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Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה; "Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day"), known colloquially in Israel and abroad as Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) and in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Holocaust Day, is observed as Israel's day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period. In Israel, it is a national memorial day. It was inaugurated in 1953, anchored by a law signed by the Prime Minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion and the President of Israel Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. It is held on the 27th of Nisan (April/May), unless the 27th would be adjacent to Shabbat, in which case the date is shifted by a day. In other countries there are different commemorative days—see Holocaust Memorial Day.
The original proposal was to hold Yom HaShoah on the 14th of Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (April 19, 1943), but this was problematic because the 14th of Nisan is the day immediately before Pesach (Passover). The date was moved to the 27th of Nisan, which is eight days before Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or Israeli Independence Day.
While there are Orthodox Jews who commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, others in the Orthodox community—especially Haredim, including Hasidim—remember the victims of the Holocaust on days of mourning declared by the rabbis before the Holocaust, such as Tisha b'Av in the summer, and the Tenth of Tevet, in the winter, because in the Jewish tradition the month of Nisan is considered a joyous month associated with Passover and messianic redemption. Ismar Schorsch, former Chancellor of Conservative Judaism's Jewish Theological Seminary of America held that Holocaust commemoration should take place on Tisha b'Av.
Most Jewish communities hold a solemn ceremony on this day, but there is no institutionalized ritual accepted by all Jews. Lighting memorial candles and reciting the Kaddish—the prayer for the departed—are common. The Masorti (Conservative Judaism) movement in Israel has created Megillat HaShoah, a scroll and liturgical reading for Yom HaShoah, a joint project of Jewish leaders in Israel, the United States and Canada. The booklet was subsequently converted into a kosher scroll by sofer Marc Michaels for reading in the community and then into a tikkun—copyist guide for scribes—'Tikkun megillat hashoah'. In 1984, Conservative Rabbi David Golinkin wrote an article in the journal Conservative Judaism suggesting a program of observance for the holiday, including fasting.
Yom HaShoah opens in Israel at sundown in a state ceremony held in Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes Authority, in Jerusalem. During the ceremony the national flag is lowered to half mast, the President and the Prime Minister both deliver speeches, Holocaust survivors light six torches symbolizing the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and the Chief Rabbis recite prayers.
At 10:00 am on Yom HaShoah, sirens are sounded throughout Israel for two minutes. During this time, people cease from action and stand at attention; cars stop and drivers emerge from them, even on the highways; and the whole country comes to a standstill as people pay silent tribute to the dead.
On Yom HaShoah, ceremonies and services are held at schools, military bases and by other public and community organizations.
On the eve of Yom HaShoah and the day itself, places of public entertainment are closed by law. Israeli television airs Holocaust documentaries and Holocaust-related talk shows, and low-key songs are played on the radio. Flags on public buildings are flown at half mast.
Observance of the day is moved back to the Thursday before, if 27 Nisan falls on a Friday (as in 2008), or forward a day, if 27 Nisan falls on a Sunday (to avoid adjacency with the Jewish Sabbath). The fixed Jewish calendar ensures 27 Nisan does not fall on Saturday.
Jews in the Diaspora may observe this day within the synagogue, as well as in the broader Jewish community. Commemorations range from synagogue services to communal vigils and educational programs. Many Yom HaShoah programs feature a talk by a Holocaust survivor or a direct descendant, recitation of appropriate psalms, songs and readings, or viewing of a Holocaust-themed film. Some communities choose to emphasize the depth of loss that Jews experienced in the Holocaust by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another—dramatizing the unfathomable notion of six million deaths. Many Jewish schools also hold Holocaust-related educational programs on, or around, Yom HaShoah.
Also during this day, tens of thousands of Israeli high-school students, and thousands of Jews and non-Jews from around the world, hold a memorial service in Auschwitz, in what has become known as "The March of the Living," in defiance of the Holocaust Death Marches. This event is endorsed and subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Holocaust Claims Conference, and is considered an important part of the school curriculum – a culmination of several months of studies on World War II and the Holocaust.
Liturgy for Yom HaShoah
In the last few decades all the prayerbooks of Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism have developed similar liturgies to be used on Yom HaShoah. The siddurim of these groups add passages that are meant to be added to standard weekday service, as well as stand-alone sections. These liturgies generally include:
- Lighting of a candle (often each member of the congregation lights one)
- Modern poems, including "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining..."
- El Malei Rahamim (God, full of mercy, dwelling on high)
- Mourner's Kaddish.
In the Conservative Sim Shalom and the Israeli Masorti Va'ani Tefilati siddurim there is a special addition into the framework of the Shomeya Tefillah ("Hear our prayer") or Birkat HaTzadikim (Prayer for the Righteous), Nachem, said in each Amidah of Yom HaShoah.
Some Modern Orthodox prayerbooks suggest prayers or psalms to be said on Yom HaShoah.
In 1988 the American Reform movement published Six Days of Destruction (Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Albert Friedlander). Narratives from Holocaust survivors are juxtaposed with the six days of creation found in Genesis.
More recently Conservative rabbis and lay leaders in the US, Israel and Canada collaborated to write Megillat Hashoah, (The Holocaust Scroll). It contains personal recollections of Holocaust survivors. A responsa was written by Rabbi David Golinkin expressing the view that not only is it legitimate for the modern Jewish community to write a new scroll of mourning, it was also incumbent to do so.
In response to the lack of liturgy dedicated to Yom HaShoah, Daniel Gross composed, in 2009, I Believe - A Shoah Requiem, a complete musical liturgy dedicated to the observance of Yom HaShoah. An a cappella oratorio scored for cantor, soprano solo, adult chorus and children's chorus, I Believe features several traditional prayer texts such as the Mourner's Kaddish (Kaddish Yatom) and the El Malei memorial prayer, and also includes the poetry of Paul Celan and Primo Levi. On April 7, 2013, I Believe had its World Premiere presentation at Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit, Michigan. An excerpt from this oratorio, Kaddish Yatom, was performed earlier at the Rykestrasse Synagogue in Berlin during the 2012 Cantors Assembly Mission to Germany. Daniel Gross is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, The Juilliard School and The University of Pennsylvania and is the cantor of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Orthodox Judaism and Yom HaShoah
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, in 1949, under the guidance of Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel and Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, decided that the Tenth of Tevet should be the national remembrance days for victims of the Holocaust. The Tenth of Tevet fast commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II. For this day, it recommended traditional Jewish ways of remembering the dead, such as the study of the traditional Mishnah section about ritual baths, saying Psalms, lighting a yahrzeit candle and saying Kaddish for those Holocaust victims whose date of death remains unknown. On other occasions, the Chief Rabbinate also referred to Tisha b'Av as being a date of remembrance for Holocaust victims.
The Knesset decision taken on April 21, 1951 to designate the 27th of Nisan as Yom HaShoah ignored the Rabbinate's decision from two years earlier, and the Chief Rabbinate, in turn, decided to ignore the Knesset's chosen date, one reason being the fact that Jewish law forbids fasting and certain laws of mourning during the month of Nisan, which is considered to be a month of happiness. Another view, held by influential Haredi Rabbi Avraham Yeshayeh Karelitz (known as the 'Chazon Ish'), held that nowadays we do not have the power to institute new days of mourning or commemoration for future generations.
While there are nevertheless Orthodox Jews who commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, others in the Orthodox community – especially Haredim, including Hasidim – remember the victims of the Holocaust on traditional days of mourning which were already in place before the Holocaust, such as Tisha B'Av in the summer, and the Tenth of Tevet, in the winter. Several well-known Haredi rabbis, including Rabbi Michael Dov Ber Weissmandl, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam of Bobov, Rabbi Shimon Schwab, and several others, wrote kinnot about the Shoah, to be said on Tisha b'Av.
While most Modern Orthodox Religious Zionist Jews do stand still for two minutes during the siren, in Haredi areas, no attention is given to Yom HaShoah. Most stores do not close, schools continue and most people do not stop walking when the siren sounds. The non-participation of Haredim in Yom HaShoah is one of the points which regularly causes friction between Haredim and non-Haredim in Israel, as non-Haredim consider the Haredi position of ignoring the siren and Yom HaShoah altogether to be disrespectful.
Thus, a situation has come into existence where religious forms of commemoration take place primarily on the Tenth of Tevet and on Tisha b'Av, while secular forms of commemoration take place primarily on Yom HaShoah, and either part of the population ignores the other's day of commemoration.
Conservative Judaism and Yom HaShoah
In 1981, members of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs FJMC, a branch of the mainstream Conservative/Masorti movement, created a special memorial project specifically for Yom HaShoah. A dedicated yahrzeit candle was conceived, with yellow wax and a barbed-wire Star of David logo reminiscent of the armbands Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. This object has come to be known as the Yellow Candle (TM). Approximately 200,000 candles are distributed around the world each year, along with relevant prayers and meditations.
In 1984, Conservative Rabbi David Golinkin wrote an article in Conservative Judaism journal suggesting a program of observance for the holiday, including fasting. In his article he noted that while private fasts are indeed prohibited during the month of Nisan (a major Orthodox objection to the placement of the day), communal fasts for tragedies befalling Jewish communities had indeed been declared throughout the pre-Modern period.
Another prominent Conservative Jewish figure shared the Orthodox sentiment about not adopting Yom HaShoah. Ismar Schorsch, former Chancellor of Conservative Judaism's Jewish Theological Seminary of America held that Holocaust commemoration should take place on Tisha b'Av.
The Masorti (Conservative Judaism) movement in Israel has created Megillat HaShoah, a scroll and liturgical reading for Yom HaShoah. This publication was a joint project of Jewish leaders in Israel, the United States and Canada.
In 2011, the FJMC introduced a related Yellow Candle concept for use on Kristallnacht (The Night of Shattered Glass) and other important Shoah commemoration dates. Called the Ner Katan, FJMC's new version consists of six Yellow Candles provided for communal observances and ceremonies.
In 2010, Yom HaShoah fell on Sunday, April 11, and, this being a Sunday was moved forward to Monday, April 12. Similarly, for 2011, the 27th of Nisan fell on Sunday, May 1. Thus the observance was moved up a day to Monday, May 2. In 2012, it was on Thursday, April 19.
Upcoming dates of observance:
2013 Monday, April 8
2014 Monday, April 28
2015 Thursday, April 16
2016 Thursday, May 5
2017 Monday, April 24
2018 Thursday, April 12
2019 Thursday, May 2
2020 Tuesday, April 21
2021 Thursday, April 8
2022 Thursday, April 28
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- In the Jewish calendar the day begins in the evening and ends in the following evening.
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- Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust