29 Nissan 5778 – Shemini

This past week we commemorated Yom Hashoa – Holocaust Remembrance Day. I attended two communal memorial events in which my wife, Chana Raizel featured as guest speaker. I was really proud of the way she gave over the story of her dear grandmother and gave honour and dignity to her, the survivors and all those who were murdered. 

Interestingly, there is much debate as to the preferred date for Holocaust remembrance. 

The Orthodox Rabbinate of Israel attempted to promote the Tenth of Tevet — a traditional fast day commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem in ancient times.

Other leading rabbis have recommended adding Piyyutim (religious poems) to the liturgy of Tisha B’av and making this the national day of mourning for all the tragedies of our history. 

Today, it is marked by most Jews on the 27th day in the month of Nisan — a week after the seventh day of Pesach, and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers). This date was selected by the Knesset on April 12, 1951, as it coincided with the anniversary of one of the most successful uprisings of the Jewish resistance in World War II – the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Exactly 75 years ago, on the 27th Nissan, led by 23-year-old Mordechai Anielewitz, several hundred Jews of the Warsaw ghetto barricaded themselves in bunkers and resisted the German Aktion of April 1943. After an entire month of valiant fighting, the Uprising was quashed and the ghetto burned to the ground. Yet they left an incredible legacy – they chose to die fighting for their freedom. 

In choosing this date, the Knesset was responding to surveys that were conducted in the early 1950s that indicated that young Israelis did not sympathise with the victims of the Holocaust, since they believed that European Jews were helplessly led like “sheep to the slaughter”. The youth of Israel wanted to focus on how Jews resisted their Nazi tormentors through “passive resistance”– retaining their human dignity in the most unbearable conditions – and “active resistance”, fighting the Nazis in the ghettos and joining the underground partisans.  Thus, Yom Hashoa as we know it, was born.

Having an official day of remembrance is important. It allows us the opportunity to actively remember and thereby preserve the memory of our six million holy martyrs for generations to come. So what can you do? If you haven’t already done so, make an effort this week to educate yourself and your family with something to do with the Shoa. Speak about it at the Shabbat table or send it as an email to family and friends. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I will be releasing a video recording of Chana Raizel’s very moving speech and I encourage you to watch it. 

May we only know of joyous times ahead – Am Yisrael Chai – and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman

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