While I am ever-mindful that I have the privilege of living in Jerusalem after 2,000 years of exile, there are certain moments of realization – flashpoints — when I become keenly aware of how fortunate I am to participate in the beginnings of rebuilding our Jewish homeland. These snapshots in time remind me that my life in Israel transcends myself — that the scope of our historic accomplishments dwarfs any personal hardships. This past Yom HaShoah was one of those moments.
In communities throughout the world for over 2,000 years Jews have been fasting on Tisha B’Av, reading Megillat Eicha, the biblical scroll of Lamentations, remembering the destruction of the Temple and our exile from the land of Israel.
Imagine living in Biblical Israel after the return from the Babylonian exile. Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed, your people expelled from their land, and you return with Ezra the Scribe to rebuild the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. You gather with your community on Tish B’Av to fast and remember the destruction of Jerusalem. You hear the first public reading of the scroll of Lamentations.
Such was my experience this Yom Hashoah.
This year, Megillat Hashoah, the Shoah Scroll, was published in Jerusalem by the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and the international Rabbinical Assembly. It is the first scroll written to commemorate the Holocaust, following the Jewish tradition of commemorating events in our liturgy. This Yom Hashoah, I attended a ceremony at my synagogue where the newly published scroll was read.
It was an extremely moving ceremony. Not only is the megillah itself very moving, but to be in Jerusalem and attend the reading of this scroll the very year of its first publication is nothing short of historic.
Before its reading, the scroll was introduced by its author, Prof. Avigdor Shinan, a professor of Hebrew literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Several members of the academic committee who worked on it, my friends among them, were also present. Survivors and children of survivors were in the congregation. During the reading, I sat beside my mother, who left Czechslovakia in 1939 as a child, escaping to America while most of her extended family perished at the hands of the Nazis.
While written in modern Hebrew, the scroll anchors itself in our tradition with biblical phrases and some sections are read using the ancient cantillation from the Book of Lamentations.
Megillat Hashoah was written in a style similar to that of Eicha in six chapters from different voices: The Chronicler; Gertrude, a non-observant Jew whose chapter is found on a scrap of paper between two wooden beds in a concentration camp; a non-Jewish journalist who writes of his visit to a ghetto in his journal; Yaakov-David Ben Yoel-Tzvi Halevi, an observant Jew whose is forced to extract gold teeth from corpses at a death camp (including those of his brother’s); and a bat kol (a heavenly voice).
The successful integration of time-honored ritual with a story dating back less than 60 years is profoundly effective. With each chapter, I felt each voice speak to me individually; reconnecting me to those events which all-too-often become blurred into one abstraction of “The Holocaust.” Each voice told me a personal story, reminding me anew of each day of each person who suffered. Each of the voices in the scroll reflects that we must Remembering: The Megillat Hashoah preserves the pain and hope go on living; we must remember; and we must learn to accept that there is no explanation, no reason why.
The last of the six chapters tries to be comforting and even hopeful. After the reading, I stood with Jews who have come from all over the world to make their homes in Jerusalem, listened to my people sing the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah (“The Hope”) and reflected on our history. I was overcome with emotion. Hearing the closing words of Hatikvah, “We have not yet lost our hope, The hope of two thousand years, To be a free people in our land, In the land of Zion and Jerusalem” and looking around me at the successful realization of that dream, I could not speak.
Each step we take in rebuilding our homeland and in continuing a Jewish renaissance is both a way to honor those who lived before us and a way to ensure the transmission of their legacy to those who will follow us.
Soon there will be no survivors or even children of survivors to bear witness. Having just celebrated Passover and having read the Haggadah at the seder, I am convinced that the incorporation of Megillat Hashoah into a ritual reading is incumbent upon our generation if we are to pass on our memories as our forefathers passed on their memories of leaving Egypt and Jerusalem thousands of years ago. I encourage you to purchase this scroll, to read it and encourage your communities to adopt reading it as part of their Yom HaShoah Observences. I encourage you to actively participate in creating Jewish History, the history of your people.
May the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust give us strength and be a blessing. The Shoah Scroll is published in a bilingual booklet in Hebrew and English and is available for $5 from http://www.schechter.edu/bookstore/schbooks.htm