Written by: Erin Parfet

Yom HaShoah

yom hashoah

Yom HaShoah Ve-Hagevurah, often shortened to Yom HaShoah, is a day of remembrance observed globally by the Jewish people. In English, it is known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. The solemn occasion often begins with an official state ceremony in Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust) in Jerusalem. This ceremony is usually live-streamed on YouTube, with translations available in English and a few other languages.  Throughout the world, various other events honor this day.

Translated in full, Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah means Remembrance Day of the Holocaust and Heroism. This commemorative day was first established in Israel in 1951 (three years after modern Israeli statehood was first established) on a date correlating with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Important note: Yom HaShoah is a separate occasion from the United Nations-established International Holocaust Remembrance Day that occurs in late January. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly, with approval from Israel’s delegation to the United Nations, passed Resolution 60/7 designating January 27 as an honorary date for the world to commemorate the plight of the Jewish people under the Nazi regime, as well as the 1945 Red Army liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the Nazis’ most infamous death camps.

In Israel, each year air raid sirens began blaring on the morning of Yom HaShoah, alerting the citizens to drop whatever they were doing—driving, working, walking, enjoying the beach, any activity—and observe two minutes of solemn silence and reflection. Telecommunications companies throughout Israel changed their regularly scheduled programming to feature broadcasting focusing on Holocaust remembrance and education.

As part of the official state ceremony typically conducted at Yad Vashem, six Holocaust survivors who are now Israeli citizens will light six memorial torches in honor of the six million Jewish people who perished during the Holocaust. Though the number of Holocaust survivors not only in Israel but worldwide is dwindling due to the advanced age of survivors, it is believed that 148,763 Holocaust survivors remain in Israel today, according to data revealed by the National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi). There is usually a wreath-laying ceremony, and candles will be lit in honor of the victims. The Knesset (Israel’s central legislative body), meanwhile, typically hosts a separate state ceremony reciting the names of Holocaust victims.

In recent ceremonies, Israeli President Isaac Herzog has called on the Israeli people to, for a short time, set aside their differences and grievances regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s plan to overhaul the Supreme Court's authority regarding judicial appointments and the protests surrounding this initiative and come together for a week of national unity and mourning of the Holocaust.

Israel is not the only country marking this solemn occasion, however.

In Poland, the Israel Midwives Association, a professional organization of approximately 1,400 midwives who work in Israeli hospitals and in the homes of women who choose to deliver outside of hospitals, typically sends a delegation of midwives to historical Holocaust-related sites of significance in Poland in honor of Yom HaShoah.

Jewish midwives during the Holocaust risked their lives to deliver babies in the ghettos and concentration camps of the era despite inadequate sanitation, nutrition, and medical supervision, should there be any complications with delivery, and none of the traditional supplies available that they would normally use to safely deliver a child.

The March of the Living has been an annual tradition in Auschwitz since 1988, mostly bringing together survivors and their descendants. Several thousand people usually participate in the event each year, and there are traditionally seven torchbearers at the event. Participants will walk approximately two miles from Stammlager I (near the famous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate) to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The event is focused on reminding people of the atrocities of this chapter of history, especially in an era of seemingly increasing anti-Semitism, and honoring the Jewish victims of the Holocaust as a whole.

Some world leaders have historically issued statements in honor of Yom HaShoah.

“Today we commemorate millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust. And we remember: it is only the victory of life that stops evil,” tweeted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in honor of previous Yom HaShoah events. “Wherever hatred rears its head, life must prevail—by law and force. We value everyone who preserves the memory of the Holocaust and protects life.”

The European Union released a statement another year honoring Yom HaShoah, saying, "We will not stand idly by when Jews are being attacked or harassed, when false conspiracy theories and stereotypes are spread, when the Holocaust is denied or distorted, when the State of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security is questioned."

In the United States, Jewish survivors shared their testimonies and memories in the Bronx. One year at Yom HaShoah, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a video sharing the testimony of his stepfather, Samuel Pisar, who was 12 years old when the Nazis invaded his hometown of Blalystok, Poland.

His family tragically perished at the hands of the Nazis, but Pisar was able to physically escape during a winter death march and was assisted by American soldiers in securing safety from there. After obtaining freedom, Pisar went on to obtain his Doctorate in Law degree from Harvard University and the Sorbonne, advise American and French presidents, work as a lawyer in Hollywood, corporate America, UNESCO, and the International Olympic Committee, be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, rewrite text for Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 3 (“Kaddish”), and educate the world on the horrors of the Holocaust, lest we forget.

However, anti-Semitism also reared its ugly head in conjunction with this event. The Grand Maimonides Synagogue in Barcelona, Spain, and the Temple De Hirsh Sinai in Seattle, Washington, which was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti one year ago, are such examples.

"The place of prayer of the Jews of Barcelona [was] attacked because of the events that happen in Israel," explained the local Jewish community statement. "Blaming Jews, in general, and, in this case, the Jews of Catalonia, for the policies of the government of the State of Israel is an obvious example of anti-Semitism."

“My first reaction was shock, disgust, and sadness,” Rabbi Daniel Weiner said in response to the Seattle incident. “I’m heartsick to say so, but unfortunately, this is the current state of where we are as a society.”

Back in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu usually also speaks at the Yad Vashem ceremony. As he put it one year, “You chose life. You believed in good. You helped others.”

“The height of this victory is the independence of our 75-year-old country. Israel is a vibrant, free, democratic country with so many achievements,” Netanyahu continued. However, there is a “relentless battle against those who seek to kill us,” Netanyahu said, explicitly referring to tensions with Iran and any potential Iranian nuclear deal.

“Our enemies,” Netanyahu said at this speech at Yad Vashem, “will find us standing shoulder to shoulder together.”

The profound horrors of the Holocaust challenge both Jews and Christians in their faith, whether as persecuted children of God or tangential to the unfolding atrocities grappling with their responsibilities as Christians for helping an oppressed people group.

“It is not possible to love a ‘Spiritual Israel’ and hate the earthly Israel,” Franklin Littell, a Christian historian, wrote. “It is not possible to honor and obey the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and wish evil to the Jewish people. To lay it on the line, it is not possible to side with those who seek Jerusalem’s destruction and be numbered as faithful Christians. It was not possible in Germany during the Third Reich, and it is not possible today in America.”

“Is it possible for Christians and Jews to still believe in a God who is omniscient and omnipotent after His deafening silence when we needed Him most?” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein once penned a book regarding the Holocaust. “Can we speak as we did earlier of God’s abundant love and concern for mankind? Can we talk of a good God guiding the course of history while knowing that some events seem to reflect the utter absence of His love and guidance?”

“The primary imperative to be elicited by Christians from the Holocaust is equally as compelling as is that of the Jews—to expunge any and all traces of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism from their midst." Rabbi Eckstein continued. “They, too, are divinely obligated to ensure Jewish survival and to prevent a future Holocaust.”

Rabbi Eckstein’s poignant words echo the resilience of the Jewish people, highlighted a verse from the Psalms: “Like the psalmist long ago, Jews today collectively declare, ‘I will not die but live, and I will proclaim what the LORD has done’” (Psalm 118:17, NIV). These words encapsulate the determination to survive, remember, and honor the past while working toward a future free from hatred and prejudice.

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