Some say timing is everything. This week, Jews and non-Jews worldwide commemorate Yom HaShoa U’gevura — Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yom HaShoa takes place on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the 27th day of the month of Nisan (this year May 5). It is not lost on many that this is a week after the end of Passover, and a week before Israel’s Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for fallen soldiers) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). So what can we learn from this coincidence of timing?
First, think about Passover. It is literally a bittersweet holiday — we mix herbs representative of the bitterness of our people’s enslavement with sweet haroset, emblematic of the redemption of our people by God. In other words, while we revel in our freedom to live as the Jews we want to be, we don’t forget the darkness we went through to get to this moment of freedom.
Next let’s look at Israel’s holidays. Our Jewish state’s exuberant Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, a day of cheering and rejoicing, is always preceded by Yom Hazikaron, a day of silence and mourning. If you’ve ever been to Israel during these days, you are aware of the sublime juxtaposition of these emotions — even in our greatest exultation of joy we recall the pain of the loss it took to get there.
Both Passover and Israel’s holidays, with their juxtaposition of freedom and slavery, joy and sorrow, teach us that the good things we experience are often built upon stories of pain and difficulty. We may not want that reality, but it is the reality. And the timing of Yom HaShoa — falling within this holy period and on a day when Jews fought back against the Nazis —reminds us that no matter how much we may not want it to be true, life is lived within the space between joy and sorrow, freedom and slavery. The Shoa, and all that led up to it and followed it, all the people we remember in connection with it — it is all part of a continuum, an ongoing narrative. It is the narrative of our people to persevere no matter what darkness we face. That narrative is not a coincidence; it is part of our Jewish soul, part of who we are, every day. In the wake of the Shoa, we live out that basic Jewish yearning to persevere — by remembering the Six Million, by being inspired by the stories of our loved ones who survived to give us life, and by continuing to provide for the needs of Holocaust survivors who are a living testament of the yearning to persevere.
Though the timing of Yom HaShoa is not a coincidence, this year it happens to coincide with recent, troubling news that restitution funds are falling short to meet the humanitarian needs of survivors in Monmouth and Middlesex counties. Twenty-five survivors have already had services cut, and 100 more face a reduction in the coming months. These funds pay for services that help Holocaust survivors with basic daily activities, from meal preparation and bathing, to simply tidying up at home.
Our Jewish community is not standing idly by, and I urge every Jew in our area to help. On Yom HaShoa — Thursday, May 5 — an initiative is launching to raise the critical funds needed to prevent further cuts and restore the services that have already been cut.
A bit of good news amid this emergency: several generous donors from throughout the community are stepping up, even as I write, with matching grants so that any donations made between May 5 and 12 will be matched dollar for dollar up to $75,000. Those who are able to help with a donation in any amount will have their impact multiplied.
We must all work together to protect the basic human dignity of those who have already suffered so much. So on Yom HaShoa, if not every day, we remember, we pledge: Never Again, and we take action to help survivors in need. With the timely news of this funding crisis, we must not stand by.
Donations may be made at supportholocaustsurvivors.org.
In honor of those who perished, those who survived, and those who persevered to give us a chance to be the Jews we want to be, all community members are encouraged to take part in the Yom HaShoa commemorations taking place this week and next at synagogues and organizations throughout the region (follow this link or visit jewishheartnj.org/yomhashoah).