Today is Yom Hashoah


About an hour ago, we at USCJ’s headquarters in New York lit a Yom Hashoah candle in memory of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.  I shared a story about a survivor with whom I was close with.  His name was Shlomo.  He hid from the Nazis for two years in a Polish forest before he was captured and eventually sent to Auschwitz.

At Auschwitz he worked in the kitchen.  One day he had to carry sacks of potatoes from the truck to the kitchen through a narrow obstacle course.  If he fell, or touched the wire boundaries, he would be beaten to death.

Of course, he fell.  And as the guard grabbed the barrel of his gun to beat him to death, the wooden butt fell off.  The guard looked at Shlomo, then looked at his gun, then laughed and walked away.

“Rabbi,” I remember Shlomo telling me, “that day the Angel of Death was at my feet and not my head.”

I share this story today for a couple of reasons.

The first is that six million is an incomprehensible number.  The stories and names of people are not.  Pause for a moment today and recall someone you know, or know of who was impacted by the terrible nature of the Holocaust.

The second is that I learned from Shlomo that who specifically lived and who died during the Holocaust was a matter of chance.  That it happened, did not need to be.  We know that it began with economic distress, fear about the future, a culture that elevated the other and hatred and the silence of good people for too long.  When we say #neveragain, we mean that we will never again be silent in the face of these forces again.

So when we pause throughout today to hold a moment of silence, it is not to hold our tongue, but to hear the forces of fear and hate developing in our society and to find the courage to speak up and out.

The best way to commemorate those we have lost is to live meaningful, purposeful lives committed to a better tomorrow.  That’s our vision of an authentic and dynamic world at USCJ.

That’s what we do every day whether it’s supporting 1,000 teens to march for their lives, creating an environment of Jewish growth and learning in Jerusalem, or engaging kehilla leaders in creating thriving centers of Jewish life in North America and beyond.

Today we remember a world that lost its vision of a hopeful tomorrow.  In so remembering we are inspired to continue to seek meaning together.

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