Last night I went to the ceremony that is held on Yom Hashoa (Holocaust memorial day) which is held at Yad Vashem every year. The program included speeches by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as several testimonials by survivors. The ceremony concluded with the recitation of a psalm, of a special prayer that the souls of those who were murdered in the Holocaust should find peace in their eternal resting place, of the mourners kadish (which I wrote about in an earlier post) and lastly, the singing of Hatikva (The Hope) which is the national anthem. Just as the Holocaust is a complex subject that it cannot possibly be covered by one blog post, so to were the emotions that I experienced as I listened to the speeches. Rather than trying to be comprehensive in my description of the evening, which is my natural inclination, I will instead just give a couple anecdotes that stood out and my overall impression.
The first story is one of a 13 year old boy living in a Ghetto in Hungary with his parents. He doesn’t know why, but one day he decides that he has to escape. He tells his parents of his plan to runaway. His mother doesn’t want him to go. She begs and argues for him to stay while his father remains silent. Finally, his father stands up and walks over to him. The father places his hands on the boy’s head and says, “Go, save your life.” That boy managed to survive – the only one of his family. The second is of another young boy whose mother sent him to live with righteous non-Jews who accepted him and hid him throughout the war. His eight siblings did not survive – their hiding places being discovered – his mother was murdered in one of the death camps. Of his large family, only he and his father remained. After the war, these people made their way to Israel and rebuilt their lives as they helped to build the infant nation. They married, had kids and are now grandparents.
The title of this post is a verse from psalm 113 which means “He raises the needy from the dust, from the trash heaps He lifts the destitute.” When I think of the Holocaust and of Israel today, this verse often comes to mind. Last night was no different for me. One of the themes that I took away from this memorial can be summed up by President Peres, who spoke so eloquently, when he said, “Each one of us carries in her or his heart the grief for our sisters and brothers who were annihilated, as we ponder that momentous event – the establishment of the State of Israel.” To now paraphrase some of his and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s thoughts and also add my own, this means that as we look back at what happened and remember those who were killed, we must simultaneously look towards the future and accept the responsibility of building not just a nation that is strong economically and militarily but is also strong in faith, hope and morals, unafraid to do and speak what is right and just no matter how unpopular that may be.