Rosh Hashanah Day 1 5780 – It Seems Like Only Yesterday

By: Larry Tobin

It seems like only yesterday. However, seventy-five, eighty years have passed since the Holocaust.  My  heart bleeds when I think about the loss of my ancestors. My soul cries out in pain for them and the millions who were slaughtered.  What was their sin to lead to such a terrible end?  Being Jewish? They were flesh and blood ordinary people leading ordinary lives.  As I engulf myself in prayer this Rosh  Hashanah, I wonder what they may have prayed.  I suspect they also prayed for forgiveness for sins. Did they also pray to be spared from the ravages of the Holocaust?  They did not survive, but I believe that their faith did not waiver.  Some survived and bore children. Their children had children who in turn had children. So, here I stand among you today.

As I pray for a good New Year and for forgiveness for my sins, I think about a film that Terry and I viewed during the year. It was titled “No Place on Earth”. It is the true story of Ukrainian Jews who lived underground for nearly one and one-half years to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. It is the longest recorded underground survival experience in history. One scene shows them praying on Yom Kippur. I wonder what form their prayers took? Was it their fervent prayer merely to survive the next year and not meet a horrific death? This is what many must have prayed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur not that long ago. I recognize that I (no, we) have an obligation in regard to those who perished or suffered during the Holocaust for no reason other than they were Jewish.  Our duty to them, it seems to me, extends beyond Tefilla, Teshuva and Tzedakah. Don’t take me wrong. This threesome remains the formula for removal of any bad decree on the Day of Judgment that may await us. You may recall that last Rosh Hashanah I spoke about the importance of this threesome and suggested that Tefilla may be the most difficult of the three to achieve. Isn’t human nature to make New Year’s resolutions that turn out to be short-lived? Next year I will control my weight. After a week or so of dieting, it’s back to old habits.  Do we not make similar commitments on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? Grant me a good year and next year I will do better. Forgive my sins and next year I will sin less. Accept my pleas of atonement and I will attend services more frequently and even give charity.

I contend that the application of the three-part formula alone does not relieve us of our independent obligation to the victims of the Holocaust. What we owe them is the survival of Judaism. That belief system which arose at Mount Sinai as the throngs received the Torah while proclaiming “We will do and then we will hear”.  It is the religion of our ancestors. It is the religion that survived Amalek, Haman and Hitler. It is the descendants of those people who, although dispersed and slaughtered during the Babylonian and Roman exiles, steadfastly remained the Children of Israel. It is the scattered remnants of the Inquisition and the Holocaust.

How do we fulfill our solemn duty to the victims of the Holocaust? How do we demonstrate our concern for our brethren in Israel who continue to give their lives to preserve our Jewish heritage and protect our G-d given land of Israel? How do we recognize and appreciate their sacrifice?  When we pray for ourselves, our loved ones and others during these Yomim Noraim (days of awe), we should also reflect on the fallen of our people who perished only because they were Jewish. Some died to perpetuate Judaism. Others made the ultimate sacrifice to sustain our cultural and religious beliefs.  When given the opportunity to pray we should grasp it and not make excuses.  We should regularly attend Kehilla services, and excuse me for asking, on time. We should never hesitate to ask G-d for help and forgiveness. But why limit ourselves to requesting only Divine forgiveness?  Shouldn’t we also seek forgiveness from people who we have wronged?  Also, shouldn’t we give charity and display generosity? After all, acts of charitable benevolence and the performance of mitzvot not only benefit others, but they also benefit ourselves.  Moreover, they serve as a fitting tribute to the memory of those who have preceded us. And please don’t forget to thank G-d occasionally for all the good He does for you.

So, as we join today to pray for a good year and for forgiveness by the Almighty for ourselves, our loved ones, family members and others let us also remember to thank G-d for providing us a safe and peaceful existence. And let us not forget the past and our sacred duty to perpetuate Judaism.

Yes, it seems like only yesterday. . .

May G-d grant all of us a good, healthy and blessed year and a year of peace and safety.

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