Yom HaShoah V’Hagvura, the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism, which falls annually on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, marks the beginning of many “yoms”—or yomim (days)—on the Jewish calendar. Yom HaZikaron (National Remembrance Day) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day) will both be commemorated and celebrated in communities in Israel and locally.
Personalizing any one of these “yoms” is the secret ingredient to student connection. And yet, with respect to Yom HaShoah, distance poses a challenge. With 75 years between us and the Shoah, the days of sharing personal stories through survivor testimony are dwindling. On this day, I think about my dear friends from Boston’s survivor community and I can picture them in our sifriya over the years, sharing intimate details about their survival with JCDS students. For years, Rena Finder, one of the youngest on Schindler’s List, and Dr. Anna Ornstein, who survived Auschwitz along with her mother, left students spellbound as they spoke honestly and openly, honoring our students’ capacity to bear witness to their stories.
Our challenge is to ensure that we continue making Yom HaShoah V’Hagvura meaningful to the next generation. This is where descendants of the survivor community—sons and daughters, along with grandchildren—play a crucial role in the process of transmitting memory to the children of today.
This year, JCDS third through eighth graders gathered in the sifriya (library) for a short tekes (ceremony). The ceremony included lighting of the six yizkor candles (to commemorate the 6 million lives lost), reciting El Maleh Rachamim (a memorial prayer for victims of the Holocaust, see below), and singing “Eili, Eili” while Kayla Shechter, ’23, accompanied the students on her cello. As the tekes concluded, students were instructed to zachor, to remember.
We are so grateful to Natty Hoffman, P‘28, for sharing her personal family story with our community to help our students remember. With three newly bound machzorim (bookbinding performed by JCDS alumna Rachel Jackson, ’06), Natty shared her grandparents’ remarkable story of survival. She also shared the successful retrieval of the buried machzorim, hidden for safekeeping during the Holocaust, and extracted decades later in Slovakia.
Second through eighth graders had the privilege of listening to Natty tell her story in age-appropriate ways. In the second grade, students listened and asked so many questions, such as: Why were the books so important that her grandparents wanted to bury them? Why does Natty prefer to pray with these books and not new ones? How do we learn from objects from our history? How did the grandparents cover the hole in order to hide the books? Through maps, photos and Natty’s openness, our students honored the history of the Shoah while remembering the 6 million Jews who lost their lives. Together, students fulfilled the intention of this day: zachor, remember.
“El Maleh Rachamim” (“God, Full of Mercy”)
A memorial prayer for victims of the Holocaust
God full of mercy
defender of widows and father of orphans
be not silent or restrained regarding the blood which was spilt like water
grant proper rest beneath the wings of Your Presence
in the great heights of the holy and pure
who like the brilliance of the heavens give light and shine
for the souls of multitudes of thousands, men, women, boys and girls
who were killed, and slaughtered, and burnt, and suffocated, and buried alive
in the lands touched by the hand of the German oppressor and its followers
all of them holy and pure
may the Garden of Eden be their resting place
therefore may the Master of mercy shelter them in the shelter of His wings for eternity
and bind their souls with the bond of life
God is their inheritance
and may they find peaceful repose in their resting place
and let us say: Amen
אל מלא רחמים דיין אלמנות ואבי יתומים אל נא תחשה ותתאפק לדם שנשפך כמים המצא מנוחה נכונה על כנפי השכינה, במעלות קדושים וטהורים, כזהר הרקיע מאירים ומזהירים לנשמותיהם של רבבות אלפים אנשים ונשים, ילדים וילדות נהרגו ונשחטו ונשרפו ונחנקו ונקברו חיים בארצות אשר נגעה בהן יד הצורר הגרמני וגרוריו כלם קדושים וטהורים בגן עדן תהא מנוחתם לכן בעל הרחמים יסתירם בסתר כנפיו לעולמים, ויצרור בצרור החיים את נשמותיהם יי הוא נחלתם ינוחו בשלום על משכבם ונאמר אמן
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