Category Archives: Yom Hashoah

Standing Down Legal Segregation on Yom Hashoah

bibleinjail21 Today marks Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – and as it turns out, this year it falls on a serendipitous milestone: namely the 52nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Although MLK wrote his letter to respond to the reality of Jim Crow in the American South, I do believe his words have much to offer us as we remember those who perished at the hands of the Nazis during World War II – in particular, King’s insistence on the moral imperative to break unjust laws and the inherent immorality of legal segregation:

(There) are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws…

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.

In light of King’s words, it is worth noting that the rise of Nazism in Germany was facilitated by largely “legal” means – through myriad laws and regulations that successfully segregated Jews from the rest of German society.  King himself pointed this out in his letter when he wrote:

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal…” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.

In this regard, Dr. King’s insight might well inspire us to commemorate this sacred day by redoubling our resolve to eradicate laws that segregate peoples on the basis of their national, ethnic or religious identities.


Segregated Shuhada street in Hebron, February 2012 (photo: Hithabrut-Tarabut)

While it pains me to say it, I cannot help but note that the very country that first established Holocaust Remembrance Day itself enforces its own form of legal segregation between Jews and non-Jews. As one Israeli observer wrote in Ha’aretz five years ago, “Segregation of Jews and Arabs in Israel…is almost absolute.” In the West Bank, Jews and non-Jews are segregated by separate legal systems, separate roads, separate transportation systems, and in some cases, separate sidewalks. And in Gaza, Palestinians are segregated from the outside world entirely.

I have no doubt that there will be those who consider it unseemly of me – or worse – to point this out on Yom Hashoah of all days. To this inevitable criticism, I can only respond, how can we purport to take the lessons of the Shoah to heart while ignoring realities such as these? How long will we, as Jews, look way from these unjust laws in Israel that “distort the soul and damage the personality?” On this, of all days, shouldn’t we, as King suggested in his letter, “bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive?”

May the memory of the fallen be for a blessing.

Cantor Vicky Glikin on “the Jewish Question” in the Ukraine



I strongly encourage you to read this report, below, by Cantor Vicky Glikin, of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL.

Cantor Glikin recently returned from a trip to her native Ukraine, where the political/military upheaval has been been of special concern to the international Jewish community, particularly amidst reports of anti-Semitism against the Ukrainian Jewish population. While it is imperative that we take such reports with the utmost seriousness, it is also critical to separate fear from fact – and not to jump to conclusions about the truth behind these reports. In this regard, eye-witnesses testimonies from knowledgeable insiders such as Cantor Glikin are profoundly important.

Having just finished observing Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I am truly inspired by her words, which ultimately counsel hope over fear and engagement over isolation:

Continue reading

For Yom Hashoah: A Tribute to Pacifist Heroes André and Magda Trocmé

Andre Trocme

In honor of Yom Hashoah, please read about the sacred work of Pastor André and Magda Trocmé, the courageous pacifist Christians who saved 3,000-5,000 Jews from certain death in South Central France. May their memory be for a blessing.

The biography below is reposted from the Swarthmore College Peace Collection:

André and Magda Trocmé are perhaps best known for their work in the small French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon where, during World War II, they inspired the villagers to help protect and sometimes to assist in the escape of Jews and other poltiical refugees. This quiet and courageous assistance was given without resorting to violence. Historians estimate that about 3,500 Jews were harbored in the area in and around Le Chambon.

André Trocmé (1901-1971) was born in St. Quentin in the north of France to Huguenot parents. After seminary in Paris and graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he was ordained into the French Reformed Church and served for eight years among the coal miners and steel workers of Maubeuge and Sin-le-Noble, two small towns in the north of France. He preached nonviolence at a time when such views were unpopular in France. In 1934 André Trocmé accepted a call to be pastor in the remote Huguenot village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon on the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon in South Central France. These parishioners were more sympathetic to his views on nonviolence.

Magda Trocmé (1901-1996) was born in Italy to an Italian father and a Russian mother. She graduated from the University of Florence with a degree in literature and earned further degrees in French. She and André Trocmé met in the United States while she was attending the New York School of Social Work, and they were married in 1926. The couple had four children, Nelly, Jean-Pierre, Jacques, and Daniel.

In 1938, André Trocmé, and his pacifist colleague Édouard Theis, founded L’Ecole Nouvelle Cévenol in Le Chambon, a Protestant, co-educational secondary school. In addition to the usual French secondary school curriculum, tolerance, honesty, and nonviolence were taught as well. L’Ecole Nouvelle Cévenole soon gained an international focus, and after World War II the name of the school was changed to Collège Cévenol. Magda Trocmé taught Italian at this school which is still in operation today.

During the first part of World War II Le Chambon was located in the “free”( unoccupied) zone of France. By 1942 the Germans had occupied the entire country. However, the population of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon continued to aid an increasing number of refugees. In 1943, André Trocmé, Édouard Theis, and the head of the public school, Roger Darcissac were interned in a camp by the Vichy police. These men were arrested for their part in assisting the refugees of the area. Trocmé, Theis, and Darcissac were released from prison after one month, but Trocmé and Theis went into hiding for the next ten months.

In the late 1940s André and Magda Trocmé traveled as European Secretaries for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). After their move to Versailles (France) in 1950, the Trocmé’s founded La Maison de la Réconciliation. The Maison de la Reconciliation became an international peace center and the headquarters of the French and Continental Secretariat of the IFOR. During travels in the United States, under IFOR auspices, André Trocmé delivered the Robert Treat Paine lectures which became the basis for his book The Politics of Repentance, published in 1953. During the strife between France and Algeria, André Trocmé helped start Eirene (International Service for Peace), located in Morocco, which provided alternative service for conscientious objectors. He was also active in the movement against atomic weapons, becoming president of the French Federation Against Atomic Armaments in 1959. In 1960, André Trocmé accepted a call to become one of the ministers of the Saint-Gervais Church in Geneva, Switzerland. Many of the sermons he preached at Saint-Gervais were broadcast. His book, Jésus-Christ et la Revolution Non Violente was published in French in 1961 and subsequently in other languages (Orbis Books edition, 2004). In 1965, André Trocmé accompanied a peace mission to Vietnam.

After World War II André Trocmé was awarded the Rosette de la Résistance by the French government. The story of the Trocmé’s pacifist leadership inspired Philip P. Hallie, a professor at Wesleyan University, to write the book Lest Innocent Blood by Shed, published in 1979. Eleven years later Pierre Sauvage produced the documentary Weapons of the Spirit (1988), explaining how his family survived Word War II, through the efforts of the people of Le Chambon.

André Trocmé died in Geneva on June 5, 1971, just a few weeks after he had been scheduled to receive the Médaille des Justes from the government of Israel. As more and more people were recognized as “Righteous Gentiles,” the Yad Vashem honored all the residents of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and the surrounding area. In their memory an engraved stele and rock garden were installed in the park of Yad Vashem (Israel).

After the death of her husband Magda Trocmé moved to Paris with Alice Reynier (“Jispa”), a close family friend who had lived with the Trocmé family since 1942. Alice Reynier shared their family life and their work. Magda Trocmé received an honorary degree from Haverford College in 1981 in the name of the people of Le Chambon and the surrounding area She died in Paris in 1996. André, Magda, their sons Jean-Pierre and Daniel, and Jispa, are all buried as a family in the cemetery of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.

For Yom Hashoah: A Palestinian Meditation on the Holocaust

In recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day, please read these words of Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and member of Knesset, who offered the following words before the Israeli Parliament in 2010:

This is the place and the time to cry out the cries of all of those who were and are no longer with us, the cries of those who have remained and who are struggling, justifiably so, to unburden themselves from the scenes of death and horror. I will once again repeat that I am full of empathy for the families of the victims of the Holocaust wherever they may be around the world, including those with whom I live on the same land, in the same country.

This is the moment in which every individual must relieve oneself of all of his nationalist or religious hats, relieve oneself of the otherness and wear just one robe: the robe of humanity. One must look at himself, look around him, and be human. Only human.

Full speech here.

Yom Hashoah: A Day to Affirm Universal Human Rights

I can think of no more powerful meditation for Yom Hashoah 5770 than this Huffington Post piece written by Steven Gerber and Rabbi Michael Schwartz, both of Rabbis for Human Rights.

An excerpt:

It is interesting to note how two very different sets of “responses” to the Shoah are heard frequently amongst Jews here in Israel and around the world. These two different responses reflect a shared sense of urgent necessity in responding here today because of what happened there then. At the same time they demonstrate almost opposite worldviews and understandings of Israel’s purpose, and lead toward totally inverse political perspectives and often contradictory activist involvements.

One response is that, essentially, Israel must do anything it wants or needs to do in order to defend itself from hateful enemies set on perpetrating a second holocaust by destroying both the Jewish State and the Jewish People along with it.

The other response is that precisely because of our experience as Jews in the Holocaust and through our history littered with injustice and tragedy, we ourselves must make sure that Israel of all places is a nation that stringently safeguards human rights even in the most difficult of circumstances and establishes, in the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, a nation that “foster[s] the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; [a nation] based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

Indeed, both the physical and spiritual security of the Jewish People and the State of Israel is best guaranteed by the strength of Israel’s democracy and the rule of just law, its commitment to human rights, and – ultimately – to the achievement of peace.

On this day in which we recall the Jewish people’s loss of human rights, let us ensure that the Jewish state embodies these rights on behalf of all its citizens.

On this day in which we remember the tragedy of our people, may we redouble our efforts on behalf of all people who dwell on earth…

You Shall Not Hate Your Kinfolk…

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Eternal. — Leviticus 19:17-18

As I read these famous verses from this week’s Torah portion Parashat Kedoshim, I am still overcome by the incredible testimony of a Rwandan genocide survivor who spoke at JRC last night as part of our Yom Hashoah commemoration. Immaculee Mukantaganira, who now lives in South Bend, IN, lost more than 60 members of her family during the 1994 genocide: her husband, two of her children, her parents, as well as sisters, brothers, cousins, other relatives and close friends. Her words to us were alternately heartbreaking, courageous, and often beyond comprehension.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of her presentation was her description of how Rwandan society is attempting to heal from this impossibly tragic episode in their recent history. Unlike the Jewish community following the Holocaust, Rwanda is a society in which victim and perpetrator continue to live side by side – where Tutsi and Hutu continue to strive to live as neighbors. Could we even hope to imagine that the Tutsis would ever be able to reach a place where they “do not hate their kinfolk in their hearts?”

To this end, the Rwandan political establishment has outlawed Hutu/Tutsi tribal loyalties in order to promote one universal Rwandan identity. And for the past few years, “Gacaca courts” have been attempting help the country achieve a semblance of justice and reconciliation. The mixed success of these efforts demonstrates how Rwanda is, in so many ways, a nation struggling to understand the true meaning of the verses above.

For her part, Immaculee provided us with one example of a woman who is doing what she can to move past unimaginable pain and hatred to a place of healing and forgiveness. I encourage you to read this article in the South Bend Tribune to learn more about her story.

On Auschwitz, Phnom Phenh and Darfur

20020627skulls.jpgThis Saturday, JRC will commemorate Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) with a memorial service for the victims of the Shoah, followed by a presentation from a survivor of a more recent genocide.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge invaded the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and initiated a genocidal campaign against the Cambodian people that would last for four years. The day Phnom Penh fell, a young Cambodian medical student named Leon Lim was forced from his home and was sent to a labor camp. After the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, Lim, his wife and her family walked for six weeks to the border of Thailand. They spent the next three years in refugee camps, where Lim worked as a medic.

The Lim family eventually managed to move to the United States in 1981, settling in Chicago. Leon now teaches at Northside College Preparatory High School, where he and his students have developed an important curriculum that uses the Cambodian experience to explore the universal concept of genocide. He is also a founder of the Cambodian Association of Illinois, which houses the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial. When I met Leon earlier this year, he told me his powerful story and gave me a tour of the center – a small but exquisite gem of a museum located in Albany Park.

The great Israeli Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer has written:

killing-fields-memorial.jpgEach genocide is different, but it would be a mistake to dismiss the similarities. Foremost among them is the suffering of the victims. There is no better or worse genocide, just as there is no better or worse murder, no better or worse torture. There is no scale to measure suffering. Jews, Armenians or Poles who were martyred and murdered all suffered the same.

I do believe that we honor to the victims of the Shoah whenever we honor our common humanity with all victims of genocidal persecution. (It is tragically serendipitous that April 17 – two days after Yom Hashoah – is the day the Cambodian community has chosen to be their communal memorial of the Cambodian genocide.) If you live in the Chicagoland area, I invite you to JRC’s Yom Hashoah memorial to hear Leon Lim’s testimony. (Click here for further information.)

Postscript: The genocide in Darfur – the first genocide of the 21st century – has now shamefully entered its fourth year. I encourage you to learn more about the upcoming “Global Days for Darfur” (April 23-30) a week-long series of events that will give us all the opportunity to speak out. (More about Darfur in upcoming posts…)