Yom HaShoa – Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yom HaShoa is an official national holiday in Israel thats full name is Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laGvura, meaning “Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and Heroism.” Yom HaShoa is a Jewish holiday commemorating the approximately 6 million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis in the Holocaust during World War II. The Jewish holiday is celebrated as Holocaust Remembrance Day throughout the United States and Europe. Holocaust Remembrance Day

Commemoration in Israel

The Jewish holiday Yom HaShoa was inaugurated in Israel in 1951 by the Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. The original date was to be on the 14th of Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but this became problematic because it fell the day before Passover. Finally the Jewish holiday was moved to the 27th of Nisan, eight days before the Jewish holiday Yom Ha’tzma’ut, or Israeli Independence Day.

In Israel on the Jewish holiday Yom HaShoa there is a state ceremony held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Authority. At 10 am, air raid sirens are sounded for two minutes, and all of Israel comes to a standstill. People stop what they are doing and stand at attention and cars stop on the motorways in observance, as the entire country pays silent tribute to the victims of the genocide. On the eve of Yom HaShoa and the day itself, all entertainment venues and bars are closed and only solemn music is played on Israeli radio stations. On television, only documentaries recounting the stories of survivors and Holocaust-themed programming and movies are shown. Throughout the Jewish holiday all flags on public buildings are flown at half mast.

Commemoration throughout the Diaspora

Although there is no official prescribed way to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, many Jews attend special synagogue services for the Jewish holiday. Many Yom HaShoa programs include talks by Holocaust survivors or historians and many families light candles or attend special screenings of Holocaust-themed films at local community centers. In some communities the names of those who perished are read to show the breadth of the destruction that occurred during the Holocaust. There is also a Jewish holiday memorial service in Auschwitz which has been called the “March of the Living” in contrast to the death marches suffered by far too many during the atrocities.

One Jewish holiday ceremony that has been gaining popularity in recent years is the lighting of six yahrtzit candles, whether done within a home or as part of a community or temple memorial. Six candles are lit on Yom HaShoa to commemorate the 6 million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. In some observances of the Jewish holiday a seventh candle is lit for the non-Jews who perished alongside the Jews as well as the righteous Gentiles who became victims while attempting to save the Jews from persecution.

Talking to children about the Holocaust on Yom HaShoa can be a very touchy subject. For parents looking to provide some relevant material to their children there are age-appropriate books telling the stories of heroes who did great deeds during the atrocities. One popular book is King of Children: The Story of Jausz Korczak written by Lori Forman. Another way to commemorate the Jewish holiday is to plant a tree in Israel for those who perished or plant a memorial tulip garden, since the holiday occurs at the same time of year that tulips begin to bloom.

It’s also suggested by some that a Jewish holiday memorial service should conclude with the traditional mourners’ prayer, the Kaddish. Traditionally when someone dies without leaving immediate family, the nearest relative recites the Kaddish. For millions in the Holocaust, their entire families were wiped out; now Jews are their nearest living relatives so the entire congregation can appropriately join in saying Kaddish.

In recent years rabbis and theologians – particularly in the Diaspora – have complained that the Jewish holiday Yom HaShoa needs a formalized and less secular set of rituals to commemorate the Jewish holiday if it is to outlive the last generation of Holocaust survivors. In a revolutionary attempt to ritualize the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Conservative movement has produced the first-ever formal liturgy for the holiday. Dubbed “Megillat Hashoah” – The Scroll of the Holocaust – the document was recited publicly for the first time in North America during a ceremony at Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue. About 1,100 worshippers turned out for the event marking Yom HaShoa.

The six-chapter Megillah is built largely around first-person testimonies. After an opening chapter that gives a searing overview of the victims’ suffering, it offers composite sketches of a Christian journalist observing life in the Warsaw Ghetto, a Jewish woman in a work camp, and a Jewish youth who was forced to pull out the teeth from his brother’s corpse and shove the other dead bodies into ovens. A fifth chapter consists of a eulogy for those who died in the Holocaust; the final chapter recounts the efforts to rebuild Jewish life after the war ended.

Holocaust Memorial Days throughout the world

Much of Europe commemorates the Jewish holiday Yom HaShoa on the 27th of January, the date when in 1945 the Soviet Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

Country Name Date
Israel Yom HaShoa 27 Nisan
United Nations International Day of Commemoration to Honor the Victims of the Holocaust 27 January
European Union International Holocaust Remembrance Day 27 January
Germany Memorial Day for the Victims of National Socialism 27 January
Poland Anniversary for the Victims of Nazism 27 January
United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Day 27 January
Italy Memorial Day 27 January
France Anniversary of the Winter Velodrome Roundup 16 July
Romania National Day of Commemorating the Holocaust 9 October
United States Holocaust Victims Memorial Day 8 May

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