Commemoration and Celebration

On Sunday a few hundred students of all the synagogues in Indianapolis gathered for the last of a series of events to commemorate the Shoah (the Holocaust) in connection to the annual Jewish day of remembering Yom HaShoah.  These students experiences lessons seeing not only the horror of the Shoah but also the hope, using the story of Janus Korczak, a polish doctor and educator who stayed with his children in a Warsaw ghetto orphanage he ran instead of saving himself.  He helped the children find a valued social role in the depths of despair and walked with them when the NAZIs cleared the ghetto and send the children with others to their deaths in the Treblinka death camps.  Korczak's work, before the war, was seen as a ground breaking view of childhood (which many argue was a 19th century invention but we will discuss that later) and his writing influenced great what would decades later become the UN Declaration of Children's Rights.  Korczak, for many, is seen as a hero who saved not lives necessarily but souls of people, especially children.  He kept despair from taking over.  And we don't truly learn about him.

For a long time Holocaust Education dominated Jewish education.  Look in any synagogue library and I would bet the largest single section is books about the Shoah.  Include novels about the war and youth fiction telling Holocaust stories and I would guess in most there are more books about Europe 1933-1945 then all the other circulation collection combined.  This is because it was a powerful reminder in the modern world (the Shoah occurred during the life time of my mother) of the kinds of atrocities that have visited on the Jewish people historically but the first time in a modern, Democratic member of a world community.  As the world globalized after WW1 there was a phrase that that war was the war to end all wars.  While Germany was highly punished for their role in WW! they were slowly being welcomed into this new world community.  They went in a different direction.  But we must remember Adolph Hitler was elected before he became the dictator he said he would.  This has also led American educators and politicians to make the Shoah a centerpiece of education to avoid this in the future.  For week each spring governments and schools hold ceremonies, invite speakers, and try to remember the history.  Even if the Jewish population is tiny or non-existent.  Some communities even turn this education into a project that defines them as seen with the documentary Paperclips.  But all this attention alone, while important and helps us understand the roots of hate that could lead to other genocides if also paints a less than complete picture of Judaism.  For Jews, this week we have another commemoration and a celebration.  We will remember the Israeli war dead in a day of remembrance but this week is also Israel Independence Day.  A day to recall and celebrate the return of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.  While politics plays a role in why this is not an important piece for non-Jews, I believe as Jews we need to embrace the temporal connection of the two days.  Not because the Nation of Israel is compensation for the horror of the Shoah, but that is part of a story beyond the camps.  I met a survivor once at a training who carries with her when she speaks a picture of her family, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Her story is that Judaism didn't end in 1945, we are a vibrant people who still live.  Am Israel Chai.  I agree.  When we as a people spent so much time talking about the people who try to kill us, our children will wonder what the upside is to remaining connected to the Jewish people.  The Shoah not only dominated education but was worked into the Seder at Passover, Yom Kippur, and is mentioned at various times throughout the year.  For a young child wanting to embrace their tradition they are struck with a history of hate.  But even worse is that if those outside of Judaism see us as victims of European hate we fall into the category of a past people not a modern one.  And that is a a real problem  If the only time Jews are mentioned in school curriculum is the Shoah, if high schools only read Night and Number the Stars, and if the only other connection to Judaism is the stereotyped characters on TV then we become an interesting anachronism and are not seen as a modern people.

I would like to propose a new holiday, Yom Shel Chai, a Day of Life, one day after Yom HaShoah.  It is a day to celebrate the Jewish accomplishments since 1945.  A day to see the regrowth of European Judaism, the rise of Western Jews in the American disapora and a holiday that could create new rituals that honor Hebrew school students, Adult B'nai Mitzvah or conversions.  Schools and museums could couple the two days, still teaching that we cannot forget the Shoah, but we still have room in our brains for the power of all that Judaism has given the world since.  Even if it is simply our own children's ability to read Torah.  Celebrating who we are as a people will remind ourselves and others that we thrive, despite a history with darkness and death, Am Israel Chai, the Jewish people live.

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