Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What Yom Hashoa and Elie Wiesel teach us: My remarks at the community Yom Hashao service 5777

World War II and the Holocaust ended 72 years ago and some people question why we commemorate this somber day as the events we recall recede into the mist of history.  More and more survivors and liberators no longer walk this earth.  For our young people who I teach in Hebrew School, President George W Bush is ancient history to them.

I believe we must continue to mark this day and make it holy for the following 3 reasons.  The first is to keep our promise to those who perished.  They wanted us to remember them and never forget what happened.  We know the names of some of these martyrs because Yad Vashem has been collecting these names and preserving them. But there are others who will always remain nameless.  When I visited the Warsaw Jewish cemetery with teenagers on Ramah Seminar, we stood by a mass grave with no markers, no tombstones.  There were too many who died of starvation, disease, and deprivation to bury one by one with the dignity each one deserved.  Elie Wiesel warns us “anybody who doesn’t remember them betrays them again.” Today we remember those we know the names and those who remain nameless and say a kaddish in their memory.

Who would be believe that anti-Semitism would be alive and well 72 years after the Holocaust and into the 21st century, but we’ve seen an increase of anti-Semitic hate crimes both here and in Europe.  Yom Hashoa reminds us that the battle against prejudice hasn’t been won and we must fight on.  And just like Elie Wiesel we not only fight on behalf of our own people, but human beings everywhere they are scapegoated, persecuted, and murdered.  Wiesel reminds us: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps only the oppressor, never the victim. Silence only encourages the tormentors; never the tormented.”

Finally the third lesson Yom Hashoa imparts is we must be brave to speak to power and stand for what is right and just. Once again Elie Wiesel encourages us by teaching “There may be times when are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

World War II and the Holocaust ended 72 years ago. That’s quadruple Chai, a hopeful sign for a better future.  I’ll conclude with one last bit of wisdom from Elie Wiesel, “Hope is like peace. It’s not a gift from God. It’s a gift we can give one another.” Let’s give the gift of hope and peace to all who need it.