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Shema

by Primo Levi (written January 10, 1946)

You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

     Consider whether this is a man,
     Who labors in the mud
     Who knows no peace
     Who fights for a crust of bread
     Who dies at a yes or a no.
     Consider whether this is a woman,
     Without hair or name
     With no more strength to remember
     Eyes empty and womb cold
     As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

Primo Michele Levi (July 31, 1919 – April 11, 1987) was an Italian Jewish chemist and writer. He was the author of two novels and several collections of short stories, essays, and poems, but is best known for If This Is a Man, his account of the year he spent as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.  

 

About Yom Hashoah

This year, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is observed on May 2nd. Established by the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) on April 12, 1951, the day is now commemorated by Jewish communities and individuals worldwide.

Since the early 1960s, the sound of a siren on Yom Hashoah stops traffic and pedestrians throughout the State of Israel for a minute of silence twice during 24 hours—once at sundown the evening before and again at 11:00 A.M on the morning itself.  All radio and television programs broadcasted on Yom Hashoah are connected in one way or another with the Jewish experience in World War II, and include personal interviews with survivors.  Reflecting traditional Jewish mourning customs, there is no public entertainment on Yom Hashoah. Theaters, cinemas, pubs, and other public venues are closed throughout Israel. 

Commemorations in North America range from synagogue services to communal ceremonies and educational programs. A few congregations find it more practical to hold commemorative ceremonies on the closest Sunday to Yom Hashoah. Programs often feature a talk by a Holocaust survivor, recitation of appropriate songs and readings, or viewing of a Holocaust-themed film. Some communities choose to emphasize the depth of loss that Jews experienced in the Holocaust by reading the names of Holocaust victims one after another emphasizing the loss of six million Jews.

There have been numerous attempts to compose special liturgy (text and music) for Yom Hashoah. In 1988 the Reform movement published Six Days of Destruction, co-authored by Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Albert Friedlander. The text was intended to be viewed as the "sixth scroll," a modern addition to the five scrolls that are read on specific holidays. Six narratives from Holocaust survivors are juxtaposed to the six days of creation found in Genesis. One of the most recent achievements is Megillat Hashoah (The Holocaust Scroll) created by the Conservative movement which contains personal recollections of Holocaust survivors and is written in biblical style.

No matter what the ritual, there is no question as to the overwhelming theme of the day—the importance of remembering, and of recalling the victims of this catastrophe. 

 


Recommended Reading

A Survivors’ Haggadah
Jewish Publication Society 2000/5760

From the book jacket: “In the winter of 1945-1946, Holocaust survivors in the Munich area created an extraordinary illustrated haggadah in preparation for their first Passover after liberation….It was first published by…Zionist groups, and then reprinted by the United States Army of Occupation.”

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