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The 2013 Pew Research Center’s recent survey of the American Jewish community reported that, among those people who identify themselves as Jewish, a whopping 73 percent say that remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. That element of Jewish identity received the highest response rate, outpacing other suggested elements such as leading an ethical life (69 percent), caring about Israel (43 percent) and being part of a Jewish community (28 percent). Why does this element of Jewish identity receive such prominence? Is it the guilt that would accompany not remembering, the notion that we might afford Hitler (may his name be blotted out) a posthumous victory if we forget? Is it the particularistic notion that we must remain vigilant against our enemies who are constantly seeking to eliminate us? Is it the universal lesson that makes us better human beings because we will not idly stand by the persecution of any group?

This past Sunday night we commemorated Kristalnacht, the 76th anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass, the event that many say was the official starting point of the Holocaust. German Jewish shops were destroyed, men were beaten, detained and killed, synagogues burned. And rescue workers stood by to make sure that the fires didn’t spread to the neighboring non-Jewish homes and businesses.

The Rockland community observed the commemoration ceremony this year at the OJC. Over 200 people gathered to see the presentation of colors by the Jewish War Veterans, to hear the words of County Legislator Harriett Cornell and the personal testimony of survivor Paul Galan, and to stand in solemn solidarity with the 30 teens holding candles as the words of El Maleh Rachamim, the Jewish memorial prayer, filled the sanctuary.

Kristalnacht sanctuary

As I think about the surprising Pew survey statistics, I can understand the relatively high importance we place on remembering the Holocaust in light of what I witnessed Sunday night. I felt our children’s hearts swell with pride as they watched our Jewish veterans salute the American flag, pledge allegiance and sing Hatikvah.

Kristalnacht veterans

I felt our children’s souls ignited by the memorial candles they held. I felt our children’s minds understand at a level beyond words what it means to remember. Our children recognized that Jewish remembering is not passive. Our remembering is an obligation we fulfill that shapes our Judaism, our identity as Americans, and our humanity. For our children, the lessons of the Holocaust also inform their obligation to defend the values for which they stand, and shape their responses to social issues they confront on a regular basis, like bullying and intolerance. The Holocaust is six million individual Jewish stories of vulnerability, fear, insecurity, cruelty, powerlessness, hope, courage, faith, redemption and love. It is the story of our people as much as the exodus from Egypt, and it is a part of our narrative that must be told.

How will you remember? Participate in our Kaddish project. Match yourself with an individual who died in the Holocaust with no one left to observe their yahrzeit. Learn their story. Say Kaddish for them. Contact Larry Suchoff, our Holocaust Remembrance Committee chairperson, or just walk into the OJC office, to adopt a story. Perhaps remembering the Holocaust will become an essential part of what being Jewish means to you.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

A new year, a new web site, my first blog…

Allow me to preface my remarks by saying that Rabbi Drill and I believe we have an important message to share. We believe the OJC has an important message to share. If we didn’t, we probably would have hung up our tallises long ago. In a world where we are being bombarded by messages constantly, often with little relevance to our lives, we believe it is our obligation to share our message as widely and as effectively as possible. That is, in large part, the reason that we launch this second generation of the OJC website today.
Sharing our message in this way, I must admit, does not come so easily to me. I would much rather share our message on a Shabbat morning in synagogue or sitting around a table in my office. I realize, however, that relationship-building can take place in many diverse ways and through many diverse media. As a communicator and a relationship-builder, it is my task to grow in the year ahead, and to learn how to utilize all the different media that can assist us in disseminating our priceless message, in engaging others and in bringing them closer to God and to community.
This website in general, and this blog in particular, will give us the ability to share the pearls of inspiration that we gather from you every day. It is time for those who don’t find themselves regularly within the physical walls of the OJC to know about the Torah that is being revealed in our discussions; the prayers that are being answered every day; and the Divine presence that is made manifest in the acts of selflessness taking place in our community every day.
A new year, a new web site, my first blog…. Truly a shehechiyanu moment!
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