Editors’ Thoughts: “A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance”
On April 7, 1959, the Knesset of the State of Israel passed a law establishing the twenty-seventh of Nissan as the day on which to memorialize the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The concept of a memorial day is not new to the Jews. Our calendar is filled with days dedicated to remembering our past. Thus, dedicating this day “to remembrance of the catastrophe of the Jewish people caused by the Nazis and their aides”[ii] is meaningful, if not particularly unexpected. It is the second half of the dedication that really catches the eye: a day to also remember “the acts of Jewish heroism and resistance in that period.”[iii] On Yom ha-Zikaron la-Sho’ah ve-la-Gevurah, we not only mourn the victims, but also honor the heroes.
What is the significance of this particular date? When remembering the Holocaust, it is natural to picture hordes of helpless Jews, like sheep being sent to slaughter. But that was not the image the Knesset wished us to envision. The twenty-seventh of Nissan approximates the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,[iv] an event that represents an entirely different message. In the words of Mordecai Anielewicz, commander-in-chief of the underground Jewish Fighting Organization that orchestrated the Uprising, “The dream of my life has risen to become fact. Self-defense in the Ghetto will have been a reality. Jewish armed resistance and revenge are facts. I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men and women of battle.”[v] Jews are not a passive people who stand idly by in the face of injustice, proclaimed the heroes of the Uprising; rather, we are a nation that valiantly fights back, even when all hope seems lost.
In this time between Pesah and Shavu’ot, we cannot help but consider the unique nature of the way Jews respond to tragedy. We enter into a period of mourning over the loss of R. Akiva’s students, and then celebrate on Lag ba-Omer, when the deaths ceased. On Yom ha-Zikaron, we remember the soldiers who gave their lives to protect and defend the State of Israel, and then transition immediately to joyful celebration of our independence on Yom ha-Atsma’ut. And, of course, on Yom ha-Zikaron la-Sho’ah ve-la-Gevurah, we memorialize the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust, and yet we also pay proud tribute to the fighting martyrs.
Every morning in tefillah we quote David’s words to God: “You have changed for me my lament into dancing; you undid my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.”[vi] The history of the Jewish people is full of catastrophe. But it is also marked by our transformations, by our continued ability to not only survive, but also to flourish. Despite our deep mourning, as a people, we are able to rise and rejoice, not only once, but time and time again. Please join us in this issue of Kol Hamevaser as we not only grapple with the depths of our history, but also fathom the heights to which we have risen.
[i] Kohelet 3:4. Koren’s translation.
[ii] As cited by James E. Young, “When a Day Remembers: A Performative History of ‘Yom ha-Shoah,’” History and Memory 2,2 (Winter, 1990): 54-75, at p. 63.
[iv] Establishing Yom ha-Sho’ah on the fourteenth of Nissan, the date of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was rejected due to its proximity to Pesah. See Young for more details on the subject.
[v] Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz (eds.), The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995), 675.
[vi] Tehillim 30:12. Artscroll’s translation.