Yom HaShoah - finding our place in Jewish history

Sometimes it's hard for me to wrap my head around the time scale of Jewish history. A week and a half ago, we recalled the Exodus from Egypt, an event that took place some 3500 years ago, while sitting around seder tables much like our rabbinic ancestors might have done 2000 years ago. Our Jewish tradition connects us to the ancient past, and that is part of the great power of it.

Sometimes it's hard for me to wrap my head around the time scale of Jewish history. A week and a half ago, we recalled the Exodus from Egypt, an event that took place some 3500 years ago, while sitting around seder tables much like our rabbinic ancestors might have done 2000 years ago.  Our Jewish tradition connects us to the ancient past, and that is part of the great power of it.


Tonight, we mark Yom HaShoah and commemorate the Holocaust. This event took place a scant 75 years ago... truly, the blink of an eye, viewed against the backdrop of the Jewish timeline. While in many ways, the experience of the Jews in Europe during World War II may feel remote to our experience of contemporary Jewish life in America, the Holocaust is much closer to us than we might like to imagine. Even in a community like Kavana -- where we have poured everything into forging "positive Jewish identity" (meaning, an engaged Jewish life rooted more in joy and meaning than in fear or guilt) -- we continue to live in its shadow, demographically, sociologically, and even theologically. But, especially in a week when violence against Jews has come so close to our doorstep (in Poway, California), 75 years feels like no buffer at all.


Think about this for a minute: We are the last generation to have a direct historical link to this dark chapter. We will be the last ones in the scope of Jewish history to say that we knew survivors, or that we have heard first-hand accounts of the horrors of Nazi Europe. It is our sacred obligation to listen, to remember, and to assimilate the stories of our people into our being. It is our duty to preserve and reinvigorate Jewish life for our generation, in fulfillment of what Emil Fackenheim termed the 614th commandment, "not to grant Hitler a posthumous victory." It is on us to give the words "Never Again" meaning, as we determine that we will not tolerate antisemitism as it continues to rear its ugly head, nor will we allow the hatred and violence that were poured on our people to be directed towards any other group.

I hope that many of you will join us tonight, to hear local author (and friend-of-Kavana) Karen Treiger share from the award-winning book she has written about her inlaws' story of survival. If not, find another way to observe and remember this day. Light a yahrtzeit candle that will burn for the next 24 hours in your home. Read a Holocaust book or an article, or watch a film or on-line testimonials... even if the content is sad and you would rather look away. Initiate an important (if challenging) conversation with a child, or with a parent. Purchase tickets to see The Diary of Anne Frank at the Seattle Children's Theater (a small Kavana group will be attending the 3:30pm performance on Sunday 5/12 and all are welcome), or make plans to visit the Holocaust Center for Humanity this month.  

May the memories of those who perished in the Shoah and the legacies of those who survived be a source of blessing and inspiration for us. May we find the courage to remember and observe Yom HaShoah, and to live boldly in the shadow of the Holocaust, as we continue to find our place in the scope of Jewish history.