Yom Hashoah began at sundown this evening with the annual ceremony at Yad Vashem with torches lit in memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah.
The ceremony began with the lowering of the national flag to half-mast. During the ceremony, six Holocaust survivors — Bela Eisenman, Shaul Lobovich, Fani Ben Ami, Menachem Haberman, Sara Shapiro and Yehuda Maimon — will light a flame in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in World War II.
President Reuven Rivlin addressed the audience at the ceremony:
In his remarks, Rivlin referred to the recent increase in anti-Semitism in Europe saying: “With the end of World War Two, western Europe rebuilt itself anew as the negative (opposite) of old Europe. New Europe views itself as the lighthouse of democracy and liberalism. The European community has presented to the entire world a panorama of open borders, of cooperation, of human and civil rights.
“However, today, 80 years since the outbreak of WWII, we must look at the recent reality. Europe today, like parts of the world, is changing its face again,” continued Rivlin. “Europe today, has returned to being haunted by the ghosts of the past. Perceptions of superiority, nationalistic purity, xenophobia, blatant and murky anti-Semitism, from the Left and the Right, hovering across Europe.
Recent events confirm President Rivlin’s assertions. As the decades have passed since the end of the Holocaust we became lulled into a false sense of security: “surely the world will have learned its lesson” we thought to ourselves. “We have the State of Israel with its powerful army to protect us” we reassured ourselves.
Yes, we do have Israel and the IDF. but the world has learned the wrong lesson. It learned that it can cry crocodile tears for dead Jews but it can literally get away with murder of live Jews, and it is certainly permissible, even admirable in certain circles, to hate Jews with power, Jews with guns, Jews with a country and an army.
And what this has led to is a pretzel of twisted logic, where Jews around the world become the scapegoat for Israel’s perceived “crimes”, and where Israel is turned into the Jew amongst the nations, the only country in the world condemned ceaselessly for daring to defend itself when attacked, and for holding on to land it captured in a defensive war; the only country vilified for having a national religion and ethos. And because of that exaggerated demonisation of Israel, Jews around the world become its scapegoat – and thus the vicious circle goes round.
We have seen the incessant demonisation of Israel lead to the normalization of anti-Zionism and perverse Jew-baiting, such as the antisemitism rife in the British Labour Party, the US Democratic Party with its antisemitic female trifecta , and media outlets such as the New York Times with its revolting Nazi-like cartoons.
Much worse, we saw the murderous results of this vicious hostility this week with the antisemitic assault by a white supremacist on the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California, in which Lori Gilbert-Kaye was murdered and several others, including the Rabbi, injured.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, himself injured in the attack, has courageously used his experience as a rallying cry for Jews worldwide to be more openly Jewish, not to be afraid. Listen to his emotional words about the attack:
Rabbi Goldstein eulogised Lori Gilbert-Kaye in the most beautiful and moving words. Sivan Rahav Meir writes on Facebook:
“This Chabad House was built because Lori worked for Wells Fargo Bank and she helped us secure a loan to build this beautiful building. This is a house that was open to all with love, warmth, and joy. Lori set the foundation stone.
“Lori and her husband Howard and daughter Hanna and I have been through a lot over the years; we’ve had a long journey together. This wasn’t something we expected to be part of the journey. Life here at Chabad Poway has been changed in a way that was, until this past Shabbat morning, unimaginable. But we learned from our Rebbe that events like this don’t impact us in a negative way, but rather in a most positive way.
“I was walking out of my home today, and my wonderful Rebbetzin Devori, my partner in shlichus for the last 33 years, showed me a bouquet of flowers that Lori delivered to our house before the holiday this past weekend. Lori left a note with the flowers that read: ‘Wishing you a beautiful Shabbos! In loving memory of your father, Mel,’ who recently passed away. ‘His memory is a blessing. Love, Lori, Hanna, and Howard.’ That note, that was Lori. There’s a big garden out there, God took the rose of the garden. and he brought her up to Heaven.
“So the question is, where do we go from here? We’ve seen the darkness of humanity, I saw it face to face. I hope nobody ever has to see it ever again. At the same time, on Saturday morning, we also saw the best of humanity, people running into the line of fire in order to save another life.
“This event isn’t going to knock us down, it’s going to lift us up. In all my interviews after the shooting, I was asked, ‘So rabbi, when will you be reopening for services?’ And I told them, ‘Tomorrow morning! We don’t go down for one moment. No terrorist, no murderer, no evil is going to shut us down.
“Lori, Howard, and Hanna had a very special relationship with my late father. Lori’s daughter, Hanna, used to call him ‘The Alter Rebbe.’ My father spent his last 15 years here. It was on Shabbos in the same lobby where Lori passed that my father had his fatal stroke.
“Years ago, my father composed a song, ‘Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is everywhere.’ And he would point with his finger, and say, ‘Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is everywhere.’ The finger that was taken from me this past Saturday has been given to every one of you. So you can point, and realize, Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is everywhere.
“Hashem, the Lord Almighty, cried with us as we cried this Saturday. Hashem is comforting us and consoling us as we are recovering from this. The Jewish people has learned over our long and difficult history to transform one step backward into ten steps forward. We will continue growing, thriving, building, and continuing our mission to bring light and peace into the world, and to make this world a greater place, a dwelling place for G-d Almighty, until the coming of Moshiach, speedily and in our days, Amen!”
May the memory of Lori Gilbert-Kaye H’yd be for a blessing and may her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Rabbi Goldstein also wrote a column, together with journalist Bari Weiss, in the New York Times – yes, that very same paper that published not one but two outrageously anti-Israel and anti-Jewish cartoons this week. He writes “Today should have been my funeral” and continues:
The ambulances had not yet arrived. We all gathered outside. I don’t remember all that I said to my community, but I do remember quoting a passage from the Passover Seder liturgy: “In every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.” And I remember shouting the words “Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!” I have said that line hundreds of times in my life. But I have never felt the truth of it more than I did then.
I am a religious man. I believe everything happens for a reason. I do not know why God spared my life. I do not know why I had to witness scenes of a pogrom in San Diego County like the ones my grandparents experienced in Poland. I don’t know why a part of my body was taken away from me. I don’t know why I had to see my good friend, a woman who embodied the Jewish value of hesed (kindness), hunted in her house of worship. I don’t know why I had to watch Lori’s beloved husband, a doctor, faint as he tried to resuscitate her. And then their only daughter, Hannah, sob in agony as she encountered both her parents collapsed on the floor.
I do not know God’s plan. All I can do is try to find meaning in what has happened. And to use this borrowed time to make my life matter more.
I used to sing a song to my children, a song that my father sang to me when I was a child. “Hashem is here,” I would sing, using a Hebrew name for God, pointing with my right index finger to the sky. “Hashem is there,” I would sing, pointing to my right and left. “Hashem is truly everywhere.” That finger I would use to point out God’s omnipresence was taken from me.
I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; a reminder that I am part of a people that has survived the worst destruction and will always endure; a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, to never, ever, not ever be afraid to be Jewish.
From here on in I am going to be more brazen. I am going to be even more proud about walking down the street wearing my tzitzit and kippah, acknowledging God’s presence. And I’m going to use my voice until I am hoarse to urge my fellow Jews to do Jewish. To light candles before Shabbat. To put up mezuzas on their doorposts. To do acts of kindness. And to show up in synagogue — especially this coming Shabbat.
In his vile manifesto, the terrorist who shot up my synagogue called my people, the Jewish people, a “squalid and parasitic race.” No. We are a people divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world.
So it is with this country. America is unique in world history. Never before was a country founded on the ideals that all people are created in God’s image and that all people deserve freedom and liberty. We fought a war to make that promise real.
And I believe we can make it real again. That is what I pledge to do with my borrowed time.
The Rabbi’s courage and faith are awe-inspiring and uplifting even as we shudder in sympathy at his sorrow. They are reminiscent of the bravery and resilience shown by Holocaust survivors to this day.
Another Rabbi showed similar unshakable faith in the G-d of Israel even after the Shoah. This week the Kaliver Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, passed away at the age of 96. During the Shoah he underwent the most gruesome experiences at the hands of the inhuman Nazi Dr. Mengele, which left him disfigured, without a beard and unable to have children. Yet the Rebbe never wavered in his faith, and became an inspirational figure to generations of students, as well as instituting a project of commemoration unusual in its character.
Sivan Rahav Meir writes:
What is the legacy of the Rebbe of Kaliv, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, who passed away yesterday at the age of 96?
1. We talk a lot about the Holocaust and the heroism displayed in it. The Rebbe of Kaliv reminded us again and again of the spiritual heroism. Not only should the physical and armed rebellion be commemorated. The faith, optimism, keeping the tradition under difficult conditions – all of these should also be commemorated. This is what he dedicated his life to as a survivor of Auschwitz.
2. His work of commemoration was ground breaking and non-sectorial. He gave many speeches to secular people and national-religious people, to soldiers and Yeshivah bachurim. He treated all of them with affection and warmth. He did not merit to have children of his own, but throughout the years he spoke and gave talks to many children. He initiated a museum as well as the publishing of an encyclopedia about the Holocaust, and composed melodies to songs. He left behind one more moving initiative: in one of his most difficult moments in the Shoah, he thought that he would never merit to say Shema Yisrael again, and he prayed that if he survived, he would make sure to say it in front of a large audience. Since he was saved, he indeed said Shema Yisrael thousands of times in front of wide, varied audiences. In the prayer book/Siddur that he published, he added this verse at the end of the prayer, in memory of those who died in the Holocaust.
3. And a personal note: A few weeks ago, my husband suggested that we go to a Kabbalat Shabbat with the Rebbe of Kaliv. I was lazy, but he insisted, because who knows how many opportunities we would have of seeing a Hassidic rebbe who is a Holocaust survivor, and on whose face one can see the experiments that Dr. Mengele conducted, but in whose eyes one can also see the faith with which he came out of there? He convinced me, and so we walked for many minutes with the children, in the Jerusalem rain, to his synagogue. We saw him singing to the Shabbat Queen, we merited to recieve a blessing from him and to hear his faint but determined voice declaring: “Shema Yisrael” at the end of the service.
We are just before Yom HaShoah. Do not be lazy like me. Go out to see with your own eyes people who were there and who still live among us.
In his memory.
Indeed the Rebbe’s influence was felt up to the top of Israeli society, as he was eulogised by President Rivlin and PM Netanyahu:
Unlike most Orthodox rabbis, Taub did not have a long beard but short wisps, something attributed to chemical burning experiments conducted on him in Auschwitz by the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele. His brothers were murdered, but Taub was transferred to several other concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen.
After surviving the Holocaust, he was reunited with his wife in Sweden and resettled in Cleveland, Ohio.
The couple immigrated to Israel in 1962 where they reestablished the Kaliv community in Rishon Lezion and later in Bnei Brak. He published Kol Menachem, a 13-volume compendium on the Torah and Jewish holidays, and Shema Yisrael: Testimonies of devotion, courage, and self-sacrifice, 1939–1945, a collection of more than 500 first-person accounts of Holocaust survivors.
President Reuven Rivlin mourned the rabbi, stating, “I received with deep sadness the news of the passing of the ‘Holocaust Admor’ who suffered terribly as an inmate at Auschwitz and dedicated his life to the memory of the victims, inspired by a true love of Israel.”
“The Admor gave voice the spiritual heroism of Jews during the Holocaust and did all he could to honor the memory of its victims,” he added. “His work has particular resonance at present as we redouble our commitment to remember and never to forget. Our condolences to his family and many pupils. May his memory be a blessing.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also mourned the rabbi, noting he “dedicated himself to rebuilding the world of Torah in the State of Israel and among the Jewish Diaspora. At the same time, he was tirelessly engaged in enshrining the memory of the Holocaust, especially the triumph of the impressive spirit in the ghettos and camps.”
Netanyahu added that his passing so close to Holocaust Remembrance Day “strengthens our eternal commitment – to remember and not forget.”
Our problem today is not that we, the Jewish people should remember and not forget. How could we? With the rampant antisemitism and Israel hatred that is almost impossible. Our challenge today is to make the world remember and not forget.
As I have done in the past, I draw your attention to my Family History pages where I have recorded the history of my family during the Shoah, especially the murder of my mother’s three brothers, David, Elchanan and Uri Strauss HY’D, in Sobibor.
Never forget. May the memory of the 6 million be for a blessing.