Thoughts from the Rabbi....
Winter 2017 Centerite
This year on Yom Hashoah I am going to light a Yom Hashoah candle. This is a practice I have not taken up before, and you may or may have not as well. In either event, I invite you to join me this year in lighting one of these special yellow yahrtzeit candles produced by the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs (FJMC) in concert with the Men of Reform Judaism.
Why this year? How is this year different from all my other years? I have been aware of this program at least since I was in high school. And for every year that I have been in the rabbinate, the FJMC has sent me a mailing soliciting me to participate in this program and to lead my congregation to do so as well. This year when I opened the envelope, I realized that for me, things have changed.
Growing up in the 70's and 80's, the Holocaust was a huge, powerful and unknowable dark force at play in my Judaism. Our parents and teachers did not know how to process the emotional energy of the Shoah let alone how to teach it appropriately. In their time and space, in such proximity to the Shoah, how could they have known? We saw things at ages we should not have had them shown to us. We were taught justifications for Judaism that today we recognize as inappropriate. Today, with the benefit of wisdom, study and time, we are able to do better.
The memories of the millions of Jews murdered in the Shoah are a sacred trust for us. So very, very many of them had no one left to protect their memory and to bind up their memory in the bonds and energy of life. While it is petty to speak of my discomfort in the same paragraph that I mention the suffering of millions of fellow Jews, I feel that I must acknowledge that for many years, I bristled at public use of the Shoah, in education, in commemoration or in ritual -- times when I felt the memory of our ancestors was used inappropriately.
Today especially, it is important that we individually find a way to remember the souls of the over six million Jews murdered in the Shoah. This year feels different to me. Perhaps the death of Eli Wiesel — a historical voice that was strong in Jewish life and in my perception of the Shoah—has helped me recognize my sacred responsibility to maintain a spiritual and emotional connection to the lives of those who perished in the Shoah as distinct from the sacred task to always remember how they were murdered.
This year, on Yom Hashoah (Sunday, April 23), I will light a yellow candle and think of the collective loss to the Jewish people and to humanity. I will think of the love, caring, community and learning that ceased so unnaturally and so violently. Perhaps you might want to join me. And when you light your candle, you might think broadly as I will, or perhaps light a candle for a specific person. There are many resources out there where you can identity a Jew murdered in the Shoah. One example is on the Yad Vashem website, in the digital collections at yvng.yadvashem.org.
Please let me know by March 17, which is the week after Purim, if you would like a candle. I am going to order a minimum number from the FJMC and will add to our order as time allows. The Rabbi's Discretionary Fund will be purchasing the candles, so there is no cost to you. However, if you would like to make a donation to help defray the cost, that will certainly be appreciated.
Rabbi Joshua W. Ben-Gideon