Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Hashoah, declared by the Israeli government in 1953. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar, the exact date varies each year but the timing was chosen to coincide with the 1944 uprising by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and highlight their heroic resistance, as well as to remember the six million who perished.
Yesterday I attended a Yom Hashoah commemoration ceremony at our nearby Jewish Community Center which included candle lighting by survivors and descendants of survivors, a video with reflective commentary by varied individuals, songs, speeches, and prayers. Central questions carried throughout and particularly addressed by the keynote speaker were, “How do we remember the Holocaust?” and “What does it mean to be a Jew in a post-Holocaust world?” As a Christian, it’s not entirely comfortable to sit in a gathering of mostly Jews reflecting on the Holocaust, and perhaps that’s why I made a point to be there, to be present to horrific tragedy but also to my own discomfort. I’m now pondering what it means for a Christian to remember the Holocaust and how to be a Christian in a post-Holocaust world.
These questions are salient because confronting this genocide requires more of us than the mass killings in Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, or the Congo. Though not widely discussed, the stream of anti-Judaism that originated in the New Testament created conditions that made the Holocaust possible. For example, the charge of deicide, that the Jews killed Jesus and that all Jews for all time are guilty, comes right out of Matthew’s Gospel and has been used against Jews for centuries to terrible effect. The Passion narratives, which we just read during Holy Week, generally encourage this view, and preaching about them rarely provides a clearer context or clarification on these texts.
As Christians, Holocaust days of remembrance invite us to grow in awareness of our tradition’s dark side as a means of preventing future tragedy. Other Holocaust-related observances include the international memorial day on January 27 marking the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and Kristallnacht on November 9-10, as well as annual days of remembrance in the US designated by Congress. In that spirit, here are several articles that broaden our understanding of anti-Judaism within Christianity:
Recently my husband, son, and I were privileged to attend a Passover Seder at our friends’ home. Actually, we participated in the Seder, because we were called upon to read and joined in many ritual gestures. Most moving to me was the “spilling of wine” for the ten plagues. As each one was said aloud – frogs, boils, locusts, etc – we removed a drop of wine from our glasses to signify that “our cup of joy is reduced by the knowledge that the Egyptians suffered as we became free.” Perhaps one day the Church will engage in such ritual honesty regarding violence done in its name. Especially during the Easter season, “spilling of wine” in the Eucharist could acknowledge that approaches to proclaiming Jesus that are harmful to Jews diminish our joy in the resurrection. Given the recent shooting in Kansas City and ongoing events in Ukraine, we must never forget that antisemitism is a current reality, not a memory