At Temple Emanu-El in Providence, when someone opens the door to our chapel and leaves it to close on its own, one hears a brief and barely audible “click” as the door hits its frame, and then another loud, definitive, often startling, “clack” as the door finally latches. The louder sound happens only after the door has been closed in silence about ten seconds, long enough that the person who came or left through it is long gone.
Today is Yom HaShoah. Holocaust Remembrance Day. The 27th of Nissan, less than a week after the end of Passover, a holiday on which we celebrate our freedom from slavery and oppression. Our celebration of freedom ended with a “click”, but we are jarred back to reality with the “clack” of our commemoration ceremonies and yellow candles. Maybe we were freed three-thousand years ago. Our oppression barely ended so recently as 1945. It still lingers.
Although it didn’t seem like a day to teach up-beat music to my students in our Religious School as I do each Sunday morning, all students third grade through seventh today sang “Ani Ma’amin”. Each class had different memories about learning about the Holocaust; each class had different feelings about singing the song, hearing its words, and grasping its meaning.
אני מאמין, באמונה שלמה, בביאת המשיח
ואף על פי שיתמהמה, עם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום – שיבוא
I believe, with wholehearted faith, in the coming of the Messiah.
And even if he is delayed, even with everything, I will wait for him, every day – that he will come.
Even in the depths of our despair, we believe. As Jews, we believe. As human beings, we believe in the goodness of people, despite all else, that a better time will come and that peace will prevail.
When we read texts, we have a tradition of not ending on a sad or angry note. Often times we add a verse at the end of a negatively or reproachfully themed haftarah in order to rest on a more hopeful idea. My classes today ended by singing “Oseh Shalom,” Judaism’s universal prayer for peace, and “HaTikvah,” the national anthem of the State of Israel, as we prepare for our celebration of the State of Israel with Yom Ha’Atzma’ut next week.
Although the tragedy feels long gone and far removed, it still lingers. We still feel the jolt back to reality as we put the death tolls into perspective for our students, as we show them what it meant to us, our parents and grandparents, and theirs, to remember those who perished.