Today is Yom HaShoah, otherwise known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. The first Holocaust Remembrance Day occurred on December 28, 1949; the Israeli Knesset later moved the observance to April 12, 1951 (the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan). This specific day was chosen because it marked the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. And although the holiday began in Israel shortly after it was established, the Jewish community outside of Israel also began commemorating it.
Learning about and studying the Holocaust was a formative part of my teenage years. During my senior year in high school, I became a Holocaust docent through a Holocaust organization in the Bay Area. In this role, I went to middle schools around the area to do presentations about the Holocaust.
It was that same year in 1992, on Yom HaShoah, that I wore a kippah to school (or really anywhere else outside of my house or at synagogue). I can still remember how proud I felt wearing it. I must have been stopped by at least 100 people in my school, asking me why I was wearing it and why I did do it that day. I enjoyed educating people so much that I decided to wear it again the next day and have worn one ever since. For me, it was one way I could share our story, not just about the Holocaust, but our Jewish story, traditions, beliefs, and values with others.
In fact, from the time I was a college student until I was in my 30s, I always enjoyed wearing my "fun" kippot – my Mickey Mouse, Looney Tunes, Winnie-the-Pooh, or my watermelon one in public because I felt I would be more approachable for people to stop me and ask questions about Judaism. I vividly remember someone tapping me on the shoulder at the Dallas airport, having a 25-minute conversation about religion, and answering questions that he had always wanted to ask someone Jewish but had been afraid to ask. He told me he decided to stop me because of the Mickey Mouse design on my kippah.
I was reminded of this story and my kippah-wearing "anniversary" during a meeting I had yesterday with the Consul General of Israel while interviewing him for an upcoming article in JLife SGPV magazine. We were discussing how for many people, the Holocaust is how they feel connected to their Judaism and that we are responsible for educating people about our experiences as Jews, including the lessons of the Holocaust.
Later this week, I will be doing just that when I make a presentation to the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office about the Holocaust and how lessons learned are still relevant today.
I encourage you to take a moment today, even if you read this message after Yom HaShoah has ended, and remember. Remember those who were murdered. Remember those who risked their own lives, even their family's lives, to do what was right. Remember the Allied soldiers tasked with helping restore hope for those who survived the horrors of the camps. By doing this and sharing what happened with others, you will be doing your part to ensure future generations NEVER FORGET!
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