Sunday, April 15, 2012

Origins & Customs of Yom Hashoah

It's always fascinating to find out why specific dates are chosen for memorial holidays. Yom Ha'shoah is a good example. Is there an obvious date for remembering this horrific carnage which lasted so many years? While some voted for Tisha B'Av when many other catastrophes occurred in Jewish history, the original plan was to hold Yom Ha'shoah on the 14th of Nisan -- the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19, 1943), which this memorial in Warsaw symbolizes.

Sounds perfectly logical, but it didn't work. Who could stop, mourn and remember when the country was in full swing with Passover preparations? Let's not forget that the 15th of Nisan is the first day of Passover. To paraphrase a famous American quote: "Jerusalem, we have a problem." And boy, was it a problem! First Passover, then a mere 12 days after the last day of Passover, Israel Memorial Day. What to do? Obviously sandwich it in during this season of remembering. And so, in 1953 Israel's Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and its President Yitzhak ben-Zvi passed a law stating that Yom Ha'shoah is to be celebrated on the 27th of Nisan.

Today, the official ceremony marking the day is held at sundown, at Yad Vashem's Warsaw Ghetto Plaza. The national flag is lowered to half mast and Holocaust survivors light six torches symbolizing the six million who perished.  Promptly at 10 a.m. the next morning a siren is sounded, and the entire country comes to a standstill (more on sirens next week).  All public entertainment places are closed. Ceremonies are held in schools, military bases and public institutions. Entertainment shows on TV and radio are put on "hold"as well, substituted by documentaries on the Holocaust and low-key songs.

"B-O-R-I-N-G?" Not at all. "M-E-A-N-I-N-G-F-U-L!" Especially in this day and age of existential threats to Israel's existence. Yom Ha'shoah is more than a time to remember. It's a day to reflect.

Warsaw Ghetto Memorial Photo Credit

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