I hated Hebrew school. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. To me it was painful, guilt ridden and depressing. And what I am about to say will be taken as blasphemy, but I attribute much of these feelings to Holocaust education (or at least Holocaust education back then). 

It wasn’t just that the Holocaust was front and center in our Hebrew school curriculum – it was that it was the curriculum. Oh sure, their was Torah – but none of our parents practiced it, or Prayer – but none of our teachers believed it.  But the Holocaust – this was the raison d’être as to why be Jewish in the secular, liberal Jewish world. 

Marry a Jew. Why? Because of the Holocaust!

Have a Bar Mitzvah. Why? Because of the Holocaust!

And above all else, not for God’s sake, but for the Holocaust’s sake, eat pork if you need to, decorate a Chanukah bush if you must, pay retail prices for jewelry if you are really desperate – but do not get a tattoo!!!

Although I fulfilled all three of these dictates, it had nothing to do with my Jewish education or the Holocaust guilt. That’s the stuff that made me walk away. Rather, I found my way back to Judaism not reactively, but pro-actively, seeking out the  joys of being Jewish, the depths of Jewish spirituality and above all else having first-hand, inspirational, real-life experiences within Israel.

It isn’t to suggest we don’t need to teach our children and the world about the Holocaust. We do and today’s Hebrew school curricula are infinitely better than yesteryear. Still, there’s got to be a better way to remember the Holocaust and fulfill our people’s mantra, “Never Again,” then just formal Holocaust education. And there is. It was taught to me years ago by a friend.

My friend’s grandfather survived the Holocaust, came to America and became a hairbrush maker. And woven into the bristles of every brush he made, using the brush fibers, he spelled out the Hebrew word “n’kmati- my revenge.” Every brush he made was an act of defiance against the Nazis. Every stitch he wove was a testament to the fact that he won, Hitler lost and the Jews survived. “My grandfather’s hairbrushes,” said my friend, “his work, his religious observance, and above all else his great-grandchildren observing Shabbat- this was his revenge – his life’s achievement and how he paid tribute to those who perished in the camps” 

Tonight, on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Rememberance Day, you want to pay tribute to those who perished in the ovens of Auschwitz? 

You want to seek revenge against Hitler and show him that we won?

You want to send a message of defiance to the modern day Nazis, the abundant haters of the Jews and Israel (and they are multiplying by the day) that they will perish and we will win?

Yes study the Holocaust and give your kids an education too. 

And yes, go to a Yom HaShoah ceremony tonight and mourn the dead. 

And yes chant the slogan “Never Again” and mean it!

But just as important is the next night, and every Friday night – Shabbat. You want to avenge the deaths of those who perished in the Shoah? Then go to a synagogue and celebrate Shabbat.

You want to deny the Nazis their victory? Then  raise Jewish children and grandchildren.

You want to truly engage in an act of defiance (particularly these days)  against the anti-semites? Then stand up and speak out and support the IDF, the Jewish homeland, and the modern miracle of Israel. 

And above all else remember this – today is not the only Holocaust Remembrance Day. Rather, every day is Holocaust Remembrance day if we turn that day, that moment, every action we make, every breath we take into our hairbrush, our act of defiance, our message to Hitler and the modern haters that we won and we will always win!

That is how we defy Hitler and seek our revenge!

And that is how we pay tribute to those who perished in the Holocaust. That is how they will be avenged!

Rabbi B


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