On the evening of April 18, 2012, and continuing on April 19, Jewish communities around the world will come together to commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It is a solemn occasion that provides us, along with all Canadians, with a moment to mourn for all who were lost in the death camps, the ghettoes and the killing fields of Europe. Just as we remember those who were murdered, we pay tribute to those who survived and rebuilt their lives in Canada, Israel, and around the world.
In Jewish tradition, we mark the anniversary of a person’s death by reciting the Kaddish, a prayer of deep antiquity that elevates the soul of the departed and, through remembrance, forever connects those who pray with those who were lost. But how can we properly remember our departed when we have no dates of their deaths, no cemeteries to visit, and no grave stones on which we can trace the faded letters of their lives?
Yom Hashoah provides us with a place in the calendar pages where we can pause, remember, and weep.
It’s a very Jewish thing to do when you think about it. One of the commandments given in the Bible was, in essence, to mark time. This came when we were told to establish a calendar in order to know when the new month began, and thereby celebrate the Sabbath and the festivals in accordance with the will of the Creator.
How fitting it is, then, that a commandment empowers us to set a date where we defeat the will of the Nazis.
Hitler’s commandment was Vernichtung, utter destruction. The Nazis sought to wipe out even a memory of the Jewish people. Yet here we remain and here we remember.
Growing up in Hamilton, our Yom Hashoah commemoration was organized by our local community. We learned the stories of community members who survived and remembered those family members and friends that perished.
That all changed in 1998, when I worked at the Ontario Legislature. I was honoured to play a small role when Progressive Conservative MPP Ted Chudleigh introduced Bill 66, An Act to proclaim Holocaust Memorial Day — Yom Hashoah in Ontario.
That bill became law in December 1998, and I recall fondly the discussions in the Legislature when MPPs from all parties came together to speak in favour of and then pass this historic legislation. Since then, the House of Commons and nine other provinces have also passed legislation commemorating the Holocaust.
As we here in Canada stand to remember our dead and honour our living, we will also remember those righteous non-Jews who risked their lives to save both friends and strangers alike. These brave individuals understood that it was not simply the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.
This year, once again, I will join with thousands of survivors, their families, and community members at the Toronto Community Holocaust Commemoration on Wednesday, April 18, commencing at 7 p.m. at Beth Tzedec Synagogue. This annual event is co-sponsored by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
May the memories of those who died be for a blessing, and may the acts of the righteous remain an inspiration for all of us.
— Stephen A. Adler is the Associate Director of Ontario Government Relations at the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs