A Day Without Ritual

Creating a liturgy for Holocaust Remembrance Day has been a delicate and challenging task for Judaism's religious leaders.

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In fact, there has been testimony from the Lodz Ghetto, the second-largest, that Chaim Rumkowski, the Judenrat chief, lived with far more material comfort that anyone else and used his powers of life and death to demand sexual favors and other perks from the desperate. No, there's no need to go into detail, but you can't bring up kapos and the like and then just dismiss them as "gloomy."

Rabbi Philip Scheim, chair of the megillah's liturgy committee, wrote in an introduction, "We have a great deal to remember, including memories that the rest of the world would rather see forgotten. We fear for ourselves when we realize that each year to come means fewer survivors. left to remind us. of what human beings are capable of doing to each other."

But another rabbi, not associated with the project, told The Jewish Week that survivors themselves could be part of the problem, having memories of their own they would like to see forgotten, leading the all-too respectful writers of Shoah liturgy to be exceedingly polite.

Steve Bayme, the American Jewish Committee's director of Jewish communal affairs, told The Jewish Week, that the delicacy of interpretation is legitimate. "There is a need for honest historical confrontation," says Bayme, "but the role of religion is to inculcate a sense of empathy and compassion."


It is hard to validate Rabbi Scheim's claim that as survivors die, Shoah awareness does too. In the past 15 years, there have been more books and films on the Shoah than in the first 45 years after the war. But several rabbis insisted to The Jewish Week that there has not been a lessening of interest in the Shoah but a lessening of interest in Yom HaShoah programming.

Rabbi Harlow, who also edited and translated of Sim Shalom, the popular Conservative siddur, said, "There should be some permanent text."

But if anything has marked Yom HaShoah, it has been impermanence. Even the date itself (27 Nisan), is an anniversary of nothing. In the first six years after the war, there was no rabbinic or secular date of observance. Secular Israelis were drawn to the April anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt. Orthodox Jews mostly folded Shoah memorials into Tisha B'Av. The Knesset, in 1951, set the date, as politicians will, by compromise, close to Passover, when the Warsaw uprising began, but not on Passover, out of respect for tradition. Linking Yom HaShoah to any one event would only antagonize those whose memories lay elsewhere, and so the date is linked to nothing, more political than inspirational.

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