Yom Hashoah

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). It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

The date was selected by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) on April 12, 1951. The full name became formal in a law that was enacted by the Knesset on August 19, 1953. Although the date was established by the Israeli government, it has become a day commemorated by Jewish communities and individuals worldwide.

In the early 1950s, education about the Holocaust (Shoah, meaning catastrophe, in Hebrew) emphasized the suffering inflicted on millions of European Jews by the Nazis. Surveys conducted in the late 1950s indicated that young Israelis did not sympathize with the victims of the Holocaust, since they believed that European Jews were "led like sheep for slaughter." The Israeli educational curriculum began to shift the emphasis to documenting how Jews resisted their Nazi tormentors through "passive resistance" — retaining their human dignity in the most unbearable conditions — and by "active resistance," fighting the Nazis in the ghettos and joining underground partisans who fought the Third Reich in its occupied countries.

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 am 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 theatres, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed throughout Israel.

 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.