Israel’s Holocaust (Shoah) Remembrance Day
My First Three Years and Now
While most of the world marks Holocaust Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Israel chose the anniversary (on the Hebrew Calendar) of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to memorialize the Holocaust on the day officially named both for the Shoah and for the Jewish-Resistance Heroes of the uprising (learn more about Shoah Remembrance Day and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising). This year (2013), Shoah (and Heroes) Remembrance Day comes on the evening of 7 April and day of 8 April (see AP report). In honor of this, I am posting together three journal entries about my experiences of Shoah Remembrance Day from my first three years in Israel and an update. Earlier versions of the first three sections originally appeared as part of my blog, Jerusalem Imagined, Recalled, and Revisited in 2007, 2008, and 2009.
Shoah Remembrance Day, Year One in Israel (2007)
In Israel, at any given moment, horns beep at intersections the moment the yellow flashing light joins the red light, the signal that a green light is coming. I have not yet become used to this in my first few months here in Israel. Drivers insist on moving forward, push the cars in front of them by creeping up on the car in front of them before the green appears. Cars push through intersections on the other end, too, entering as the light turns red, a perpetual near-gridlock that somehow keeps flowing, however slowly and noisily, anyway.
Today, however, at 10 AM everything stopped. I sat at a busy intersection, on a green Egged bus in Tel Aviv, on my way to the bus station then to work. I heard the siren. This siren did not sound the alarm of a missile, but signaled alarming history. A man got out of his truck and stood next to it. Other drivers and passengers got out of their cars and stood.
The bus driver stood. All of us inside the bus stood. Pedestrians stood still on the sidewalks.
Why? A nation remembered the Holocaust, the Shoah. For a brief moment, a siren’s mournful wail, and a silent, standing people stretched time into the past. Everywhere quiet stillness sifted down.
Some of us on the bus remembered that during our generation, six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Some of us remembered that during our parents’ generation or our grand-parents’ generation, the Shoah cost our people and others—Gypsies, homosexuals, resistors, liberators, and, yes, German families, too—so many lives to brutality, intolerance, and hatred. Some likely remembered lost family members, or at least the names and echoing memories of those lost.
The siren sound fell. Two minutes had ended. Everyone on the bus sat back down, the pedestrians strode along their ways again, and as soon as the flashing yellow light joined the red light in front of us, a couple of horns sounded their drivers’ impatience.
Perhaps it is fitting that we continued almost as though nothing had happened. For even after our moment of remembrance, genocide continues in our own time. Distant places with names like East Timor, Rwanda, Sudan echo like impatient horns. Time for us to get a move on. Time to go. Somewhere. Anywhere.
Shoah Remembrance Day, Year Two in Israel (2008)
Last year I wrote about the sirens stopping the busy streets of Tel Aviv for two minutes of silent remembrance of the Holocaust. Now I’ve been here a little over a year, and the sirens and pause from that first experience of Shoah Remembrance Day still impress me.
Today at 10 AM, the sirens went off once again. I was in my flat, but walked out to the street to stand with the others—it’s a quiet residential street lined with apartment buildings covered in the variety of limestone known as Jerusalem stone; only a few people were outside. But we stood and remembered.
Across the street, there was an older man, dressed in white—shirt, pants, kipah (yarmulke, skull cap), his hair, his beard, all were white. One might use angelic or ghostly to describe him. He stood with his hands clasped together in front of him, hanging down and relaxed. His face held a contemplative look. As the sirens’ mourning wail subsided, he turned and walked on his way.
I returned to my flat, my email, my editing and my writing. Life goes on.
A friend wrote to me that she, a single mother of two, wonders about the “whys” of the suffering, the Shoah and the genocides that continued as the memorial sirens called for a halt, that continue as I write this.
And for me, I don’t know why. But I figure the best I can do is not forget—both not forget the past, and not forget the human suffering of today. It is not much, but to remember perhaps allows us a chance to become members again (re-member) of the human race, together, with love and peace.
We can hope, at least.
But I fear we miss the chance to re-member ourselves in the present by recollecting the past. We are too busy with recriminations and self-justifications for our own acts of barbarism, for our own privileges arising from the oppression and suffering of others.
But I want to at least hope for re-membering.
Shoah Remembrance Day, Year Three (2009)
This year, which will be my third here, Israel and I are more part of each other, I suppose. In reading through my entries for Yom HaShoah (Shoah Remembrance Day) for the past two years, I notice that I am moving more and more to the interior, though. The first year, I was on a bus in Tel Aviv (riding to work) when the siren went off at 10 AM. Last year, I walked out of my flat and observed a man on the street all dressed in white. This year, I stood inside my flat when I heard the siren, rising from my computer for only the two minutes.
Yesterday morning, I drove from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. On my way out of Jerusalem, a gridlocked intersection held me up so that it took more time to get across Jerusalem than it took me to drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, park, and go up eight floors to my appointment. The gridlock embodied the traffic craziness I wrote about in the first year’s entry on Yom HaShoah.
Cars moved out into the intersection when the light turned green, whether or not there was room. They pushed at each other from every direction, making turns into the jumbled mass of other cars. When my turn came at the front of the line, I tried to wait until a place opened in front of me across the intersection, but resistance was futile. Two drivers behind me honked their horns and, after the light cycled a couple of times without our being able to move, pulled around me into the left turn lane and just went out, pushing their way into the tangle of cars and trucks.
Eventually, after more cycles of red-yellow-green, I inched out into what little room that opened before me, eventually pushing into the intersection as my light returned to red. Cars from the cross road still had not cleared the intersection, but more poured into whatever space they could find. It was total anarchy, as though there were no traffic lights. A police car had driven through earlier, beeping and calling on the loud speaker to get through, but not doing anything to stop the gridlock.
Perhaps this intersection provides a metaphor for the Middle East. This year: Israel’s relentless war on Gaza that cost so many civilian lives; two years ago: Lebanon; ongoing: continuing rockets from Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north (if diminished in number)—all individual and collective acts of war and terror, State and individual acts of oppression and racism, religious and political fanaticism—all pushing into the intersections of humanity, blocking any path toward peace.
Today, standing and remembering the Shoah, the Holocaust of over sixty years ago, I also wished, as in years past, for an end to genocide, war, oppression, and racism in our own time. Yet I find that I am becoming more quiet, more interior—I sit at my computer, I write my thoughts, and I move on.
Like the siren’s wail, I have made my brief point, then faded into a memory. I won’t push into the gridlock of war; but I do hope to make some progress at each intersection with another human.
This is my third Yom HaShoah in Israel. May the fourth have more to celebrate in the re-membering of humanity and our travails against the smoke and fires of hatred.
Shoah Remembrance Day Now, In My Seventh Year in Israel (2013)
I didn’t write journal (blog) entries specifically for Shoah Remembrance Day in my fourth, fifth or sixth years in Israel. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because by my fourth year I was driving all over the country, at least the Central and Northern portions, to get to work at three different adjunct teaching positions. I may have even missed the moment of silence, had I been driving in the West Bank, which was part of my weekly commutes. Or it could have been because I had become used to the observance somehow.
At any rate, I don’t recall the specifics of my fourth Shoah Remembrance Day in Israel (2010). By the next year, my wife, Aviva, had given birth to our son, Moshe here in Jerusalem. Perhaps that event could have made the following Shoah Remembrance more significant and poignant, but, again, I don’t recall the fifth or sixth (last year’s) Shoah Remembrance Days, which seems just a bit forgetful of me.
Now Moshe is two and a half. His baby sister, Naomi, was born just over a month ago. Passover has just ended. And Naomi has came home today from a brief hospitalization for a localized staph infection-abscess that required IV antibiotics. This evening, Shoah Remembrance Day begins. Tomorrow morning (as I write this), the sirens will go off again. Moshe will be in daycare. Aviva and I will be home with Naomi. Perhaps, this time, I will pause again to remember the Shoah. And to recall the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
I hope that I will also remember to be grateful that my family and I are healthy and living in a future that must have been nearly unimaginable during the darkest moments of the Holocaust. Yet somehow this future is—my present, which includes two grown daughters from a previous marriage, a good relationship with my ex-wife, one grand-daughter, and now a son and daughter from this second marriage to Aviva, and a wife today who supports me in my crazy artist-writer pursuits.
All too often I lose sight of the gift of this life I have, especially while I am in the midst of my struggle to find consistent, reasonably paid employment, and in twisted with frustration from searching for my place in a land and culture that at once seems familiar and at the same time is beyond my comprehension.
I hope that I will remember all of these things, these echoes and possibilities, for Shoah Remembrance.