement of misery. the state itself pauses—theaters and pubs don’t open for the day—but otherwise there’s a careful and concerted effort to pick oneself back up, to continue. y’alla y’alla. forward and further. more and tomorrow.
if you trace a history of the jewish people back thousands of years, you’ll find so many tales of sorrow. there have been so many purges, so many exiles, so many places where our genetic trees have stopped and sputtered and, with the strength and majesty of a promise, have started again. it’s devastating. truly overwhelming.
before he died, my grandfather once told me that jewish history is the promise of thousands of stars that was given to avraham—everything else is a consequence.
those words have stuck with me endlessly. they’ve tinted my vision, repurposed my perspective. we suffer, but we are not a nation of suffering. we grieve, but we are not a nation of grief. we hurt and we are hurt, but we are not a nation of hurt. we’re a nation of promise, of avodah, of service and commitment. judaism is both a burden and a gift, a promise and a standard of performance. and when we focus on the days commemorating persecution, celebrating the ways that the world has come to see us, we forget that there are so many days in between where we struggled and fought and survived.
we are a nation, and we live. that’s the rallying cry of our am, the story we pass on from generation to generation, the easiest three-word song you’ll ever sing while doing the hora at a simcha.
and i mean, you are welcome to commemorate whatever day you would like in whatever way you find meaningful and memorable. this isn’t to say you shouldn’t be personal about your grief and about your statement to the world that this happened, this can never happen again. this is still happening. why.
but, personally, my day of jewish memorial—the day i choose to take out my family tree and trace the many, many, many branches of beautiful names that all stop around 1940—will be yom ha’shoah. because chai, because am, because everything else is a consequence.