Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — is a day commemorating the murder of millions of people, around 6 million of whom were purposely killed because they were Jews. At a time when many of us are terrified of the emerging anti-Semitism around the world, this memorial feels like salt in a very raw wound.
It’s incumbent upon us that we must mourn all the millions of vibrant Jewish lives and worlds that were destroyed. However, I would add that at this particular juncture in the Jewish experience, it is incumbent upon us that we do not stop at mourning. We also must act, fiercely and with determination, in order to make sure that history does not repeat itself.
So I asked myself: What can we do to actively honor the memories of all that was lost? Here are some ideas — please feel free to add your own.
1. Support the Anti-Defamation League, and connect your kids’ schools to the No Place For Hate program.
The Anti-Defamation League calls out bigotry and discrimination with intense scrutiny and vigilance — sadly, something that’s very much needed in the present day. The ADL studies online hate purveyors, and do a lot of work on the ground to combat hate. One of their successful programs is No Place for Hate, which you can bring to your kids’ schools. The program includes anti-bias training and bullying prevention activities, as well as school certification as No Place For Hate. The program is truly transformative and can easily be implemented at your local school. Find out more here.
2. Ask your representative in Congress if he or she has joined the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating anti-Semitism — because they should.
The Task Force is a group that coordinates the work in Congress to create policies that protect Jewish communities, monitor anti-Semitic incidents, and educate against anti-Semitism. You can find text of the email to send your representative from AJC- Global Jewish Advocacy here. While you’re writing, make sure they lend their support to my representative Congressman Tom Malinowski’s efforts to invest resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement to mitigate and actively redress domestic terror and extremist ideological threats (https://malinowski.house.gov/media/press-releases/malinowski-urges-increase-funding-fight-domestic-terrorism).
3. Contribute to organizations that support Holocaust survivors.
The number of living Holocaust survivors diminishes every year — and yet many of them are elderly, infirm, or indigent. The Blue Card and KAVOD provide direct financial assistance to Holocaust survivors. Organizations like Jewish Family Services’ Café Europa provide social outlets for survivors to interact and have support. Find out more about organizations that support survivors here.
4. Educate both inside and outside the classroom.
Make sure your local library has books for tweens and teens about the Holocaust, and that your schools are working on integrating texts into the curriculum (note: not fictionalized stuff, like The Boy In Striped Pajamas but actual history and/or first person accounts). I am working with my school district to have Anne Frank‘s The Diary of a Young Girl be a summer reading assignment for middle school, and would love to see Maus incorporated into the high school. This is surprisingly as easy as picking up the telephone. My friend Marjorie Ingall wrote a great piece about how Jews are more than the Holocaust, and I agree with that wholeheartedly, but her piece actually shouts out many books that should be in your local library.
5. When you see something, say something.
When you see that The New York Times, for example, has published an anti-Semitic cartoon in the pages of its international edition? It’s not enough to bitch about it on social media — you have to take the extra step of sending an email or picking up the phone to tell the editors that you will not tolerate dissemination and proliferation of anti-Semitic hate, and make your voice heard. Because there are literally millions of voices that have been silenced: Don’t silence your own.
6. Register people to vote.
This may seem incongruous — what does this have to do with being Jewish? The answer is: everything. As Jews, especially, we do not have the luxury of sitting back and seeing where this country takes us — we need to make sure to help as many Americans as possible realize and practice their rights to vote, so that all of our voices — not just those on the extreme fringes — are heard. Many primaries’ registration deadlines are approaching. I am working with my local high school to have a voter registration drive (in some states like mine, you can register if you are 17, though you can’t actually vote until you are 18). Do it with your local high school, too.
The above are six actions in honor of the six million. But here’s a bonus one for us, the remainder of what is left of the Jewish people after the murders of the Holocaust:
7. Light a candle.
I don’t mean just light a physical yahrzeit candle (which you can easily pick up today in a synagogue or JCC in honor of Yom Hashoah). I mean that you can and must light a metaphorical candle with your actions: fight the darkness that threatens to engulf us. Make an effort to go into a Jewish space in the next week, because your presence there is a deliberate punch in the face to those who would want to intimidate and terrify us into not being actively Jewish. Whether you connect with your Jewishness by reading a Jewish book, watching a Jewish movie, making a challah on Friday, or going to synagogue, take a determined and deliberate step this week to be out as a Jew and to be proud of who you are.
Am Yisrael chai — the people of Israel live. So nu? Live.