On behalf of Temple Beit HaYam, I thank everyone who has come here today to the opening of this important exhibit and this ceremony of remembrance. I particularly thank my partners in bringing this event to the Blake Library: Sara Johnson of the Martin County Public Library system, and Ted Gover of the Foundation for California, our master of ceremonies. It has been a pleasure working with you to make today happen.
Today is Yom HaShoah, the day on the Jewish calendar for Holocaust Remembrance. Temple Beit HaYam has forgone the service that we usually observe in the Temple on this date in order to be a part of this public ceremony. It was an easy choice. The memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis – along with the nearly six million Romani, Slavs, prisoners of war, the disabled, homosexuals, communists and Jehovah's Witnesses who were murdered by the Nazis – is not a memory entrusted only to the Jews. We are here in one of our community’s most treasured places of civic engagement because the memory of the Nazis’ victims is for all of us to keep. We remember together a central theme of this day: Never again.
Yom HaShoah always falls in the week following Passover, our holiday of freedom that celebrates God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Jews celebrate Passover with a seder, a festive meal with symbolic foods representing the bitterness of slavery and sweetness of freedom.
This year for Passover, my family joined with some of our new relatives around the Passover table. You see, my brother-in-law got married two days before Passover began to a nice Jewish woman in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. So, our seder included not only our usual collection of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, it also included my new sister-in-law’s family, including her German-born father and her German Lutheran uncle and two aunts who made the trip from Germany for the wedding.
The guests from Germany had never been to a Passover seder, but they were delighted when we asked them to recite the famous Four Questions in German. We were all happy to have them participate in our joyous and sacred occasion.
Why do I mention this on Yom HaShoah? I was raised on stories of my family’s escape during World War II. My grandparents and their three children – my mother and her two brothers were all under three years old – fled Paris two days before the German army entered. As Jews, they knew that their very lives depended on staying ahead of the Nazi army.
When I was a child, I heard my grandfather tell me about his three sisters who were taken by the Nazis from their native town of Nagykároly, Hungary, and these three women in their 20s and 30s died in the fetid squalor of the cattle cars. Or, so my grandfather told me. Even as I child, I understood that my grandfather’s description of his sisters’ murders may have been a matter of wishful thinking. He may not have been able to bear the thought that they may have died in the terror of Auschwitz’s gas chambers.
Yet, despite my history and upbringing, this Passover I sat around a seder table with my new German cousins in celebration and with love. Why do I mention this on Yom HaShoah? It is because I believe that “Never again,” is only one of the lessons of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was not just the greatest disaster in the history of the Jewish people. It was the greatest disaster in the history of the human race. It is not just for Jews to remember the Holocaust; it is for all humanity. The memory of the Holocaust unifies us. It reminds us that the very survival of the human race requires us to see each other as brothers and sisters. That is the second great message of this day.
There is little if any enmity between Jews and Germans today. Germany is one of Israel’s strongest supporters and partners, with cooperation on a number of cultural, trade, scientific and military programs. If there can be reconciliation and friendship between Germans and Jews just 70 years after the Holocaust, if a rabbi who is the son and grandson of people who narrowly escaped death during the Holocaust can sit joyfully with his German Christian relatives at a Passover seder, then there is hope that the lesson has been learned, at least in part.
Today, part of the legacy of the greatest catastrophe in the history of the human race should be for us to know and to care about each other. It is for us to come together in recognition that we are all children of the same God. Today, we say, “Never again,” and we also say, let there be no barriers that prevent us from seeing each other as brothers and sisters.