Yesterday, I had the privilege of delivering the benediction at the very first Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Memorial Day held as an official Nevada commemoration. Held in the Governor’s mansion in Carson City, a contingent of Las Vegas leaders of the Jewish Community had flown up, a group of our wonderful Holocaust survivors joined as well, as did students from Hillel at UNR, students from the Adelson Choir, members of the legislature, including Governor Brian Sandoval, and other dignitaries. It was a moving event, facilitated by Elliot Karp, CEO of Federation and Dr. Hugh Bassowitz, Federation President and hosted by the Governor. In a ceremony that lasted less than an hour, Doug Unger, chair of the Governor’s Council on Education Relating to the Holocaust, gave some welcoming remarks; Governor Sandoval presented heartfelt comments, Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel of Congregation Midbar Kodesh framed the day with the Meaning of Yom HaShoah; Chief Justice Kristina Pickering and Justice Michael Cherry, of the Nevada Supreme Court, led the pledge of allegiance: Pastor John Kraintz (Elko Assembly of G-d) presented the invocation; members of the senate and assembly, the Lt. Governor and the Secretary of State, the six members of the Nevada Legislative Jewish Caucus, leaders of the Reno Jewish community, and even Congresswoman Dina Titus accompanied Holocaust Survivors in lighting memorial candles. The students sang, and Rebecca Reyes, from the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada, presented a soliloquoy from her recent performance in Anne Frank. Perhaps the most poignant contribution was from Henry Kronberg, a 93-year-old Survivor, who gave a brief but tremendously touching reflection. Then Cantor Mariana Gindlin, of Temple Sinai, sang a haunting Eil Malei Rachamim; my colleague, Rabbi Elisheva Beyer, of Temple Beth Or in Reno, led us in the Mourners’ Kaddish, and I did the benediction. In less than an hour, history had been made.
Journalist and political commentator Jon Ralston was there and blogged today about how meaningful the experience was—this from one of the most cynical reporters around…and it was clear that the historic ceremony moved everyone. History was made….
You know, the word for “history” in Hebrew is “historia”….clearly a borrow-word. The closest phrase for “history” in Hebrew, is “divrei ha-yamim”…the words/or the stuff/or the things of the days. So what is our Jewish mindset regarding history? It is found, I would premise, in the variations of the root, zion/chof/resh….z’chor/remember; lizkor/ to remember; zich’ronot/memories. It is incumbent upon us, says our tradition, to remember: “Liz’kor v’lo li-sh’choach”/to remember and not to forget.
Our recent celebration of Passover is based on the recreation of our communal memories of the Exodus from Egypt. Zeicher l’tziyat Mitzrayim. Every Shabbat we invoke that memory, as well, as it is encompassed in our Kiddush over the wine, and we also invoke the memory of our ancestors in blessing our sons as Ephraim and Menashe, and bless our daughters as Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah…we say the V’ahavta and are told to remember and do all of G-d’s commandments….and we end our prayer service with the Kaddish Yatom, where we remember the names of the loved ones whose yahrtzeit it is, and we remember them, “zichronom li-vracha”….may their memories be for a blessing.
I’ve already shared with you how memorable my week with my family was during Pesach. I know that my daughter-in-law, Trish, will never forget the experience of leyning Torah for the first time and doing so in a home-made Shacharit service in our condo in the mountains of Deer Valley with just her husband, Steve, four children, Molly, Sophie, Heidi, and Jack, and a minyan of family members surrounding her with love and support. The children delivered the “parents’ charge” to their Mom, and I suspect all who witnessed it will never forget that memory either.
An experiment: Turn to the person sitting next to you, and share a memory….any memory that pops into your mind. I’ll give you a minute, and then ask the person with whom you shared a memory to share his or her memory with you…also giving a minute. (Give the time….)
Now please raise your hand if the memory you shared was a happy one. Please raise your hand if the memory you shared was a sad one.
Interesting…Happy memories invariably sustain us throughout our lives; but sad memories, if used properly, become lessons to be transformed into purposeful acts of conscience.
And that brings us back what happened yesterday in Carson City, and what will happen this Sunday here in Las Vegas and throughout Jewish communities everywhere. We will gather at Midbar Kodesh Temple this year, at 7 p.m. to remember, to commemorate, the Shoah, the Holocaust. We will pay tribute to Sasha Semenoff, whose violin and voice reminded us for so many years to remember and not to forget, we will pray and light memorial candles, and hear from Eli Rosenbaum, the Director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy in the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section at the U.S. Department of Justice. He is the longest serving prosecutor and investigator of human rights violations in world history, and we will be reminded that, as horrific as that period in our communal memory was, it is important to remember it. Why? To paraphrase George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
May we be blessed with good memories, but be wise enough to learn from the unhappy ones as well. And on this Yom HaShoah, this day of remembrance of the Holocaust, Avinu, Av HaRachamim, Merciful parent, bless us with the resolve to continue to share the painful memories of the past that we not fall prey to prejudice and xenophobia, that we not cloud our judgment with arrogance and distrust, that we are not led astray by injustice, that we are not blinded by abuse of power, that we see, respect, and defend the Divine spark within one another…Ken y’hi ratzon, so may it be Your will.
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz
Congregation P’nai Tikvah
5 April 2013