Yizkor Remembrance is a Mitzvah
This week we marked 76 years since the end of the Holocaust. Why was Yom HaShoah observed this week? The Israeli Knesset choose this week, because it coincides with Warsaw Ghetto uprising which was the turning point for Jews from victimhood to active resistance both physically and spiritually.
Many years ago, I visited my grandfather’s shtetl, Stavisht, near Kiev and stood at the mass grave where my mishpucha, family, cousins, and the members of the Jewish community where murdered by the Einsatzgruppen and their collaborators. I met two elderly Jewish sisters, Sura and Golda, still living in the shtetl in the mid 1990’s. We spoke in Yiddish and I asked them on what date did this tragedy occur? I wanted to light a yahrzeit candle in honor of their memory. “Ven iz dos geshen? When did this happen?” “Vays nisht. We don’t know” “We had run away. We only know it happened during Tishrey, but we don’t know the exact day.” It was in that moment – that suddenly I understood why we have
Yom Hashoah. People died, and we don’t even know when. Yom HaShoah is for those millions for whom we do not know when to light their Yahrzeit candle. Yom HaShoah is a collective day of remembrance for those who would otherwise been deprived of Yahrzeit. Anachnu Zochrim – we remember them.
During our congregation’s Yom HaShoah ceremony, I lit a Yahrzeit candle in memory of, Rabbi Leybe Wilfond, my grandfather’s cousin. He was the chief Rabbi of the Central Synagogue of Uman (Ukraine) and a published author of several books on Halucha – Jewish customs. When the Nazis came to Uman, the community was told to gather in the synagogue where they were trapped inside without food or water. After two days when they were ordered by loud speakers to come out of the building Rabbi Leyb Wilfond led his community. Holding a Torah scroll he was the first to walk out the doors of the synagogue. He was shot dead on the spot along with his daughter. A survivor told this story to my cousin Aviva Futorian in Jerusalem who told it to me. The middle name of my son Raphael is Lev for Rabbi Leyb Wilfond. I lit this candle for Rabbi Leyb Wilfond and his daughter Sonya who were killed in Uman. No family members survived to say kaddish. This candle is for them.I also lit a sixth candle for those among the six million whose stories are unknown. They jumped from trains, broke legs and limbs and died, alone. They hid in cellars, starving to death and died, alone. They hid in the forest and froze to death, alone. They were hunted down and killed, alone. This sixth candle is for all those whose deaths were not recorded. We remember that many died alone. We will not forget them. When we stop and remember and light a Yahrzeit candle – now they are not alone.
I have been moved by these words written on the walls of a cellar in Cologne Germany, where Jews were hiding from the Nazis.
“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.I believe in love even when feeling it not.I believe in God even when God is silent. “
As we observe 76 years since the defeat of the Nazis, may we move from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from words to deeds, from forgetfulness to remembrance, from isolation to community, from death to life renewed.
Rabbi David Wilfond