Making sure to never forget
Thursday will be a solemn day of prayers, hymns and sermons to mark Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day, not just for the Jews who perished under Hitler’s Holocaust but also for the millions lost in the ethnic purges of Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia and America.
Ashland’s two synagogues, Havurah Shir Hadash and Temple Emek Shalom, have come together for 36 years to honor the martyred dead, alternating at each house of worship. This year, it’s at Havurah Wednesday evening and all day Thursday — and because of the marked rise of anti-Semitism over the last decade, says Havurah Rabbi David Zaslow, there will be locked doors and armed guards.
“We light candles and remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Hitler genocide, and we link it to remembrances of other genocides,” said Zaslow. “Though we remember our own, we see ourselves in alliance with them in this somber commemoration.”
Much of the music for Yom HaShoah comes from Eastern Europe, “where we had hundreds of years of oppressive conditions to get our liturgical music together, sort of like American blacks had centuries of musical tradition (as slaves), coming out of depression of those times.”
In their sermons, Zaslow and Rabbi Julie Benioff of Temple Emek Shalom will detail the difference between countless massacres and a Holocaust, which is the catastrophic attempt to destroy an entire nation or ethnic group.
The holy day is especially notable, coming right after Saturday’s attack on the Chabad of Poway, California, which killed one.
“Julie and I will address the ongoing need for a vigil against the rising tide of white nationalism ... and we call on our leaders for a better future,” said Zaslow, “and to clearly and unconditionally call out white nationalism,” which is behind 70% of attacks on American Jews, according to the Anti-Defimation League.
“We never had an armed guard until the Pittsburgh attack” last October, which killed 11 worshippers at a synagogue, he said. “There’s been a steady uptick in anti-Semitism in the last decade in this country, and it mostly comes from white nationalists. They want a pure country of whites, and they fear people of color, LGBTQ, synagogues, black churches and mosques.”
In other genocides to be commemorated, the Hutu majority in Rwanda in 1994 killed up to 1 million of the Tutsi. In Cambodia in the late ’70s, the Khmer Rouge killed up to 1.8 million. Turks wiped out 1.5 million Armenians in the late 1910s — and millions of Native Americans were killed in the European settling of the Americas.
“We light candles and remember the past, which is in the rearview mirror,” he said, “as we look out the front window and hope for the future.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.