By Zack Bodner
Did you know today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day?
What will you do differently today? Maybe you will wear white. Maybe you will go to a ceremony at your local JCC or synagogue. Maybe you will light a yahrtzeit candle. Or maybe you won’t do anything special at all today.
But shouldn’t you?
Our Jewish calendar is filled with holidays, festivals and remembrances. For many, there are associated rituals to help us remember. For the really “big” holidays, there’s even a festive meal with specific foods. And for all of them, there is a story we tell.
All these traditions help us remember. They keep us connected to the actual moment and people involved in the historic event. They personalize the experience so we can feel as if it happened to us, so we can pass it on to our children and their children.
With Passover, there is the seder during which we retell the story of our exodus from Egypt, our journey from slavery to freedom. We have foods like maror, charoset and matzah to symbolize elements of the event. And we share a festive meal – or two – with family and community.
With Hanukah, there is the lighting of the candles for eight nights. There is the telling of the story of the destruction of the Temple, the resistance of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil. There are latkes, sufganiyot, gelt and dreidels.
With Purim, we tell the story of Ester, Mordechai and Haman. We dress up in costumes, we give Mishloach Manot, and we get so drunk we can’t tell the difference between good and evil. And of course we eat. Hamentashen, for starters, but the festive communal meal, too.
It’s time we canonized Yom HaShoah with the same deference. Dressing in white, lighting candles, reciting some names and listening to some speeches just isn’t enough. For the memory of this atrocity to be passed down l’dor v’dor, we need to create more visceral rituals.
We need to create symbols that will personalize the horror: If we drown out Haman’s name with groggers, imagine what we should do to shun Hitler’s name.
We need to curate and codify the story in a way that we can personalize and universalize it for each generation: “This is for what the Nazis did to me and my family.”
As the last living Holocaust Survivors leave this life, we owe it to them, to their memory, and to those who didn’t survive, to create a real Yom HaShoah tradition.
I call on the leading Jewish scholars, historians and rabbis to come together to create this new tradition. We must honor the memory of the Shoah from now until eternity with one purpose in mind: “Never Forget.”
What will you do today for Yom HaShoah?
Zack Bodner is CEO of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, CA.