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Shabbat and the Shoah

May 6, 2016

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, May 6, 2016.

Shabbat and the Shoah

Last Sunday, the Milwaukee Jewish Community observed Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day. The actual date Nisan 27, the date observed in Israel and in many communities throughout the world, was yesterday, Thursday, May 5.

The full name of this day is: Yom HaShoah V’HaGevurah – Holocaust and Heroism Day. In 1951, the commemoration day was established as Yom HaShoah by the Israeli government; however, in 1953, they added the word “Gevurah – Heroism” to the title of the day. Too often, the Jewish victims of the Nazis have been accused of going to their deaths with no resistance.  The extra word acknowledged the fact that so many heroically fought the Nazis – some physically through rebellion and uprising. It is no accident that Yom HaShoah observed on the Hebrew date of Nisan 27 coincides with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising . (The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising actually began on Nisan 14 – the day before Passover.  The commemoration was delayed until after Passover.) The non-Jewish date of the beginning of the rebellion was April 19 – one day before Hitler’s birthday. The Nazis wanted to give Hitler a “gift” for his birthday: the complete annihilation of the ghetto. The Jews, however, mounted an armed rebellion which lasted 28 days, until May 16. There were nearly 60,000 Jews in the Ghetto at the beginning of the uprising. By the end of the rebellion, few escaped. Thousands were killed during the rebellion. Thousand were deported to the death camps. Some committed suicide rather than being captured by the Nazis.

There was another kind of Gevurah (Heroism), however: Spiritual resistance. Many Jews resisted by clinging to hope and to their faith. Although the Holocaust destroyed the faith of many Jews who could not believe in a God who could allow the Holocaust to happen, for many, their faith in God was actually strengthened. Many struggled to celebrate holidays in spite of the most extreme adversity that is beyond our ability to imagine. They celebrated the Shabbat in secret in spite of being forced to work as slaves on the Sabbath. There are so many stories: stories of people who took great risks to memorize the prayer book, or to hide sacred books, or to create Shabbat candles from margarine saved and hidden away. There are survivors who claimed that their loyalty to Sabbath observance was responsible for their survival, even though there were those who died in spite of their faith. Who is to say that the spiritual strength of those who perished, and those who survived was anything less than a miracle.

Shabbat Shalom