Space to Remember: Commemorating the Holocaust with Olim in Israel
By Israel Forever Staff
Copyright © Dudu Vakhnin
In Israel, there is no shortage of Yom HaShoah ceremonies. From the national program at Yad Vashem to the community gatherings at nearly every city, yishuv, moshav, or community center across our small land, and even to the living rooms of survivors sharing their experiences in the very intimate and amazing Zikaron B’Salon initiative, Holocaust memory is part and parcel of Israeli culture and identity.
We know that Israel doesn’t exist because of the Holocaust, but rather that Israel is the insurance against any future attempts to dehumanize, debase or destroy the Jewish nation. It is this reality for which together, as one people, citizens of Israel pay tribute to the past on the very soil that defines her future.
Most of the programs that take place making this dark event are in Hebrew; powerful speeches and heartbreaking memories are shared in our national language, passed down throughout the generations and centuries. For the many Olim who have come to build their lives here in our homeland, it can be a challenge to feel connected and to find a place to come together as a community and remember the history of our people.
This year, The Israel Forever Foundation again partnered with Adopt-a-Safta and Nefesh B’Nefesh for the 3rd annual Yom HaShoah Memorial Ceremony in English, the sole events of their kind in Israel. Between the event venues in Tel Aviv at the Goren Shul and Jerusalem at Beit Yehudit with Even Yerushalmit, nearly 800 people joined us for two incredibly moving experiences of collective memory with guest speakers Carol Elias and Professor Arthur Shostok as well as guest educator, Samantha Vinokor, as the leader of the Jerusalem ceremony.
This year's ceremonies focused on an often-forgotten aspect of the Holocaust experience: the death marches which spanned the various phases of the Holocaust from 1940 through the very last day of the war on May 8, 1945.
Curated and produced by Dr. Elana Heideman, Executive Director of the Israel Forever Foundation and Holocaust scholar, the program was a compilation of historical information and personal testimony, woven together to encourage those in the audience to consider the moments of horror, of hope, and even compassion that took place during these treacherous journeys and dangerous times.
“Together, we recalled the hope that persevered in spite of immense suffering, we learned of the rebuilding of life in Israel, and as witnesses to witness, we expressed our collective desire to comprehend how survivors have coped with the painful memories so that we too, might learn lessons that we can relate to in the future,” recounted Dr. Heideman, who has lent her expertise in the memorial program design for over 20 years to communities around the world.
When one decides to make Aliyah, they are challenged to understand the uniqueness of Holocaust memory in Israel which often differs from Holocaust memory for Jews in the Diaspora. They seek out ways they can feel a part of the collective Israel experience of memory.
These annual Yom HaShoah ceremonies are intended to give Olim a chance to stop for a moment and reflect on their own journey, on the reasons they came to build a life here in Israel, and how remembering the Holocaust binds all Jews together, wherever they might be from in the world.
Forever, will there remain an echo of a dream unfulfilled for those that perished in the Holocaust - that someday we might return to our ancient homeland to live free as Jews in a Jewish State - uttering the words of Hatikvah up until their last moments of life.
As we, Olim from all over the world, sang Hatikvah, our hearts are lifted knowing that we are living their dream and protecting the memory of both their suffering and their life, identity, and hopes for generations to come.
And we at Israel Forever, with our partner organizations, look forward to ensuring that they will always have a space to remember.