Yom haShoah (Day of the Holocaust)
This past Sunday Joe and I participated, as we do every year, in a Reading of the Names ceremony at our synagogue, Congregation Beth Torah, in Richardson, Texas. Hundreds of synagogues and Holocaust museums around the world remember the victims of Nazi atrocities on this day in various ceremonies. In Israel, state ceremonies are held, flags are lowered, torches are lit, and sirens blare for two minutes while all cars and individuals stop whatever they're doing to remember those who perished.
Yom haShoah was signed into law in 1953 by Israeli Prime Minister David ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak ben-Zvi. Originally proposed to be commemorated on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (a problem since the date was too close to Passover), it was moved to a date close to Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.
Ed Matisoff brought this moving memorial to Beth Torah ten years ago by ordering a list of thousands of names of people who perished during Hitler's reign of terror. Individuals volunteer to read one name after the other in 15 minute intervals for a 24-hour period of time.
For every person there is a name.
It isn't enough to say that 7 million Jews died or even that 78% of the 7.3 million Jews who were alive before WW2 were killed by the Nazis. No, they have a name, and it's intensely moving to hear those names read, along with the person's place of birth, a parents' name, if known, their age at death, their location of death.
The tables and podium at Beth Torah are covered in black cloth, lights are dimmed, and candles are lit in a ceremony marking the beginning of the Reading of the Names. As someone takes her turn at the bema, a few people sit in the sanctuary quietly listening or reading the stories of survivors recorded in the back of the siddur (prayer book).
The picture I've shown here represent only a fraction of those who died in the Holocaust. Each page lists dozens of names, line after line. At Beth Torah, people have been reading for a solid 24 hours every year for 10 years -
the stack pictured above - all of the papers on which those names are written - contains less than 80,000 names.
Look at that stack again. If the name of every Jew who perished in the Holocaust was part of that stack, it would take hundreds of tables. The lists would be spread across the sanctuary, spill into other rooms and hallways.
It will take around
to finish reading the names of all the Jews whose names are recorded as having perished during the Holocaust.
Nor can we forget others who died -
gays, political dissidents, Christians and others who hid or aided Jews in any way. At Beth Torah, this year some of these names were read, also.
Although we can't blare sirens in our country, stopping traffic and activity, my hope is that a worldwide movement will arise in which we pause for a few moments, in synchronicity, to close our eyes, remembering those who died, and taking the opportunity commit to ongoing personal work which furthers peace and justice and ensures the safety of all people.