Today, I gave a student of mine a little pamphlet I received a number of years ago called “Megillat HaShoah” The Holocaust Megillah. I explained to her how uncomfortable I am about the ritualization of something that is so personal — almost all my uncles, aunts, cousins and two grandparents from Trochenbrod/Lozhist and Luck (Lutzk) were killed in the Shoah. My parents barely made it out alive, staying one step ahead of the Nazis for the better part of the war.
Yet, as I read the posts today from othe people, and as I was confronted by my own 2 small children with questions about the Shoah, I realized that maybe there is something to ritualizing the memory of the Shoah.
But I would suggest another route.
I think we should take our ritual cues from the Passover seder. The entire seder is built around explaining to kids the history and the significance of slavery and the freedom that came after so many years of suffering. We ritually re-enact our slavery and we celebrate our liberation (We even spill a little wine in respect for the suffering of the Egyptians, though I don’t think I can do this just yet.)
Perhaps we need a Holocaust “seder” — a formal setting where we allow the children to ask the questions, and provide them with the answers — there are plenty of answers for every type of question from every type of child, including the one who doesn’t know how to ask.
Lest you think I am being cavalier about all this, remember that there is a Midrash that recounts how 80% of the Hebrew population died in Egypt before the Exodus — that’s four out of five! Yet we celebrate Passover as a national holiday. By the same token, we shouldn’t forget that in Israel the commemoration s called Yom Hashoah veHagevurah — Holocaust and Empowerment day. Every time I put on Tefillin, turn on the radio, learn with my kids or just walk the streets of Jerusalem I see the Jewish people overcoming the Nazi terror, going through the crucible and emerging, refined.
How do I explain the Holocaust to my kids? The same way as I do the Passover exodus. We were slaves. Now we are free. Do we become like our oppressors or do we rise above them?
Let’s go learn.