Yom Hashoah

This is the duty of our generation as we enter the twenty-first century — solidarity with the weak, the persecuted, the lonely, the sick, and those in despair. It is expressed by the desire to give a noble and humanizing meaning to a community in which all members will define themselves not by their own identity but by that of others. — Elie Weisel
The full name of the day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“–literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.” It is marked on the 27th day in the month of Nisan–a week after the seventh day of Passover, and a week before Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers).

The date was selected by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) on April 12, 1951. Although the date was established by the Israeli government, it has become a day commemorated by Jewish communities and individuals worldwide.

The Sirens

Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for two minutes of silent devotion. The siren blows at sundown and once again at 11:00 A.M. on this date.

All radio and television programs during this day are connected in one way or another with the Jewish destiny in World War II, including personal interviews with survivors. Even the musical programs are adapted to the atmosphere of Yom Hashoah. There is no public entertainment on Yom Hashoah, as theaters, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed throughout Israel.

Jews in North America observe Yom Hashoah within the synagogue as well as in the broader Jewish community. Commemorations range from synagogue services to communal vigils and educational programs.

New Rituals

Rituals associated with Yom Hashoah are still being created and vary widely among synagogues. Attempts have also been made to observe this memorial day at home. One suggestion is that every Jewish home should light a yahrzeit (memorial) candle on this day.

There have been numerous attempts to compose special liturgy (text and music) for Yom Hashoah. In 1988 the Reform movement published Six Days of Destruction. This book, co-authored by Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Albert Friedlander, was meant to be viewed as a “sixth scroll,” a modern addition to the five scrolls that are read on specific holidays. Six narratives from Holocaust survivors are juxtaposed to the six days of creation found in Genesis.

While Yom Hashoah rituals are still in flux there is no question that this day holds great meaning for Jews worldwide. The overwhelming theme that runs through all observances is the importance of remembering — recalling the victims of this catastrophe, and insuring that such a tragedy never happen again.

The Shoah (Holocaust) posed an enormous challenge to Judaism and raised many questions: Can one be a believing Jew after the Holocaust? Where was God? How can one have faith in humanity? Facing this recent event in history, does it really matter if one practices Judaism? Jewish theologians and laity have struggled with these questions for decades. The very fact that Jews still identify Jewishly, practice their religion–and have embraced the observance of Yom Hashoah answers some of the questions raised by the Holocaust.

More information available at My Jewish Learning and US Memorial Museum

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Have any questions?

Want to chat about Jewish hoidays or Jewish life? Debbie Goodman would love to answer your questions either via email or by phone at 303.316.6317.
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