Judaism: Setting the Tone for Holocaust Remembrance Day
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish...
Holocaust Remembrance Day
As is well known, the date chosen for Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 27th of Nisan, was in opposition to the opinion of the rabbis. Nisan, the month the Jewish nation left Egypt, is a month of happiness. Therefore, the halakha was determined that for the entire month of Nisan, prayers of supplication are not recited and public fasts are not declared (S.A., O.C. 429:2). At funerals which occur during the month of Nisan, eulogies are not said. Many people are custom not to visit gravesites during this month, and one who has a yahrtzeit in Nisan visits the gravesite before Rosh Chodesh. Indeed, after Pesach some mourning customs of the Counting of the Omer are practiced, but these days are not particularly days of sorrow or grief.
Obviously then, it was inappropriate to fix the painful Holocaust Remembrance Day in the month of Nisan. As long an alternative day is not chosen, the proper time to remember the Holocaust are the days declared as fast days over the destruction of the Temple, primarily Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), because all of the tragedies which befell the Jewish nation since then, are rooted in the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel from its Land. The Chief Rabbinate chose the fast day of the 10th of Tevet as the time to say kaddish clali, the general mourner’s prayer for those whose dates of death are unknown. The issue of whether to broaden the focus of the existing fasts to express more clearly the period of the Holocaust, or to set an additional and separate day of fasting to commemorate it, has yet to be decided by Gedolei Yisrael.
The Appropriate Way to Commemorate
In any event, it would be proper for all teachers and schools to grant a deep, meaningful, and unique character to the 27th of Nisan, suitable to the spirit of redemption of the month of Nisan. It should be fixed as a day in which the mitzvah of procreation and the nurturing of a Jewish family is addressed, in the sense of “And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you, ‘In your blood [shall you] live! Yes, I said to you, in your blood [shall you] live!” (Ezekiel 16:6).
This, in all likelihood, was the last request of the six million who were brutally tortured and murdered: that any Jew who remained alive, would do everything possible to marry, have children, and carry on the heritage, in order to fulfill the verse: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they proliferated and spread.”
The Sad Figures
Before the Holocaust, the Jewish nation numbered eighteen million – six million of whom were brutally murdered during the Holocaust. Today, close to 70 years after the Holocaust, we number only thirteen million people. Throughout these 70 years, the world has developed and flourished; many nations doubled, and even tripled their numbers. But we, the Jewish people, remain wounded – both physically and spiritually. The number of Jews living in all of the Jewish communities outside of Israel is shrinking - not because they are rushing to make aliyah to Israel, but because the Jewish birthrate is low, and assimilation is rising.
Only here in Israel is the Jewish population growing and multiplying – thanks to aliyah and a higher birthrate. However, the numerical increase in Israel is barely enough to compensate for the demographic decline in Jewish communities outside of Israel.
The question is: How can we encourage Jews to have more children, and identify more with Judaism? What must we do to accomplish this great and awesome task, which is also the last will and testament of the millions of murdered victims?
First of all – Education towards Jewish Family Values
The Ministry of Education has formulated numerous educational programs, dealing with the topics of democracy, tolerance, individual rights, and other issues. However, the subject of family values has been shamefully neglected. The widespread attitude today in academia and secular culture, which also influences the religious sector, maintains that freedom is the highest value. Family, in contrast – despite all its virtues – is something binding, restrictive, and stifling. True, the natural and customary desire to raise a family remains powerful. Nevertheless, it stands in strong conflict with an entire array of aims conveyed by secular culture.
In the vast majority of schools, including religious institutions, family planning is not dealt with adequately. The value of raising a large family is not extolled, and students are not instructed on how to overcome the impending difficulties.
The secular, feminist, cultural environment creates an atmosphere in which it is objectionable to speak about having a large family. And if the issue is spoken about, more often than not, only the difficulties are pointed out: how hard it is to find the right spouse (“because men…”); how much domestic violence there is (“because men…”); how difficult it is to give birth (“because men…”); how grueling it is to educate children (“because men…”); and of course, the conflict between career and family (“because men…”).
Instead of focusing on the problems, the spotlight should be focused on the immense value of raising a family – on the wonderful blessing it provides for loving and giving. The various difficulties should be discussed as well, pointing out that they are intended to direct us on a more correct, balanced, and accurate path. All the difficulties will then seem as nothing more than an opportunity and a catalyst for progress.
Various studies indicate that married people are healthier, both mentally and physically, and suffer less from depression and disease. Such information should be included in high school curriculums.
There is also research indicating that over fifty percent of people who get divorced regret it a few years later. They divorced because the momentary desire for leisure and comfort prevailed, but in the long term, found they had lost out on more valuable things.
Children vs. Leisure
For many, the short-term desire for leisure and comfort overshadows the challenge of raising a large family. Children tend to cry at night, nag and annoy, demand attention, interfere with pursuing a career, prevent their parents from going out in the evenings, and get sick just when vacation time rolls around. For someone who feels leisure is the most precious value – children are a serious nuisance.
However, it should be taught and explained that leisure and comfort are not the purpose of life. Leisure is desirable in order for a person to rest and accumulate new energy for the real challenges, primarily – raising a family. But leisure itself is a meaningless value.
Freedom, on the other hand, is already a much more important value, but the difference between leisure and freedom should not be confused. Freedom allows a person to fulfill himself according to his personality, without foreign or external influences.
Deep down, most people realize that the greatest and most profound achievement in life is their children – raising and educating them.
The Regret of Grown-ups
It is important to tell young adults that most grown-ups who were not fortunate enough to raise a large family – in a moment of honesty – are sorry they did not try harder to have another child or two. When they are able to reflect on their lives from an overall and wise perspective, they realize they were negligent in their most important mission.
Topic II: Justice in International Relations
Recently, international tensions have been stirred-up with regards to the State of Ukraine, where in the southern and northern regions, live a large Russian minority – roughly ten million people – totaling over twenty percent of the population. Located in these regions are large and important cities such as Kharkiv, the birthplace of my grandfather z”l, Donetsk, and Dnipropetrovsk, where my grandmother z”l was born – both of whose families immigrated to Israel a century ago.
In bloody riots, the lawfully elected Ukrainian government was overthrown, honored the rights of the large Russian minority, and tilted its foreign policy towards that of Russia. It was replaced with an alternative government which, in an attempt to strengthen Ukrainian nationalism, abolished the right to use the Russian language as a second official language, as was customary among nearly ten million people, for whom, Russian was their mother tongue.
And suddenly, we hear that in the name of justice, morality, and the safeguarding of international law, Western countries led by the United States, support the present Ukrainian government, while depriving the rights of ten million Russian-speaking people. This government, supported by the West, also legitimized the actions of the Nazi war criminal Stepan Bandera, and five of its ministers are members of a neo-Nazi, nationalist, and anti-Semitic party.
Injustice is particularly evident with regards to the population of Crimea. Just fifty years ago, the Soviet regime decided to include this region into the Ukraine. Over ninety percent of its residents speak Russian; in a referendum they voted in favor of joining Russia; and yet, the West claims – in the name of justice – that they must remain subject to the nationalist, Ukrainian regime.
Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that Russian President Vladimir Putin attempts to institute standards of fairness and equality to our fellow Jews in Russia, both as individuals, and as communities.
Policy in Kosovo
This is not the first time Western countries have adopted a patently immoral position. This is also how they acted in the war in Kosovo – the homeland of the Serbian nation. As a result of illegal immigration of Muslims and Albanians to Kosovo they became the majority. After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Albanians violently and murderously expelled the Serbs from their homes. This created a situation where ninety percent of Kosovo’s population is Muslim. And when the Serbs came to restore the previous state of affairs, the Western countries intervened, deciding that the future of the region would be determined by elections. Of course, the majority of Muslim immigrants voted for political independence and separation from Serbia.
Why is it that what was correct and good for Muslim immigrants, who took control of land that did not belong to them, is not correct for the residents of Crimea and southern and eastern Ukraine, who have been living on their land for generations?
Had Western officials claimed that because of their global power struggle with Russia, and in an effort to achieve victory, all means are justified – one could possibly understand their logic, even if we disagree with the morality of their current position towards the Russian-speaking people of Ukraine. But when they come to deny the rights of peoples – in the name of justice – this is simply hideous and intolerable.
This example also reveals the morality of their position towards Arab dominance in the Middle East. A few decades ago they decided to call the mixed-multitude of immigrants “the Palestinian people” in order to infringe on the rights of the Jewish nation to its land.
Moreover, in the framework of their struggle against us, the Arabs violated every accord and treaty, and resorted to the most horrible methods of murder against civilians. Despite this, the Western countries demand we grant them a state in our historic homeland, in addition to Transjordan, which they have already stolen from us.
Unfortunately, Russia’s relations towards us have been even worse, and they continue supporting our enemies. However, it’s worth learning from these distressing examples the worth of law and justice in international relations.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.