This week we marked Yom Ha’Shoah, the international Jewish world’s day to mark the atrocities committed against us and a range of other communities by the Nazis.
Normally it would be a day of grand ceremonies and commemorations. As we all know though, this is not an ordinary year. So, does Yom HaShoah have any special significance for us at this time?
It is first vital to dispel any notion that our current situation may give us more understanding of the experience of Jews at that time.
There have been many memes passed around comparing our current lockdown to that of Jews in hiding, such as Anne Frank. However bad our current situation may be – and for so many of us there have been such tragedies in recent weeks – we do a disservice to the memory of the Shoah to make these comparisons.
The current threat is real, but we will – God willing – never be able to truly comprehend the scale of suffering faced then.
What can we learn? We can see the many examples of strength in the face of horrors beyond imagination as inspiration to draw from.
We can recall the great acts of self-sacrifice and heroism carried out by Jews and non-Jews to save others and ask what we can do today to honour that memory.
We can also remember the small acts of compassion and love which many showed despite all the forces against them and keep that memory alive too – by looking around us and seeing who needs our love and support right now.
As the older generation has been deemed the most vulnerable now, the urgency to keep the memory of our survivors alive grows.
More than any of these, I think there is something special about how we marked this day, this year.
Gone were the pomp and ceremony; replaced by reflections in our homes, perhaps a candle lit, perhaps a commemoration streamed on our computer.
Yom HaShoah is not about gathering the great and good, it is about connecting with those who went before us personally.
With the space to reflect, I found a new depth in my connection to this day. We can make use of our enforced distance and find a personal closeness which may sometimes have been obscured.
- Laura Janner-Klausner is the senior rabbi of Reform Judaism