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 light your yellow candle

04/27/2022 04:08:30 PM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

This Wednesday evening signifies the start of Yom HaShoah, the date in Jewish calendar being the 27th of Nisan, that is the annual commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. The date was established as law by the State of Israel in 1959 because it coincides with the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. More than ever this year is the year to light your yellow candle. This program was begun by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, to encourage people to light a yahrtzeit candle in their homes. Why is this year different than any other year?

Antisemitic words and deeds continue to escalate across the United States. We even had incidents during Passover in Pittsburgh. Lighting the yellow candle and placing it where it can be seen is not merely an act of remembrance, but an act of defiance against the antisemites. George Santayana is known for having coined the aphorism “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. As we watch Russia devastate the Ukraine, so many have found connections between the barbarism of Russia and the barbarism of the Third Reich, more so than in any other examples since the end of WWII. I do not think that anyone can say that there is something called a good war. Rather, war symbolizes human failure, and I wrote in a previous blog that I began counting the number of wars fought during the 20th Century, and stopped at the Korean War, because the number had surpassed 1,000.  The aforementioned Santayana also said “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. Indeed.

Perhaps it might be hearing the names of cities that had large Jewish populations prior to WWII that impacts us. Kyiv. Dnipro. Kharkiv. Odessa. Perhaps it is because we know people who come from Ukraine or have family who emigrated to these shores from Ukraine. For many, this unnecessary war just seems familiar in ways that other wars have not.

“Never Again” was a mantra used as a call to action to prevent atrocities after the Holocaust. At the Kristallnacht commemoration in my community in November 2018, I was asked to say a few words after the program, and my thoughts were quite simple. To paraphrase my extemporaneous thoughts, I remarked that I grew up with the words “Never Again” as a rallying cry for all Jews to fight inhumanity. But after 10.27, I can no longer say those two words. They have been replaced by “Yet Again”. I look at Ukraine and shake my head, uttering “yet again”. George Santayana is right. We are condemned. I will light my yellow candle to honor the memory of the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust, as I sadly meditate upon the flame and say “yet again”.

Sun, May 22 2022 21 Iyyar 5782