Jewish identity is steeped not as much in history as in collective memory. Just two weeks ago at the seder, we recited (and hopefully felt):
בכל דור ודור, חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצה ממצרים.
In every generation, we are obliged to see ourselves as if we left Mitzrayim.
What an astounding concept! Yetzias mitzrayim is not an ancient event like the Peloponnesian War that we read about in a textbook. It is in our souls, a part of who we are. Even Shabbos is celebrated zecher l’yetzias mitzrayim.
The Shoah ended 78 years ago, not 3,800. Those who through the grace of Hashem somehow survived built families, communities, institutions. Most of them are no longer with us. But their pain, trauma, struggles and triumphs are very much alive, part of our collective memory. And not just memory! Whether transmitted genetically or psychically, the trauma of the children and grandchildren of survivors is real. Holocaust “memoirs” continue to be written by descendants; one was reviewed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. Two friends of mine, both children of survivors, recently argued about whether today’s antisemitism is more akin to 1932 or 1938 ל”ע. Though born after the Holocaust, those earlier dates are alive to them.
Whether we commemorate the Shoah on Yom Hashoah or Yom HaKaddish HaKlali or Tisha b’Av, we collectively empathize with the victims and the survivors and their descendants. And we commit ourselves to honoring their memories and their suffering by strengthening the Jewish community spiritually and physically. As Pirkei Avos teaches us, the world perpetuates through learning Torah, prayer and acts of kindness. Today is a good day to recommit ourselves, for their sake and ours.