This year’s observance of Yom Hashoah V’Hagevurah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, was marked, as it has been for years, with candle lightings, readings and the recitation of special liturgies. Doing so is entirely appropriate, and it should be the case that observing Yom Hashoah is considered to be a sacred obligation, in the same way that we feel an obligation to fast on Yom Kippur or participate in a Passover Seder. Remembering what happened to our people during the dark years of the Shoah should not be an option, something left to chance. Of course, no religion can control people’s thoughts and feelings. But remembering the Shoah should be ritualized, set in a ceremonial context. That is the way young people will come to understand the profound importance of remembering what happened and be encouraged to help to build a world where such things cannot happen again.
Remembering, of course, is not sufficient. We should feel an obligation to honor survivors of the Shoah, to ensure that they live the years left to them in dignity and comfort. Yet reports that nearly 50% of Holocaust survivors in Israel are living at or below the poverty line amount to reason to be ashamed. The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel estimates that despite a plan to invest nearly one billion Israeli shekels in helping Holocaust survivors, thousands live in poverty, with insufficient food and nutrition, decrepit housing, poor health and inadequate healthcare, and feelings of loneliness. Many survivors believe that their suffering will soon be forgotten.
On the eve of Passover, a story in the Jerusalem Post reported that a group of Shoah survivors who wished to hold a Seder but could not afford to do so. They did not have sufficient funds to buy kosher for Passover food and the Orthodox Mashgiach in the hotel where they finally made arrangements to hold their Seder on Friday afternoon would not let them bring in food that was not certified for Passover since it was considered forbidden to eat chametz on Erev Passover.
Holocaust survivors living in poverty, alone and afraid, is nothing less than disgrace, a reason for the worldwide Jewish community to feel shame. All of our efforts to strengthen Judaism, to plan for our future, are somehow tainted if we neglect this most sacred responsibility- to remember the past not solely with prayers and candle lightings but by ensuring the dignity and peace of those who lived through the darkness of the Shoah.
To learn how you can help Shoah survivors living in poverty, click here.
And I urge you to attend the annual Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service at 4:00 PM this Sunday, April 19 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Maplewood. More information can be found here.