OpinionJewish & Israeli Holidays

‘Yizkor.’ Remember. Again.

How many memorials can we handle simultaneously?

Bread. Credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixaby.
Bread. Credit: Alexas_Fotos/Pixaby.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from Ktav.com and Amazon.

We have just concluded Passover. On the last day of the holiday, we recited Yizkor, the memorial prayer for our departed loved ones. In many synagogues around the world, in addition to our personal Yizkor prayers, we added memorial prayers for the Six Million and for Israel’s fallen heroes.

We are still fighting a war in Gaza. Hezbollah is increasing its attacks from the north. There is seemingly no end in sight. Now, come Sunday, we will be called upon to observe Yom Hashoah. Here we are, struggling in the aftermath of the massacres and atrocities of Oct. 7—a mini-Holocaust in its own right—and now we are expected to remember the Holocaust itself. I’m sure it will be a bit much for many of us.

It is now more than 80 years since the Holocaust. The number of survivors among us is diminishing all too quickly. The child survivors are today elderly men and women. Please God, may they be with us for many more years to come.

When we think of Israel, we are always remembering those who gave their lives in our defense, as we should. But I don’t think we give enough thought to the injured, the many seriously wounded and those who, tragically, have been maimed for life. Presumably, almost all these brave fighters have been traumatized to one degree or another and will, no doubt, require much therapy when this is all over, please God soon.

Similarly, I wonder if we ever gave enough attention to those who survived the Holocaust but were also traumatized for life.

My late father, Shimon Goldman, was the sole survivor of his family in Poland. By the miracles of God, he escaped Poland. He fled to Vilna and when his Lubavitch yeshivah there received life-saving visas from the legendary Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, he traveled with his fellow students to Moscow and then across Russia to Vladivostok. They took a boat to Kobe, Japan, where they spent a year. In 1941, when Japan joined Nazi Germany in World War II, they moved on to Shanghai, where they spent the rest of the war years until they received visas to go to the United States.

Though orphaned and alone in the world from his teenage years on, my father never lost his mind, his faith or his sense of humor. He rebuilt his family and, when he passed away at age 91, he left behind children, grandchildren and 80 great-grandchildren. Today, there are many more, thank God.

But does that mean he was not scarred? We don’t have an inkling of the inner trauma that he must have experienced in his life. In his 1950 wedding pictures, he, the bridegroom, isn’t smiling. Having had no parents to escort him to the chuppah, was it any wonder? In 1961, during the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel, he woke up with nightmares screaming, “Eichmann araus!” Outwardly, he was fine, functional and a pillar of his community on many levels. Inwardly? We have no idea.

My friend’s father-in-law also survived Auschwitz and went on to rebuild his family in London, becoming a successful diamond merchant. But whenever he traveled, in his carry-on case together with his tallit and tefillin, there was always one more item he would never travel without: a loaf of bread. As successful as he was, the hunger pangs of Auschwitz remained with him for life.

I once read a story of a man in Talpiot, Israel, who lived in a big, beautiful villa but would collect the leftovers after the Kiddush in shul on Shabbat morning. One day, a little boy in his innocence asked the man directly: “Excuse me, sir; I don’t understand. You have a beautiful home. Why do you need to collect the leftovers?”

The man looked at the boy and replied: “How could you understand? Were you in Auschwitz?”

Can we understand this? Can we—born in freedom and privilege—grasp what they must have lived through for the rest of their lives?

Besides the Six Million who perished, a generation of survivors was scarred for life.

And the world would have us simply forgive and forget!

Today, we see clearly how the past informs the future. Who would have believed possible what is happening now in the United States at “enlightened” universities?

That’s why we dare not allow ourselves the luxury of national amnesia. We can never forget, and we can never tire of remembering the past.

And so, as difficult as it may be, even now, in the throes of another war against the new Nazis of today, we will still remember the Six Million martyrs of the Holocaust and honor their memories.

At the same time, we will pledge to stand strong against every enemy on any battlefield—whether in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Iran, or even against anti-Israel and anti-Jewish protesters on the Ivy League college campuses of America.

When we do, let us also spare a special thought for the traumatized survivors of then and now.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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