This week we commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Though the event was widely covered in the local press, not included in that coverage was a private moment I’d like to share with you; one that’s stayed with me all week.
After the public ceremony at Faneuil Hall and the New England Holocaust Memorial, our keynote speaker, David Eisenhower, historian and grandson of General Dwight Eisenhower, joined a small lunch to thank some of the donors and volunteers who made our program possible. He was asked a question about how he came to dedicate his professional life to writing about and teaching the history of World War II.
One moment in Eisenhower’s response jumped out: David told us that, growing up, his grandfather and his father John– who also served in the war –never talked about the war once they returned from the front. What they did talk about, copiously, was the Civil War. David had fond memories of rich weekly discussions with his father and grandfather, as they made their way through the classic works about that time period. He came to understand that the older men chose to share their passion for military history with him through a “proxy war” since they were not yet ready to relive their own recent painful experience in World War II.
I was deeply intrigued by this idea, not just in the moment of Yom HaShoah, but also in the wake of our recent Passover experience.
The Jewish people tell and retell our ancient story of trauma and slavery in – and eventual liberation from – Egypt every year, not only with ease but with a sense of celebration. Yet for so many of us it is far harder to share the traumas that we experience personally, and that are still fresh and tender in our memory.
Many survivors were unable to talk about what happened to them for many years, if ever. Eisenhower’s story is yet one more reminder of the courage that it has taken for every single survivor of the Shoah to find a way to tell his or her own story, as Max Michelson did for us this past Sunday, and to bear witness to unimaginable horror. The Haggadah reminds us of the obligation of each generation b'chol dor vador to tell and retell the story of our subjugation and eventual liberation. And we do so, not simply to relive the trauma but to lend it meaning, reaffirming our commitment to cherish freedom and to fight oppression. Together may we transform our trauma and become a living memory to all who have perished, as we honor their legacy for generations to come.