Passover, the week-long celebration of the Biblical liberation from slavery, is almost over. Just a few days ago Jews around the world sat together at seders and sang songs both silly and profound. It should be a joyous time.
And yet, this weekend we will recite the Yizkor (it means memorial) prayers, and next Wednesday evening we will observe Yom Hashoah, commemorating the Holocaust.
This inter-twining of joy and sorrow is pervasive within Judaism. Our tradition routinely reminds us of happy times when we are in sorrow, sorrowful times when we are happy.
I find this oddly comforting. It reminds me of the story about King Solomon, who asked his advisors to find him a talisman that would make him happy when he was sad. They gave him a ring with the inscription “this too shall pass.” It was a little more than he asked for, however, since the phrase applies both to times of joy and times of sorrow.
And so, as the end of the Passover holiday draws near, we briefly set aside our joy and hold a memorial service, reciting prayers and poems in memory of loved ones.
And then just a few days later we will observe Yom Hashoah, a day remembering all Jews who died during the Holocaust; family, friends, and strangers alike. It will be a beautiful spring day here in Sarasota, and yet it will be tinged with the darkness of unimaginable loss.
The date, the 27th of the month of Nisan, was chosen because it is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and here too we see two disparate elements drawn together. The full name of the day is Yom Hashoah V’Hagevurah – “Remembrance of the Holocaust and the Heroism.”
The name was chosen as a reminder that not all Jews were mere victims. There were also many who engaged in passive resistance and, as demonstrated by the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, active resistance.
If you are here in Sarasota, I invite you to join me tomorrow evening for our Shabbat service, which will be a little quieter than normal but still musical and uplifting, and will include a brief Yizkor service.
And I hope that you also will find a Yom Hashoah observance near you. In Sarasota, you can join me Wednesday night at 7:00pm at Temple Sinai, when several local rabbis, including myself, will take part in a moving Yom Hashoah observance.
And if you were wondering, the word “shoah” means whirlwind. “Yom Hashoah” literally means day of the whirlwind. I can think of no better name for the horror that spread across Europe so many years ago, and yet, so very recently.