A Personal Pathway to Yom Hashoah

April 19th, 2012 by Rav Shoshana

27 Nissan 5772


How does one wrap one’s mind, heart and soul around a loss so enormous- the loss of 6 million minds, hearts and souls. Since the end of the horrors of the Holocaust and the establishment of Yom Hoshoah- Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1951, various attempts have been made to observe, remember, honor and mourn the loss of literally millions of lives.


This year before we sat down to dinner I said to my husband, “Where’s the yellow Yom Hashoah candle we get every year from  the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club?  For reasons of politics and dues which I don’t want to address here, we didn’t receive one this year, and I missed having it. I thought to myself that perhaps this newly established ritual had become a more ingrained ritual than I realized. So we searched the house for a plain white yarzheit candle but fresh out of them after Passover we settled on a memorial 7 day shiva candle. I read an interesting article from the internet about Karem Abdul-Jaabar, the well-known basketball player who became a Muslim and his fulfillment of his father’s dying wish to find the little boy whom he liberated from Buchenwald. Turns out the little 8 year old is the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and this July the unlikely pair of Karem and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau will meet in Israel to bless a film Karem is making about this story.


Stories like this give us hope but the bigger question looms. As there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors left to tell their story at synagogue and community Yom Hashoah events, how do we institutionalize commemoration? The rabbis developed a new system of prayer after the destruction of the Temple, we now need to come together to establish a series of rituals that 100 years from now honor 6 million lost lives.


This morning as I began my prayers I needed to do something different on this day of remembering and honoring. I began to chant the well-worn words of Psalm 23 verse 4 “Gam kee elech, b’gei tzlmazet, lo ira ra, kee atah emadi- thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I am not afraid for you (God) are with me.” 


I do not have personal connection to the Holocaust, no family members died and my mother in law escaped from Belgium with stop overs in Marseilles and Cuba before coming to the states… But as I chanted these words this morning I realized that any one of us that identifies as a Jew has a connection. For this loss of 6 million is our loss. It is a loss of our people, a part of our nation and the loss of the potentiality of what they would have created in their lives…. art, music,poetry, scholarship, scientific discoveries, and children and grandchildren and generations beyond who would have added to the richness, diversity and beauty of our heritage, not to mention their potential larger contribution to society.


And so as I sit here this morning in my sunny room chanting these words about death a doorway of connection opens. I feel my soul feeling this loss and I ask how do I heal the loss in my soul and honor the loss of my people. And then the answer comes. Similar but  not quite like  the passports  one receives upon a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC I imagined that there must have been among the 6 million a woman like me….a 55 year old woman with a husband and two children  all of whom perished… and how do I honor her and them… I take the loss of her life and  the pain I feel as a Jew,  and transform the loss by honoring the the gift of my life..the transformation comes  by dedicating my life to Jewish values, beauty, kindness. Jewish values that include protecting the rights of all people to exist, treating the stranger with fairness, extending kindness to all living things that breath the breath of life, and to appreciate and add beauty to the world in speech, action and thought. May the memory of the 6 million always inspire us to be better on their behalf. May it be so…


Rav Shoshana Mitrani Knapp

One Response to “A Personal Pathway to Yom Hashoah”

  1. April 25, 2012 at 9:05 am, Laura Duhan Kaplan said:

    Thank you for making such a personal connection with a global event through witnessing the stories of others. Thank you for asking pressing questions about the future.