It has been over 60 years since the Holocaust. To survivors, the Holocaust remains real and ever-present, but for some others, sixty years makes the Holocaust seem part of ancient history. Year-round we try to teach and inform others about the horrors of the Holocaust. We confront the questions of what happened? How did it happen? How could it happen? Could it happen again? We attempt to fight against ignorance with education and against disbelief with proof.
Jewish history is long and filled with many stories of slavery and freedom, sorrow and joy, persecution and redemption. For Jews, their history, their family, and their relationship with God have shaped their religion and their identity. The Hebrew calendar is filled with varied holidays that incorporate and reiterate the history and tradition of the Jewish people.
After the horrors of the Holocaust, Jews wanted a day to memorialize this tragedy. But what day? The Holocaust spanned years with suffering and death spread throughout these years of terror. No one day stood out as representative of this destruction.
So various days were suggested.
- The tenth of Tevet was proffered. This day is Asarah B'Tevet and marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. But this day holds no direct relation or tie to the Holocaust.
- The Zionists in Israel, many of whom had fought in the ghettos or as partisans, wanted to commemorate the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - April 19, 1943. But this date on the Hebrew calendar is the 14th of Nissan - the day before Passover, a very important and happy holiday. Orthodox Jews objected to this date.
On April 12, 1951, the Knesset (Israel's parliament) proclaimed Yom Hashoah U'Mered HaGetaot (Holocaust and Ghetto Revolt Remembrance Day) to be the 27th of Nissan. The name later became known as Yom Hashoah Ve Hagevurah (Devastation and Heroism Day) and even later simplified to Yom Hashoah.
Since Yom Hashoah is a relatively new holiday, there are no set rules or rituals. What kind of ritual could represent the Holocaust?
There are various beliefs about what is and is not appropriate on this day - and many of them are conflicting. In general, Yom Hashoah has been observed with candlelighting, speakers, poems, prayers, and singing. Often, six candles are lighted to represent the six million. Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences or share in the readings. Some ceremonies have people read from the Book of Names for certain lengths of time in an effort to remember those that died and to give an understanding of the huge number of victims. Sometimes these ceremonies are held in a cemetery or near a Holocaust memorial.