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Yom Ha’Shoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut

(Blog post was written April 7th, 2021)

Tomorrow we commemorate Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. My grandparents on my mother’s side, Tovah and Yakov, where Holocaust survivors. They emigrated to Israel from Slovakia. In Elementary school, my school was on the same street as my grandparents house. As both my parents worked full days, I’d walk to their home every day after school, had lunch with them, and wait for my parents to take me home at the end of the work day. My favorite part of the day was seeing them from afar, waiting for me on their balcony overlooking the street. Their faces would light up when they saw me and I would run the rest of the way. It was different on Yom Ha’Shoah. No one was on the balcony. The blinds were down and the light in the house came from the numerous yahrzeit candles symbolizing the many, many members of the family that didn’t survive. Nobody was talking and there were tears coming down their cheeks. It wasn’t that they didn’t remember every other day, it was that on that day they just couldn’t pretend. Even as a first grader I kind of knew about this somber day. We talked about it in school and we all stood still during the siren in remembrance. I was very quiet at my grandparent's home on that day, afraid to hear the stories that they where reliving. As I grew older I did want to hear the story of how they came out of the inferno. I got bits and pieces of the full story. I remember the part that my grandfather’s hand pulled my grandmother out of a train saving both their lives. Another part was a jump that they had to make as they were running to hide in the woods. My grandmother would always say that she felt like she had wings because there is no way a human could make that jump and stay alive. There are other bits and pieces, but I never heard the full story. At least not in a way that makes chronological sense. There are fewer and fewer survivors that are still here with us. Even fewer after a year of coronavirus. So I encourage you, if you have survivors in your family, go to them and ask to hear their story. Record them. Take videos of them telling their stories. This will be your family's treasure for generations. In my grandparent's memory, I am making a special bread for this meal. It’s called simit and it’s a Turkish bagel. It’s somewhere between an American bagel and a Jerusalem sesame bagel. There was a small family owned grocery store that sold these bagels right near their house. The bagels were displayed on wooden hoops next to the cashier. I still remember the taste as my saba (grandfather) would take the bagel from the hoop and hand it to me pinching a piece for himself just before he did.

Next week we will celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel's Independence Day). The day before Yom Ha’atzmaut is Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day). A lot of people don’t understand how we can go from the saddest day of the year to the happiest day. But in a nutshell that's really the essence of Israel. Holocaust Remembrance Day, followed by Memorial Day followed by Independence Day. They are all intertwined, this is our story. Just like it says in the Mishnah, from the tractat of Avot - דַּע, מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ “Know where you come from and where you are going to.”

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