by Rabbi Malka Drucker

Among the Jewish holidays, Yom HaShoah stands uniquely in its remembrance of a time without redemption. We remember what we would rather not remember: that two-thirds of European Jewry (one-third of world Jewry) were murdered for being Jews. How we experience and express the memory in our observance reveals who we collectively are.

It is our generation's work to turn away from the easy path of mistrust of everyone who disagrees with Israel. While it may be tempting to see the world as those are with us and those who are against us, we risk losing more than six million: we risk the loss of hope and empathy. We also risk becoming an angry, fearful, paranoid, and xenophobic people in an attempt to secure a safe homeland.

While some observe the day in deep unredemptive mourning, reciting the special Kaddish that includes the death camps, others tie Yom HaShoah tightly to Yom Ha-atzmaut, wanting to declare triumph rather than defeat. We're not only still here, we have Israel. They didn't win! Let's celebrate!

No matter how this new observance is understood or expressed, it could be useful for all of us to ask what we may learn from specifically from the Holocaust, which means "burnt offering." Who are we sixty-two years later? We are in great need of healing, and it would be a mistake not to admit it.

Elie Wiesel, perhaps the best-known survivor of the Holocaust, was one of the first voices to speak out against the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. He said that he spoke as one of a people who knew only too well of the dangers of one people not seeing the humanity of another. For him the Holocaust was a reminder to awaken compassion in us as a people.

In each of our three daily prayers we remind ourselves that we were slaves in Egypt. Rabbi Harold Schulweis told me that a black minister once questioned him about why we as a people must remind ourselves continually of this shameful chapter in our history. Schulweis replied that its intention is to goad us into remembering others who are not yet free.

Perhaps the Holocaust can be a lesson in turning evil into blessing. It can be our teacher in understanding "Never Again" as a universal promise to all who are homeless and oppressed. It can mean that we who have suffered genocide commit ourselves to never allowing genocide again. It can mean that we as Jews commit ourselves to become morally sensitive enough to see every human being as one who is in God's image. More recently, the many Jewish communities that have challenged the world over the crisis in Darfur act in the same spirit.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom is in an answer to the Holocaust, a step in moving us away from the darkness, because it calls us to move beyond despair, anger, and fear, reminding us that we will never again be victims, nor will we will support the forces of enmity and destruction. Perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the name of Holocaust, in the name of fear and hatred, does not release us from the Nazis' grasp. Working with Brit Tzedek and all those seeking a peaceful future, in which a viable Palestinian state coexists with a secure Israel, does.

It is more difficult to stand in a place of justice than to be a partisan for one side or the other. It takes courage to speak against the injustices of Israeli policy, while still supporting Israel and its people. But Brit Tzedek, along with the rest of the peace community, helps us to act as a community from our highest place.

This week we remember of the six million with memorial services. We can turn their memory into blessing doing all that we can to bring a just peace to the Middle East, one in which the legitimate needs of the Palestinians are recognized, as the future of Israel is protected.

Suggestions for Yom HaShoah:

  • Attend a Yom HaShoah service. Discuss with other congregants the needs of the Israeli people for long-lasting peace . Visit the "Let's Talk" website for ideas about how to talk about the sensitive issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • Light a yarzheit (memorial) candle. There is no prescribed prayer; use the opportunity to create a new prayer in your family, involving ways to remember all oppressed peoples as we mourn our own losses.

  • Many Palestinian peace activists report that they knew little or nothing about the Shoah before becoming involved with peace efforts. Become acquainted with the work being done by Palestinians who attempt to incorporate an understanding of the Holocaust in their activism. Read the account of American-Israeli Yossi Klein Halevi, the son of a Holocaust survivor, describing his visit to Auschwitz with a joint Jewish-Arab delegation; read about the efforts of Khaled Kasab Mahameed to teach Muslims and Arabs about the Holocaust.

  • Make a contribution to Brit Tzedek as we bring a Jewish face to peace and justice in the world. Consider a donation in multiples of 18 (36, 54, 72, 108, etc.), the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word chai, which is a traditional way to symbolically bring life into a moment of grief.

If you have additional suggestions, please send them to Rabbi John Friedman, chair of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet at rabbifriedman@btvshalom.org


Rabbi Malka Drucker is the founding rabbi of HaMakom: The Place for Passionate and Progressive Judaism, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  She was ordained in 1998 from the Academy for Jewish Religion, a transdenominational seminary.

Rabbi Drucker is the author of 20 books, including the award-winning Frida Kahlo, Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, Grandma's Latkes and White Fire: A Portrait of Women Spiritual Leaders in America, which won the 2005 PEN Southwest Book Award in non-fiction. Her highly acclaimed Jewish Holiday Series won the Southern California Council on Literature for Children Prize series.

For further information about Rabbi Drucker, see her website at www.malkadrucker.com.


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