from an address given at Temple Tifereth Israel
April 26, 1998
Two weeks ago we met with our families for the Passover Seder. And, as we do each year, we read with our children from the Haggadah.
Today we do not have first hand knowledge of the Exodus. But we are instructed to tell the story as if we were there; as if we ourselves were brought out of the land of Egypt.
Now we meet to commemorate another momentous chapter from Jewish history, but this time we have among us the survivors of that episode.
How many of the children of Israel actually experienced the Exodus? The Torah gives us a census. It says that 600,000 followed Moses out of Egypt. 600,000 souls, an enormous number. But, 600,000 is only 10% of 6 million.
The magnificent words that we read from the Haggadah illustrate the story of the Exodus for us. But where are the words that give us the story of the Shoah?
Last week newspapers reported on a poll conducted by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. It showed that one in five Americans doesn't know or isn't sure that Jews were killed in the Holocaust or that it happened in World War II.
As we have preserved the legacy of the Exodus for three thousand years, we must preserve the legacy of the Shoah for all time. The evils of half a century ago must never slip from human memory.
But, do the poets of today have the eloquence to put together verses that will endure for millennia?
Where can we find words to describe the suffering? Let us look first to the writings of the survivors:
Chelomo Reuvan, a survivor form Salonika writes:*
Where is the artist who will paint the tragedy?
Where is the poet who will mourn for us?"
The day begins, night falls and a new day dawns.
And the world still waits for that voice.
Henriette Asseo, from Paris:
The somber limitation of words
when talent fails
to restore collective memory.
From Elie Wiesel: "..this generation has been robbed of everything, even of their cemeteries.
Chelomo Reuvan again:
Where was the world that was considered to be civilized?
Where were the nations that were fighting for freedom?
When millions in their blazing torture
Vanished in smoke, victims of ferocity.
Itzhak Ben Ruby, Salonika writes:-Te rogo ke me eskutches, mi hermano
I beg you to listen, my brother.
That is the only favor I request from you on this chill night as cold as your heart.
I call you my brother because you are;
of our lineage,
our faith ...
Give me your hand and look. Look with me at what I am seeing: there, over there, this child seized by the feet and hurled against the wall ... to fall to the ground.. broken.
Please, do not be afraid ... You are at peace, here where you are.
there, do you see those girls, naked,
like leaves in the wind?
spewed out from Hell,
set on them
Do not be afraid and look further ...
There, over there, in the distance,
that rise toward the heavens
like a cry
of all humanity-
of your brothers,
of your lineage,
that fed the fire.
And so they died, two, five, six million of your brothers
Yehuda Haim Perahia
0 my God! Is it a dream or am I out of my mind?
What bitter reality do my eyes see, what confusion within me!
But is it possible? I touch myself, I murmur half words.
How can one believe in the total disappearance of the Jews, Your eternal servants!
My eyes, my eyes shed abundant and never-ending tears.
The misfortunes that befell Your people cannot be counted.
My brain tears apart, my mind is troubled and refuses to reason.
Human intelligence refuses to function before this evil.
For centuries our people have commemorated major events in our history.
Until this generation, these commemorations remind us of events that happened far back in our history. Today we remember a tragedy from our time.
Each Purim we read the story of Hebrews in the Persian Diaspora. How many Hebrews were with Esther and Mordachai in Persia at that time? The entire population of Persia was far less than six million. And the Hebrews were only a small part of that.
Each Tish A'bav there is a fast to remind us of the destruction of the two temples. How many of our people ever saw those Temples?
There were not six million Jews in the whole world at that time.
Tish A'bav is also special for Sephardic Jews. It marks the expulsion of our ancestors from Spain. How many Jews fled in 1492? Perhaps 50,000, perhaps 150,000. And half of our people remained and were lost to us through conversion. In the 1490s we lost half of the Jews of Spain; In the 1940s we lost 90% of the Jews of the Balkans.
Year after year, for hundreds, even thousands of years; for generation after generation. Jews have read and passed on to their children the heritage of Hebrew history. But, how many of those generations have included eyewitnesses to that history.
This generation has the sad distinction of having witnessed the greatest tragedy in the History of the Jewish people. The numbers of people involved in this barbarity dwarfs the numbers of people who knew Moses, who knew the Maccabees, who saw the destruction of the Temple, who were carried into Babylon, who were forced out of Spain or who died in the flames of the Inquisition..
There is no event in the Hebrew calendar that is of greater magnitude than Yom Hashoah.
Just as the Torah commands us to retell the story of the coming out of Egypt, just as we are commanded to teach the Shamah diligently to our children, this generation must assume for itself a new obligation. An obligation with the force of the commandments of old. It is our duty, each year to pass on to the next generation the lessons of the Shoah.
From a poem by Morguez Algrante:-Each year on that same day
My thoughts grant me no rest.
Unfailingly they present themselves
Before my eyes in a ghastly tableau
Thus... Every single year I will remember
My tortured and burned brothers.,
With writings and elegies I will lament them,
For in my heart they remain forever engraved.
Soon the survivors with us today will light candles and pass the flames on to the succeeding generation, then the flames will pass to the third generation.
Will these children pass the candles on to a forth generation? Then a fifth, a sixth?
Three thousand years from now will the descendants of our children continue to pass on the flame?
*all poems are from And The World Stood Silent by Isaac Jack Levy