How should we, the third generation, commemorate The Holocaust? Nobody wants to remember or contemplate massive death, atrocity and desperation. There are few alive who can still personally recall and mourn for the millions of individuals lost to this tragedy. So how are we to carry the torch?
A few short hours ago my newfound homeland began 24 hours of national mourning over the 6 million Jewish souls lost in the Holocaust. Radio stations stopped blasting their normal music, TV stations halted their regularly scheduled programming, restaurants and health clubs closed up early and even in-flight entertainment on the national airline was changed to only holocaust themed movies. For a few moments, sirens across the country will sound as cars pull over to the side of the road, and everyone stops their daily grind to take a moment to stand in silence and contemplation.
To be honest, my first response to all of this apparent negativity is one of withdrawal. Like many other North American Jews, I grew up with The Holocaust as a theme in my education, culture and society. I visited the concentration camps in Poland, read the books, took the highs school and college courses, heard the stories, saw numbers on old men's arms and led a few education and social action initiatives. After 28 years of education and occasional tears, there is a natural desire to try to emotionally distance oneself from this yearly day of tears and the seemingly oppressively negative topic in general. Whereas in years past I was able to at the very least read the stories of survivors, as a parent I find that I cannot even open these books. I cannot emotionally process what my life would be like, what my children would have to experience, had I been born 70 years earlier.
So here's what I'm going to try to do this year. I'm going to try to find the meaning and inspiration in the ashes and the tears, not just for myself but for my children. I'm not going to put my head in the sand, nor am I going to subject myself to the complete state of mourning of Tisha B'av (the religious day of morning that includes all Jewish tragedy including the Holocaust). And finally, I'm not going to focus on the unbelievable numbers that I cannot contemplate.
I'm going to focus on the actions and stories that show the light of the human spirit and the holliness of the human soul in the depths of darkness. For the next 24 hours I'm going to try to find inspiration in a period of desperation, and to pass on this message to my children.
I'm going to try to take inspiration from the life of Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman zt'l, a true spiritual leader who left the safety of the USA to return to Europe to lead his hundreds of students through the depths of hell. Shortly after returning to Europe, he led his students with their heads held high and souls full with faith to their ultimate sacrifice.
I'm going to sit with my son and tell him the stories I have heard about his maternal great-grandparents who not only lost friends and most of their families, but found the strength to marry in the DP camps and raise a family, many of whom are living their great-great-grandparent's dreams by living in Israel.
While Yom Hashoah, the secular-calendar based Day of Holocaust Remembrance was setup on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the lesson of the Holocaust to me is not one of "We Must Stand Up And Fight" but rather one of the power of the human spirit when faced with utter destruction.
The human soul and spirit are not driven by the base urge to survive, but by the knowledge that even in the greatest darkness there is light. The greatest way to honor the millions of innocents lost is to rebuild all the light that was lost from the world.
Here's to the spirit and the soul. Here's to hope. Here's to a brighter tomorrow. Let us never forget.