Sunday, April 11, 2010

As the Shoah Fades Away

Gary Rosenblatt wrote a moving piece about the gradual fading relevance of Yom Hashoah. I strongly agree with him. I remember as a child years ago attending Yom Hashoah commemorations at the Young Israel Shomrei Emunah in Silver Spring that were packed - standing room only. The entire community felt the need to participate, bring their children, pass the message on to the next generation.
Fast forward to the early 21st century. The attendance was so paltry that things got to the point where I wondered whether we should even have a community Yom Hashoah event. My friend and colleague Rabbi Yechiel Morris insisted (rightfully so), and he did most of the work putting the event together. But I always felt a twinge of embarrassment for the survivors. Year after year they would come, every year so much the frailer; each year one or two unable to make it to the program, or even in the next world. Didn't we owe them more? Could we not at least make a better showing? We could not.
And yet, my worry about the fading memory of the Shoah centers not on the Orthodox Jewish community. A community rooted in learning and study can never forget the sudden loss of some of its greatest luminaries, and the sudden decimation of great centers of learning and teaching. Moreover, the Orthodox community observes ritually the mourning of suffering and loss on Tisha B'av. Some of my most powerful Shoah images came from talks given by Mr. Manny Mittelman on Tisha B'av. The Orthodox community, which actively commemorates our suffering, will transfer Yom Hashoah to that fateful day (or perhaps to the tenth of Tevet, known in Israel as Yom Hakaddish haklali - the day of general Kaddish), where it probably should have been all along.
I worry more about the secular Jewish community which lacks these very rituals that form the basis of collective and religious memory. Without a Tisha B'av or a fast day or a framework within which to place the tragedy of the Shoah, as the Jews who suffered through the Holocaust first-hand die out, so will the communal need and desire to remember them and the Shoah.
Until the next one.