The tenth day of Teves is rapidly approaching. It is one of the sad dates in the Jewish calendar, for it commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nevuchadnetzar leading to the eventual destruction of the First Holy Temple. In December 1949, The Rabbinate in Israel decreed that a universal Kaddish day (Yom HaKaddish HaKlali) be commemorated for the victims of the Holocaust on this day. It was declared as a day of memorial for those of the six million k’doshim for whom there is no known day of death. It is also a day, I might venture to add, to memorialize those who have no one alive to say Kaddish for them.
The first one took place on December 28, 1949, and has continued each year ever since. Of course, in the early years, the survivors took front and center stage in the remembrance program; but as the years have gone by, fewer and fewer of them have been able to actively participate. As with all Holocaust commemorations, the younger generation rarely participates. One tends to see individuals 75 years or older at these events, and the involvement of the majority of the community is negligible, which is very unfortunate. I find this personally very distressing and disrespectful to the memory of the six million.
As a child of Holocaust survivors, I am very sensitive to the fact that entire families and small towns were wiped out by the Nazis through their Einsatzgruppen (murder squads) and treachery leaving no zeicher behind. I am fortunate (relatively speaking) that my parents were able to find out the actual dates of death of my grandparents and closest relatives, so we have yahrzeit dates. But there are so many survivors who do not have knowledge of what actually happened to their nearest and dearest, and when. For convenience sake, many use Tish’ah B’Av (the Ninth Day of Av – the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, with the destruction of both Holy Temples) or Yom Kippur when we light candles anyway for the deceased as their designated yahrzeit.
If each of us would assume the responsibility
for remembering one person, as our own special project,
the tenth day of Teves would become more meaningful
Whatever dates are used are perfectly appropriate, as long as the k’doshim are not forgotten. As we keep losing the survivors through attrition, the onus of remembering must fall on all of us. We must all feel that we are the “sh’eiris ha’pleitah (the remainders of Shoah era), and it is incumbent upon us to pick up the gauntlet and recall.
How do we do that? Many are uncomfortable dealing with the Yom HaShoah commemoration because it falls in the month of Nisan, when traditionally we do not have eulogies and memorial prayers. So the tenth day of Teves is a perfect alternative. It is already a designated fast day and an optimum opportunity to congregate and remember our k’doshim. It is a chance to instill a religious component into the remembrance and have a unified gathering in a manner that is dignified, respectful, and acceptable to all Jews. But we must attend these events. It should not matter if you are directly affected by the Shoah or not – for all Jews are brothers.
The more we lose the Holocaust generation, the more difficult commemorating the Shoah in a meaningful fashion becomes to the younger Jews. A universal Kaddish day is dependent on some sort of Jewish commitment and heart-tugging emotion. Asarah B’Teves must be embedded in Jewish consciousness and take on greater importance then just being a short fast day. It should be a day of national rededication to the values, traditions, and responsibilities that have been passed on to us as the Jewish people. We must be united, determined, and defiant that our k’doshim did not die in vain.
It galls me that people think that observing a Holocaust commemoration is not their concern. After all, it happened a long time ago and we need to think about the here and now. That point of view is very myopic. We must realize that by the grace of G-d we were born in a different time period and continent. If we had lived in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe, we would have been the ones subjected to being put into ghettos, slave labor camps, and concentration camps, and we would be eyewitnesses to the horrors and atrocities of Nazi barbarism, that is if we lived through all that hell. It is incumbent upon us to reflect and think about that tragic period in Jewish history. We can’t wipe that painful period under the rug because it is inconvenient and makes us feel uncomfortable.
Maybe if each of us would assume the responsibility for remembering one person, as our own special project, and resolve to never forget him/her, the tenth day of Teves would become more meaningful. Just think of someone that might be your age or the age of one your children who may possibly have had the same name, but who did not survive or have anyone alive to say Kaddish for them. Think of how rewarding an experience that would be. At least one million k’doshim have no one to pay tribute to them. Let’s do our part not to let them be forsaken.
I have personally taken on the responsibility of saying Kaddish for a young woman whom the Nazis forced my mother to witness her hanging for the crime of putting cardboard on her feet to protect her from the cold. Her last words were “Fargest mir nisht” (Don’t forget me). I have pledged to honor her final wish on the tenth day of Teves.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org