Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Following World War II and the establishment of the state of Israel, four new holidays, referred to as ‘modern’ Jewish holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar. Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day)Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) are observed as national holidays in Israel, and recognized around the world by Jewish communities.

Yom HaShoah, also known as Yom Hashoah VeHagevurah, literally means the “day of remembrance of the Catastrophe and the Heroism.” It is commemorated on the 27th day in the month of Nisan. The observance is held one week after the seventh day of Passover. It also falls one week before Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers.

The day is also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, for those who died in the Shoah. The word holocaust comes from a Greek word meaning “sacrifice by fire.”

When the 27th of Nisan occurs on a Friday or Sunday, Yom Hashoah is observed the previous Thursday or the following Sunday. This is done to avoid the commemoration of Yom Hashoah adjacent with Sabbath.

Dates for Yom HaShoah

Hebrew Dates:

28 Nisan
5776

28 Nisan
5777

27 Nisan
5778

28 Nisan
5779

Gregorian Dates:
(begins sundown, evening before)

May 4
2016

April 24
2017

April 12
2018

May 2
2019

 

History
The Shoah, or Holocaust, was initiated by members of the Nationalist Socialist Party (Nazi) which seized power in Germany in 1933. The Nazis believed in the concept of racial superiority, holding that the people of Northern European descent – particularly the Germanic peoples – were better than other races. While many experienced suffering, torture and death, the Nazis held a particular disdain for the Jewish people, counting them “unworthy of life.”

Of the nine million Jews who resided in Europe in the early 1930s, approximately six million – roughly two-thirds – were systematically concentrated, tortured and slain by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Estimates are given that as many as a million of this number were children. A network of over 40,000 facilities across the German occupied European territories was used to execute the plan of the regime.

The persecution and ultimate genocide followed a carefully concocted strategy. All peoples were required to register through a census program. Various laws were passed to exclude the Jews from the rights of regular society. Many of these were enumerated in the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 and were enacted in Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II.

Jews were denied admission into universities, were fired from their jobs, and were made to surrender property and some personal items. The sale of food and clothing to Jews was prohibited or restricted. Civil ceremonies were denied to the Jews. Law suits and imprisonment haunted those who used to be considered law-abiding, influential citizens.

Concentration camps were established everywhere that Germany conquered and occupied a territory. The camps subjected the inmates to horrific labor and torture and forced these individuals to live in inhumane conditions. Many of the people died of exhaustion, malnutrition or disease in these camps. German drug companies tested their products on camp prisoners. Gas chambers and crematorias were built to administer the German form of systematic execution.

When Germany would occupy a new region, specialized military units were brought in to perform mass executions of the Jewish population and others who opposed the political aspirations of Hitler. Recent estimates based on information obtained after the fall of the Soviet Union list the number of Jews executed in this fashion at about a million.  In the final months of the war, German SS guards moved inmates by train or marches to prevent the Allied Forces from setting large numbers of prisoners free. These “death marches” continued until May 7, 1945 when Germany surrendered to the Allies.

Many survivors of the Holocaust found shelter in Allied camps for displaced persons. Between 1948 and 1951, over a half million Jews emigrated to Israel. Others found refuge and new starts in the United States, Canada and other nations.

Customs and Rituals
The date for the remembrance of the Holocaust was selected by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) shortly after Israel became a state. The following year a formal law was enacted setting aside remembrance in the nation of Israel and among Jewish communities worldwide.

Since the 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops all activity throughout Israel and for two minutes a time of silent devotion is observed throughout. The siren also blows once at sundown and once again at 11:00am. All radio and television programming during the entire day is connected in one way or another with the events of World War II. There is no public entertainment on this day as almost every public business is closed on this national holiday.

Rituals and traditions for this holiday are still in the process of being formed. Services vary from synagogue to synagogue. Some are trying to create a movement which would have memorial candles lit in the homes on this day. Most synagogues and Jewish communities gather together for a day of worship, music and poetry, and stories from survivors.

Today many commemorate Yom HaShoah by trying to incorporate themes of personal social justice into their observances. Connections can be made with Holocaust survivors and their families. Donations can be made to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Time and money can be given to worldwide organizations that work toward preventing genocide and human trafficking and slavery.

Funerals and Mourning during Yom Hashoah
Jewish teaching is very specific about how the deceased should be properly mourned by the family and there are defined Periods of Mourning in Judaism. The most noticeable characteristic of Jewish mourning is the withdrawal of the family to their home following the death of a close relative.

The Jewish burial has unique and specific requirements; most notably, the burial usually takes place within a couple of days after the death. It is usually a time of stress and busyness for the family, as many decisions and details surrounding the funeral must be considered. A telephone call relaying personal condolences would be welcomed.

Public viewing of the body is against Jewish law and tradition. There is no equivalent to the wake or funeral visitation. Today Jewish funerals are held at a funeral home, synagogue, cemetery building or graveside. Attending a funeral is a demonstration of care and concern for the surviving family and respect for the deceased. Invitations to a funeral are rarely offered, but friends are always encouraged to attend. In Judaism accompanying the family to the gravesite is one of the highest forms of kindness.

After the burial, the first a period of mourning begins. Shiva (meaning “seven”) consists of seven days of mourning during which family members remain in their home. During shiva the family would stay home from work, refrain from public appearances, and not conduct any business transactions. Friends and family members would reach out to the bereaved by visiting the home to offer comfort and support.

The solemn nature of this holiday would not disrupt the mourning traditions of shiva. However, during the holiday, it would be permissible for the family to attend congregational services, but they should not participate in any leadership role.

Because of the sensitive nature of the time of loss, a rabbi should be consulted for proper procedures for mourning during the holiday, particularly in complicated situations. The rabbi will take into account the circumstances, traditions and Scripture and offer guidance.

Remembering Loved Ones during Yom Hashoah
Yom HaShoah is a prescribed time to commemorate, honor and reflect on those who endured the pain, suffering and loss as a result of the Holocaust. This is especially true if your family has been touched by the Holocaust either through personal loss or through survivors.

Because Jewish festivals contain moments of remembrance and family, the modern holiday of Yom HaShoah is a perfect time to honor deceased family members as well. Lasting tributes such as contributions to charities, hospitals or hospices, synagogues or other organizations provide meaningful memorials for departed loved ones.

The tradition of inscribing one’s name in the book of life is a common occurrence in the Jewish faith. Families may light a yizkor candle, plant a tree in Israel, or dedicate a name plaque. Other meaningful and appropriate ways to memorialize a loved one include the creation of a Plaque and Memory page online through the National Jewish Memorial Wall (NJMW.org). The inclusion on a memorial or yahrzeit wall is a meaningful way to show honor and respect for the deceased.