Note: Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) 2016 begins in the evening of Wednesday, May 4 and ends in the evening of Thursday, May 5.
This week holds the annual observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah. Jewish communities prefer not to call the dreadful events of the 1930's and 40's the Holocaust, because of that word's original meaning of a burnt offering made to God. They say there was no offering. The lives of six million Jews were taken and if there was an offering it was to the very bad idea of racial purification, not to God. The Hebrew term, yom hashoa, means day of the destruction, or day of the catastrophe. And indeed, it was a destruction and a catastrophe, remembered on a special day once a year. So today we remember, and because so many families were completely wiped out, leaving no one to say Kaddish in honor of the parents after they died, we will close this time of candles with an English translation of that traditional prayer.
I light this first candle for the Shoah, the extermination of so many Jews, and also gays, gypsies, the handicapped, and dissenters. Some of our own were included in that great destruction, among whom we remember Norbert Capek, the Czech Unitarian who left us the ceremony of flower communion. This dreadful chapter in human history is still not over: a former Nazi prison guard who is alleged to have been part of the killing of several thousand Jews was recently ordered deported from the United States where he has been living all these years. At 89, he was ruled too frail to stand trial, and the disposition of the case for his deportation and trial is still under consideration.
There have been other mass exterminations throughout history. We have been reminded lately of the extermination of Armenians by the Turks beginning during the closing days of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century and reaching a brutal climax in the early twentieth century under the then-new Turkish republic. After three generations, the Armenians are still scarred by their grandparents' and great-grandparents' memories of what they endured. The grandparents have died, but the stories remain alive in the hearts of those who live. And the Turks still say it was not such a big deal. They need to talk, and I hope they will. The extermination of many, many native people in the Americas has left scars just as deep. We need to talk, too.
More recent mass killings include the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970's, where a few carefully selected perpetrators are finally being brought to trial. People in high government office hope that will be the end of it because they, too, were participants. And in 1994, there were mass killing in Rwanda, central Africa, where the supposedly lower-class Hutus massacred the supposedly higher-class Tutsi people in an sort-of ethnic cleansing. Since the two peoples are ethnically indistinguishable after years of intermarriage, it seems to have been an economically motivated bloodbath. The country has still not recovered politically.
Killings continue in the Darfur region of Sudan, with ongoing disingenuous debate about whether the gross violations of human rights are actually happening, whether they are sponsored by the government of the country, and who ought to be doing something.
In none of these case were international resources brought to bear to stop the killing.
I light this candle for the failure to act, and for the remembrance of those times when it might have helped.
There has been one case where international action was begun to stop mass killings by one ethnic group of another. In the early 1990's ethnic Serbs began killing ethnic Bosnians and Albanians in the former Yugoslavia, a disaster that did attract the action of the international community. Peacekeeping forces are there to this day helping to affirm peaceful solutions to difficult ethnic disagreements.
I light this candle of hope that the world community will find ways to intervene in situations where ethinc or economic tensions are threatening to turn murderous. May there be no more days of destruction, days of catastrophe, anywhere in the world. Never again.
Let us speak the words of the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead, on behalf of those whose children perished with them and those children and young people who never had a chance to have children of their own. The words are in your order of service.
Unison words to honor the dead:
Let the glory of God be extolled. Let Your great name be hallowed, in the world whose creation You willed. May Your sovereign rule soon prevail, in our own day, our own lives, and the life of all Israel, and let us say: Amen.
Let your great name be blessed forever and ever.
Let the name of the Holy Blessed One be glorified, exalted, and honored, although You are beyond all the praises, songs, and adorations that we can utter, and let us say: Amen.
For us and for all Israel, may the blessing of peace and the promise of life come true, and let us say: Amen.
May the one who makes peace in the high places, let peace descend on us, on all Israel, and let us say: Amen.