April 2021 and Yom Hashoah

April 2021 and Yom Hashoah

Children experience the magnificent ceiling of the authentically recreated 1700’s wooden synagogue, which is the centerpiece of POLIN Museum, Warsaw.

Yom Hashoah during the pandemic is unlike Yom Hashoah every other year.

Oh, certainly, we have similar elements of memorialization and lighting candles, of reciting kaddish and chanting other traditional prayers for the dead. And we always have a keynote speech, often given by a Holocaust survivor but now, with fewer and fewer survivors still remaining, these speeches are often delivered by younger members of Holocaust families.

But here’s what was different about Yom Hashoah during this pandemic: With everything on Zoom, it was no longer necessary to choose only ONE place or ONE ceremony to attend.

Yom Hashoah, which is timed to commemorate the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, is both an incredibly meaningful—and also an incredibly busy —time in the Holocaust world. Each year, I must decide exactly where I will be, and in whose city’s events I will participate. It is both hectic and (if I’m honest) also a bit maddening because, invariably, as soon as I commit to be in one city, other opportunities are offered, which I must then refuse. It’s especially difficult when these ‘other opportunities’ take place in cities where I have close friends or family.

Not this year, however.

With Zoom, it’s literally possible to be virtually EVERYWHERE, and even (impossibly) at the same time—because most of the events are recorded.

Over the several days during Yom Hashoah is observed, this year I was able to attend the national commemoration in Washington, DC with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken delivering a stirring keynote speech. In addition, I attended ceremonies in Jerusalem with Yad Vashem, in Haifa with the Ghetto Fighter’s House, a few in Europe, and a host of moving and powerful ceremonies and lectures that took place throughout the United States. In all, I estimate that I attended around 17 in all!

Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State, speaks in Washington, DC on Yom Hashoah.

Believe me, it was not my intention to spend so much time on Zoom those few days but the offerings made it impossible to say no—the lectures were superb, the speakers were often my friends, and the presentations were utterly moving, important and unforgettable. This may be the ONLY benefit of a Zoom-Only year!!

Zooming from Warsaw, Poland, here is Dariusz Stola, former director of the award-winning POLIN Museum of Polish Jewish History, as he discusses details of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as well as the symbolism of the famous Natan Rappaport sculpture and its twin sculpture in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem.


Here is a glimpse of the Yom Hashoah lecture, delivered from the nearby town of Oshpitim (this is the Jewish name of Auschwitz—which is the German name of most famous and largest of all the Nazi death camps). This bottle of kosher wine from the Haberfeld factory was a source of great pride in the town of Oshpitim, whose population in 1939 was 60% Jewish. When Jacob Haberfeld was asked to participate in the 1939 World’s Fair in NYC, he and his wife went, leaving their 2 year old daughter in the care of her maternal grandparents. WWII broke out while they were in NYC and before the Haberfeld’s could return to Poland, their child and parents were tragically murdered, together with most of the Jews of the town.

By next year, I hope, and believe that in-person events will resume and those difficult choices will again have to be made. But for this year, only this year, I’m grateful that I (and all of us could be everywhere at once!

Ann

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