This past Wednesday evening and Thursday we observed Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Throughout the world Jews take the opportunity to pause, to attend Holocaust memorial programs (including our community’s own) or simply to remember the events which resulted in the murder of six million during World War II. The emotions evoke sadness and regret as the victims of the Shoah are recalled (we had a special reading of the names in Pioneer Place).
Rabbi Neil Cooper in Pennsylvania wrote, “Throughout the world, the message on Yom HaShoah is that we must prevent this from ever happening again; that anywhere evil, hatred, bigotry or prejudice rears its head, we must identify, condemn and denounce the perpetrators.Yom HaShoah takes on a universal message. "Never again" means nowhere in the world can we allow another Holocaust.
In Israel, however, the message is different. Israel is a reminder, to both Jews and the world, that Jews are no longer victims. In today's world, Jews will neither remain silent nor call upon others for salvation. Israel has changed the equation which has been used throughout all of world history. Jews are no longer weak and helpless. We shall no longer accept the title of the world's most victimized people.”
Portland is home to approximately 250 survivors. You should be proud of the range of local services available to them. Jewish Family and Child Service provides services to 115 local Holocaust survivors and their families. Many are isolated and live under the poverty line. Culturally appropriate services include: case management, emergency assistance, companionship, light housekeeping, social events, and other specialized services. JFCS is the only Jewish social service agency in Oregon qualified to provide the array and volume of services geared specifically toward Holocaust survivors.
We all know the phrase, “Never Forget!” Even before the Holocaust came to an end, there was the desperate urging to keep it from being forgotten. The Holocaust is among the most researched, documented, and memorialized crimes of the 20th century. Its remembrance is sustained by a tremendous amount of scholarship, testimony, literature, and education. The last living survivors of the Holocaust are now mostly in their 80s or 90s. In a few years almost no one will be left to speak from their own personal experience.
Jeff Jacoby, a child of Holocaust survivors and columnist for the Boston Globe wrote, “The survivors have at least this reassurance: What happened to them will not be forgotten. Or will it? The historical importance of an event in its own time and in the decades that follow offers no guarantee that it will be remembered in the next century, let alone for many centuries after.”
Sadly, just a few years ago, a survey of more than 53,000 respondents in 101 countries found that only 54 percent of the world’s adults had even heard of the Holocaust — and of those, one-third believe it is either a myth or has been greatly exaggerated. Staggering results.
The world was shocked, after the fact, by such monumental evil during the Holocaust. Phrases like “Never Forget” and “Never Again” became mantras. After the war, Elie Wiesel said, “we reassured ourselves that it would be enough to relate a single night in Treblinka. . . to shake humanity out of its indifference and keep the torturer from torturing ever again.”
But it wasn’t. Accounts of what was done in Treblinka did not prevent mass murder in Bosnia, Rwanda, Syria, and other regions of the world. Holocaust remembrance has not inoculated human beings against treating other human beings with brutality.
Jacoby concludes, “Holocaust remembrance has not prevented the onset of Holocaust forgetfulness. Many have a deep and personal connection to the Holocaust, and always will. But the world may not. Eventually, everything is forgotten. Even the worst crime in history.”
Our community is proud to have the Oregon Holocaust Memorial that serves as a permanent reminder of the Shoah. Plus, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education documents and shares the stories of the Holocaust from the perspectives of survivors, refugees, and their descendants via educational presentations, teacher workshops, educational trunks, classroom book loans and special event programming. By engaging audiences and building awareness, we utilize memories and lessons from the past so people can learn, feel, think critically, and identify daily choices that counteract the discrimination and oppression of today.
Although we cannot demand that the world remember, we can stand, proud and strong, as a symbol of our survival, of our perseverance against the odds and of living proof of the irony that the Jews, not our enemies, prevail. So it has been in the past. So is it today. And so may it continue into the future.
PS – This year marks the 10th anniversary of Big Tent Judaism’s national Mother’s Circle program, which ensures that women from other backgrounds are able to raise Jewish children in the context of a committed interfaith relationship.
We are also celebrating the “retirement” of Lois Shenker as the local facilitator for Mothers Circle. She helped launch the program in Portland eight years ago (under the auspices of Congregation Neveh Shalom and other community partners) where she has learned from, been challenged by, and felt privileged to work with some 100 plus courageous and generous mothers. Lois wrote, “I am proud of their growth in both knowledge and comfort with the Jewish experience. I am very grateful to the Jewish Federation for helping create this program on behalf of the community, for the initial seed money and continued support, monetary and otherwise. I look forward to its continued success.” Lois, yasher koach and thank you!