Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Colliding Memories and Yom HaShoah

It is the season for memories.

Last week we remembered as if we, personally, went forth, baking matzah on our backs, singing songs about goats etc. etc. All very jolly. The sufferings of Egyptian slavery have been through the wash-cycle and are bleached white and shiny. The focus of Passover is on redemption and freedom; the focus is forwards, towards Sinai, and entering the land of Israel.


This week we remember the Holocaust. And there is no jollity. As I write this my mind is drawn to the relationship between the march out of Egypt and the Death Marches of the last days of the Nazi era. Raizl Kibl marched from Auschwitz and later recalled;


‘In a frost half-barefoot or entirely barefoot, with light rags upon their emaciated and exhausted bodies, tens of thousands of human creatures drag themselves along in the snow. Only the great strong striving for life, and the light of imminent liberation kept them on their feet. [For] woe to them whose physical strength abandons them, They are shot on the spot. In such a way were thousands who had endured camp life up to the last minute murdered, a moment before liberation.’


So what are we doing when we commemorate Yom HaShoah? It’s not a ‘happy ever after’ kind of a story. There is, of course, a State of Israel, but there is no redemption. Nor can we rely on the oft-quoted slogan of my youth, ‘Never Again.’ There have been too many genocides, from Rwanda to Bosnia, for me to feel that there is a connection between the commitment to remember our own Holocaust and the safety of every people from this most heinous of offences.

Rather, I want to suggest two other reasons for memory.

When we remember we afford a scrap of dignity to those who were killed being told implicitly and explicitly that there lives counted for nothing, that no-one would remember. We remember to prove the Nazis wrong. Their lives did count and do count still.

And secondly, we remember to feel pain, feeling pain is good. We should expose ourselves to feeling pain, this is how we know we are alive, this is how we know we are compassionate, this is how we know we care. We remember the Holocaust because, as our own eyes prick with tears, we remind ourselves of our own humanity and our membership of the Jewish people. The Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto, Kalonymous Shapiro, suggested that when all doctrines of reward and punishment have crumbled away all that remains is the possibility of crying together, together with out fellow humans and together with a God who, Shapiro claims citing the Talmud, cries too. In this we remind ourselves that even if we cannot change the facts of the Holocaust, we refuse to accept them with a shrug of the shoulders and a flip to the back pages to check out the sports headlines.


We commemorate Yom haShoah at New London with a talk from Kitty Hart-Moxon, Auschwitz survivor, come to prove the Nazis wrong, come to be reminded of our shared humanity.


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Jeremy

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