April 28, 2011

Beginning at sundown on Saturday, April 30 through sundown on Sunday, May 1, Jews around the world will observe Yom Ha'Shoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the most terrible chapter in modern Jewish history.

Motivated by an overwhelming and fanatical hatred of Jews, and seeking to remove from German society anyone deemed "undesirable," the Nazi regime that ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 launched a brutal and methodical campaign to destroy the Jewish people. Six million Jews — about one-third of the world's Jewish population at the time — were murdered as a result.

The Holocaust is unique not just in Jewish history, but in human history. For centuries, Jews had endured pogroms (organized massacres), oppression, and prejudice. But the Nazi effort to destroy the Jews is a singular example of one group's ability to marshal all the forces of propaganda, technology, and organization at its disposal in an attempt to destroy an entire people. The Holocaust stands alone not just because of its scale and brutality, but because it was meticulously planned and coldly systematic — and, sadly, it was very nearly successful.

Yom Ha'Shoah in Israel is also a totally unique experience. For two minutes on this day, sirens sound across the country, and literally all activity comes to a halt — people stop working, pedestrians pause, and drivers stop their cars, get out, and stand in silence. It is a powerful display of national unity that serves not only to honor the memory of those murdered in the Holocaust, but also to reaffirm Israel's identity as a strong, proud Jewish nation, one committed to offering a safe haven to the Jewish people and ensuring that the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated.

While Yom Ha'Shoah is generally not observed in the U.S. outside of the Jewish community, I hope you will pause on this day to remember the six million who were killed for being Jewish. Educate yourself on what one historian called "the defining event of 20th century world history" by visiting our Holocaust resources page. And, above all, pray — for the peace of Jerusalem, for security for Israel and Jewish communities around the globe, and for a day when the eternal rallying cry adopted by the Jewish people after the Holocaust — "Never again!" — is fulfilled.

With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein