A little over a week ago, Jews all over the world marked the Passover Seders together. The story of the Exodus is in fact the very essence of Judaism. Year after year, we gather around the table and read, “In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he personally left Egypt”
The Jewish tradition provides us with the commandment to remember our liberation, our freedom and the responsibility that this entails. 2016 marks 71 years since the end of the Shoah and the near annihilation of the Jews of Europe. By participating in the reading of the Megillat Hashoah liturgy and its unifying ritual, a new commandment emerges.
In one of his introductions to the Megillah, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, past president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, elaborated a new imperative of Jewish life; a new responsibility: “We must all view ourselves as if we had personally experienced the Shoah.”
So what did Rabbi Hammer mean? What are our responsibilities? Beyond remembrance and the exhortations in the text of the last chapter to remember but not to absolve, but especially our responsibility “to live— to live for all those who did not?” Might I suggest— that since human beings alone were responsible for this Shoah – this calamity—that humankind alone is equally responsible for repairing the world— for tikkun olam.
Seventy-one years ago, the remnant of the Jewish people was liberated and the survivors began to build lives for themselves, creating wonderful families and enriching their communities. Each year, the numbers of those eyewitnesses to the Shoah, our survivors, are dwindling. Therefore, it must be incumbent upon each and every one of us, in every generation, just as we are commanded to remember the story of the Exodus, to remember their stories and we must stop to consider what a gift freedom represents as well as our individual responsibility to promote it and to pursue justice.
And each year, as we assemble to read together from Megillat Hashoah, we remember not only their stories, not only six million stories, but also our collective human story.
Belle Jarniewski is the incoming president of the Manitoba Multifaith Council, Chair of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, and author of the 2010 book Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors.