Tomorrow on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I will gather together with other Georgetown University students — as well as millions of Jews across the world — and recite kaddish, the Jewish mourners’ prayer. I recite the prayer for my grandfathers’ families: their siblings, their parents and grandparents. Some were hardly of kindergarten age, and others were well into their elderly years. The time and circumstances of their deaths are still unknown.

At best, we can only wonder what their last moments were like. We can imagine they thought of their family, the family they knew. They did not know us, but we know them. For the more distant relatives, the hundreds of cousins who perished, we cannot say that. But at least for my grandfathers’ families, we have names, and we have stories. I can picture the last moments that my grandfathers had together with their families — the last words they said to their mothers — before history put them on different paths.

This day serves a different purpose than International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the day that is meant to serve as an opportunity to educate us regarding the events and history of the Holocaust. Today is more personal — Yom Hashoah is a day for memorializing. We do not know when a vast number of the victims of the Shoah – Hebrew for “Holocaust”passed, so we choose a day on which to gather and collectively recite the mourners’ prayer on their behalf.

What is it to memorialize the Holocaust? Surely, we think of the victims. Their names are on our lips. Images and stories flash through our minds. We try to insert ourselves into those memories. In vain, we perhaps attempt to imagine that we too were there — that we, too, may know them.

Yet, it is fitting that Yom Hashoah is intentionally remembered each year near the Hebrew calendar day that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began in 1943. A group of Jewish fighters who were fully aware that the ghetto would soon be liquidated chose, if only for a moment, to seek to be their own liberators. My great-grandparents died in that ghetto along with those liberators.

It is equally appropriate that Yom Hashoah will be followed two weeks later by Yom Haatzmaut, when Israel will celebrate 69 years of independence. Israel, an unfinished project that has been wrought with conflict, has allowed at least one certainty: Sixty-nine years of Jewish liberation to a degree that has never previously been felt within our history. Despite historical tragedies, and perhaps even motivated by them, the Jewish people have found the ability to reaffirm themselves through the state of Israel.

Still, this is a comfort that we take in stride. Memorializing the Shoah takes many forms. Many Jewish students walk on Georgetown’s campus carrying a burden of history. Ashkenazi or Sephardi, whether it was from the Shoah or another time in history, these students walk around campus shadowed by stories of persecution. The level of responsibility they feel towards this history varies; the way this responsibility manifests itself takes different forms.

One thing is certain: To memorialize is not to be in the past, but to live.

Ask these Jewish Georgetown students — one can only find out by asking — and some will respond that their history gives them a responsibility to use their voice in political activism. Others will say it motivates them to be successful academically, and later professionally. There are those who say it makes them feel grateful for their family, their tradition and perhaps even their freedom.

It would not be of great surprise if you heard similar responses from descendants of the Armenian genocide, the Cambodian genocide, the Rwandan genocide or refugees from Iraq and Syria. To memorialize the Holocaust is not to dwell solely on past tragedies, but rather to make an effort to evaluate how that past informs our future and to achieve ever greater heights. It is a memory that is lived.

Tomorrow at 10:45 a.m., Jewish Georgetown students will gather outside the Healy Foyer and collectively recite the mourner’s prayer, a prayer that does not mention death even once. Join us as we remember individuals, but also history and its mandate to live. Together, we will cry out, “May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon all of us.”

Jonathan Mühlrad is a senior in the College.

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One Comment

  1. Alt Right Hoya says:

    How do you feel about the genocide being committed against Christians in the Middle East?

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