By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Rabbi Shira Wallach of Congregation Shearith Israel spoke for only a few minutes during the Thursday, May 5 observance of Yom HaShoah. But her message was very powerful.
“Our tradition is most often one of joy,” the rabbi said. “Judaism teaches us to seek this beauty in each moment … to acknowledge the great beauty that God bestows upon us each day … Our liturgy is full of gratitude — of our audacity to stand before God as mere mortals who articulate a response to the miracle of our existence.”
But none of that has any place during Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, she said. Approximately 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany.
“Today is for grief and anger and for doubt,” Rabbi Wallach said. “Today we are called to question God — to ask where God was while our people suffered. To challenge the audacity of God’s silence.”
Several hundred people — many of whom kept trickling into the Beck sanctuary throughout — attended the ceremony, which lasted a little less than 45 minutes.
This year’s observance focused specifically on the 1.5 million Jewish children whose voices were cruelly and senselessly silenced during the Holocaust. Several members of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance either spoke or were present during the ceremony.
Rabbi Wallach urged those in the audience to remember that Yom HaShoah was for remembering parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, friends and others who were robbed of the joy of a fully liberated life.
“Today we protest the great injustice of their persecution and their murder,” she said. “Today we honor their bravery … in the face of utter adversity and darkness.”
The ceremony also included music and readings from various children and adults.
Levine Academy students performed Eli, Eli, while Raquel Gershon performed Machar, El Malei Rachamim and Hatikvah.
Hidden-Child testimony was provided by:
Henry Ainsworth, vice president of the junior board of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, reading the story of Ginette Albert;
Aaron Minsky, a member of the junior board, reading the story of Helen Biderman; and
Kas Tebbetts, president of that board, reading the story of Max Spindler.
After the readings, the three junior board members each lit two remembrance torches alongside the person whose story they just shared.
Florence Shapiro, former Texas senator and chair-elect of the Dallas Holocaust Museum board, stood in for President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins, offering words and perspective about Yom HaShoah. (Shapiro is the daughter of Holocaust survivors.)
Shapiro said Yom HaShoah is an opportunity to unite — to publicly pledge to teach the history of the Holocaust and advance human rights against hatred and indifference.
“Tonight we pause to remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators,” Shapiro said.
Steve Waldman, Dallas Holocaust Museum board chair, offered closing remarks focusing on the power of community and memory.
“Community and memory together have the power … to inspire and provide a measure of hope and possibility,” he said. “They have the power to help us heal, to help us make the future and the future of all those who follow us a better one.”
Waldman said the Holocaust Museum provides education about the Holocaust and teaches children about the past and about how to make the world a safer and more tolerant place.
“This is how we honor the children of the Holocaust,” he said. “In a world that is once again witness to the rise of anti-Semitism, this is our educational message —our call to action.”
Children who learn at the Holocaust Museum will hopefully become Upstanders — people who do what they think is right, Waldman said.
Rabbi Wallach urged members of the audience to let the tears flow from their hearts and mourn those who were unjustly taken from the world by murder.
“We find community and the strength in the future,” the rabbi said. “… Most importantly, we vow to never forget the dark period of our history. We vow to honor the lives of those who were slain by committing their stories to memory. We stand together today in grief but also with faith in the continued strength and survival of our people.”