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01/27/2017 12:54:33 PM



"If anyone has a reason to hate, I have one, but I don't hate, do you know why?  Hate, racism, and anti-Semitism led to murder, so as much as I hurt, I do not hate."  - Sonia Klein, 91 years old. 

These words were uttered in a video by the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) as part of a new video series featuring survivors and their stories, using the hashtag #wewerethere (click here to view these videos on their Facebook page)

Today, January 27, is recognized by the United Nations General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day (click here tolearn more about this special day).  The question is, why remember the pains of the past?  The parshiot that we read during these weeks which focus on our time in slavery in Egypt can give us some insight.  During these weeks, we read about our ancestor's enslavement, the genocide that occurred through the murdering of infant Israelite boys, and their degradation, but also how they were liberated from Egypt and redeemed by God.   However, it is not only during these weeks, the first parshiot of the book of Exodus, that we are reminded of this cycle.  Every Shabbat, during the Kiddush, we invoke the collective memory of Yitziat Mitzraim (zecher yitziat mitzraim), our journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom and redemption.  During our Amen! class, our monthly men's study and discussion course, we read the following words published by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies (Rabbis Alexander and Brous) on the subject of Shabbat: 

"In Kiddush, the blessing sanctifying Shabbat which is said over wine every Friday night, we evoke the memory of the Exodus from Egypt. What does Egypt have to do with our celebration of Shabbat? The Rabbis knew that it was not enough to reaffirm to the great redemptive vision that grew out of the experience of leaving Egypt only once a year, at Passover. Instead, we need to remind ourselves of the possibility of freedom and transformation - personal and national - constantly. And especially on Shabbat. But that exercise in memory must never be only for its own sake. In the words of the Slonimer Rebbe, a great 20th century Hassidic teacher:

'Every Shabbat has the power to bring redemption to the world. And this is why the commandment is written, "Keep the Shabbat, and sanctify it. And you must remember, because you were a slave in Egypt" - it is incumbent upon every Jew to remember and truly know [the experience of the liberation from slavery], because it is on Shabbat that the possibility of Yetziat Mitzrayim, (the liberation of those enslaved) is renewed. And this is not exclusively for the sake of memory, rather it is for the sake of actually doing the work of Shabbat. A Jew must rise up from a place of degradation, a devastating situation, and find within him/herself ultimate freedom. And as our teacher taught: the essence of Shabbat is the memory of Yetziat Mitzrayim because it is upon every Jew to remember that it is his/her life's work to leave Egypt, and with the strength of the holy Shabbat, to bring redemption to the world.'

Shabbat then is not just about affirming that things can be different.  Shabbat actually has redemptive power - a power that can shape our experience of the world and help turn the tide of human history - because it leaves us with a mandate to live differently in the coming week than we did in the past; to see our personal liberation from exhaustion, overwork, anxiety, despair as a microcosm for the liberation of the Jewish people and all people; to see each week as an opportunity to elevate our reality to reflect a bit more of what ought to be.  Week after week, year after year, century after century, the Jewish people walk through history with this charge: things can be better. They must be better. Do not forget the great dreams our people have carried, encoded in our rituals and our traditions, for thousands of years. Now go - and become agents of the change you want to see."

These practices of constant remembrances help turn the language from 'they' (our ancestors) to 'we' (us today). This is how we can authentically use the words, #wewerethere.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember the real people, six million innocent Jewish men, women, and children, and millions of others including the Roma, homosexuals, the physically and mentally disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses populations, and others; and the survivors.  We remember them on an individual level, because they lived, they were real, and there are survivors amongst us today to testify to this time, this modern version of genocide, slavery and redemption. For the past three years, I have attended the United States Holocaust Memorial annual luncheon with a number of our congregants (thank you to Dan and Betsy Schwimmer for bringing us to the this special event) and my grandfather, Frank Baum, a survivor.  This Monday at 11:30 am, we will sit together again.  It is one of the great blessings of my life that I can sit next to him during this important event for another year.  But as he often tells me, remembering the Holocaust is not just about the past, but also about the future. 

We remember 'them', our ancestors, not only for the past, but also for the future.  We remember them to ensure that the charge of never again:  never again will we watch hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, and genocide occur unchallenged.  We remember them because #wewerethere, and because #wewerethere, we are here.  

Shabbat is a time when we taste a bit of heaven, the world as it could be.  Let the lessons of slavery and redemption fill us up so we can act with righteousness during the six days of the week.  

I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and a Chodesh Tov.  

Rabbi David Baum

Thu, April 18 2019 13 Nisan 5779