I forgot a friend’s birthday yesterday. He lives in England and the time differences make it a challenge to remember to call him when he’s awake. But still, forgetting an important date is something I try to avoid when I can. It helps to have reminders.
It was last week when I got a reminder about another important date—today. Today (May 1) marks this year’s commemoration of Yom HaShoah. The Shoah is what the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime during World War II is called in Hebrew. And Yom HaShoah is the day on the Hebrew calendar for the remembrance of this monstrosity of human evil.
I learned of Yom HaShoah about a decade ago. I was attending a Lutheran church in New York City, and as the day approached, announcements and invitations for Yom HaShoah began. Our church was across Lexington Avenue from Central Synagogue. And the senior minister explained that the custom of the two faith communities was that the Yom HaShoah service moved from one house of worship to the other on alternating years. Without knowing much about the service, but sensing how important it was, I attended the service at the synagogue.
I settled in and took part as best I could, fumbling through transliterations of Hebrew. And then there was a moment set aside in the program for our church’s senior minister to speak. And as he did, he first thanked the congregation for their kind invitation and hospitality, and then he did something I didn’t expect. He apologized. He explained that every year it is his deep moral responsibility to come to the service and beg forgiveness and to swear never to forget the harms his Lutheran forebears in faith allowed to be perpetrated against the Jewish people. It was shocking and breathtaking. But the graciousness with which the rabbi accepted his words was otherworldly.
Before that service I didn’t know much about this day. I was woefully uninformed. But now I know that this day intentionally coincides with the commemoration of the founding of Israel—so it is a celebration of perseverance and remembrance of the lives of those who lived as much as it is a remembrance of what is the gravest sin in modern history. But knowing what I know now, I can’t forget. This day haunts my rosy notions of what the world is, what humans are, and what faiths can fail so tragically to do, as it always should.
And so it was an honor to receive an invitation to be a guest of our beloved siblings, Congregation Sof Ma’arav, at this evening’s service of remembrance being held at Temple Emanu-El. And as Sandy, the President of Sof Ma’arav shared, all are welcome to attend. The service begins at 7 pm.
My friend sent me a message back after I apologized for forgetting his birthday. And when I read, “I love you too!!!” I was grateful—not only to be forgiven my human failings, but for each of us acknowledging the precious gift the other’s life is in our own. And I pray that is something I will never forget.
And may it always be so.
Rev. T. J.