Yom HaShoah: A Day to Remember, A Day of Strength!
Tonight begins the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The official name on our calendar commemoration is Yom HaSho’ah v’haGevurah. Although in English we translate HaShoah to mean Holocaust, the word literally means catastrophe. The word Holocaust is derived from the Greek translation of the Olah offering, the sacrifice mentioned in the Bible when the entire animal is consumed on the fire as a sweet and welcomed smell to God. With this short description, you can see the many problematic layers the term Holocaust evokes which could be remedied only by a name change.
The term Shoah is better, but also lacking. Catastrophe ignores the real moral and ethical underpinnings of this solemn and important day we mark each year on the 27th of Nisan. A catastrophe could be anything. An avalanche is a catastrophe. A tidal wave is a catastrophe. We would be hard pressed to evaluate and examine the moral responsibility and culpability of snow peaked mountains and waves of the sea. The term Shoah alone feels like a sort of throwing up of our hands rhetorically whispering into the wind, “Oh well, what can we do?”
The second word, HaGevurah, adds an important element to this day which needs to be remembered. There is something we can do. There is something we must do. The word Gevurah means strength or heroism. The stories we tell about the Shoah must not rest with tales of victim-hood and helplessness. There are countless stories about strength, both outer and inner strength. Our families and fellow Jews who did not survive in body from the evils of the Second World War were far from acting like ‘sheep to the slaughter’ or sacrificial lambs on the altar. Their lives and our memories of them serve as their strength. The evil that was allowed to grow and spread throughout the world, from those times through today, is the true catastrophe. But it’s not our catastrophe… it’s theirs! We are the keepers of the Gevurah, the strength. It is our honor to keep their memory alive.