Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once stated that “Jews survived all the defeats, expulsions, persecution and pogroms, the centuries in which they were regarded as a pariah people, even the Holocaust itself, because they never gave up the faith that one day they would be free to live as Jews without fear.” In this era of rampant anti-Semitism, threats against Jewish institutions, and desecrations of cemeteries and public property, Sacks’ thesis has been sorely tested. Nonetheless, we all still gathered at our Seder tables last week to bear testament to our resilience and freedom.
Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, which begins this Sunday evening, has additional poignancy and importance. Yom Ha Shoah is when we commemorate the six million innocent Jewish victims of the Holocaust who were senselessly murdered during the 1930s and 1940s, and we pay tribute to the countless heroic individuals, survivors and their family members who managed to escape death and defy the Nazis.
The existence of our community’s solemnly beautiful Holocaust Memorial in downtown Providence, the laudatory work of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center and the RI State Legislature’s passage of the 2016 Holocaust-Genocide Education Bill is praiseworthy and meritorious. But as Dan Rather once stated, “We cannot rely on memorials and museums alone. We can tell ourselves that we will never forget and we likely won’t. But we need to make sure that we teach history to those who never had the opportunity to learn in the first place.” And as the number of remaining Holocaust survivors sadly grows thinner, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that our children and grandchildren learn the lessons of the past.
Please join me at the annual Rhode Island Interfaith Commemoration of the Holocaust, this Sunday afternoon, at 4:00pm, at Temple Emanu-El, 99 Taft Avenue, Providence. This year’s event will memorialize the innocents of the Holocaust and pay homage to the bravery of the Bielski Partisans who saved 1,200 Jewish lives in Belarus between 1941 and 1944. Ruth Bielski Ehrreich, daughter of Tuvia Bielski, the leader of the Bielski Partisans, is the special guest speaker. And I will proudly present this year’s esteemed Never Again Award to Herb Stern, who spearheaded the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial.
As was true in biblical times, as it is today, there is simply no place for persecution and bondage in our society, let alone ignorance and denial. Never forget, and never again.