Eighteen, or chai, the Hebrew word for 18, is a number that signifies life. Eighteen plagues will be recited, 18 drops of water spilled as part of the Shoah Seder, a ritual of remembrance and redemption.
Most people associate a seder with Passover, the holiday that commemorates the liberation and exodus of the Israelites from Egypt in biblical times. More Jews celebrate Passover than any other Jewish holiday; it is increasingly being observed by Christians as well.
Just as the asking of the Four Questions is central to the Passover seder, so too are the questions: Why a Shoah Seder? And why in May?
As we near a time when all we will have are the memories and written testimony of the survivors, the Shoah Seder was conceived and developed by the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ as a new approach to commemorating the Holocaust, an event that changed the world and continues to have enormous influence in the 21st century. It is taking place in May because World War II officially ended in May 1945.
Here's another question: Why spill water? And here's the answer: Water is the essence of life. Each spilled drop symbolizes the diminishment and eventual destruction of life that took place during the Holocaust. The latest figures from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimate the number of lives lost at 15 million, 6 million of whom were Jews. These 6 million constitute two of every three Jews of Europe, and more than a third of the entire Jewish population.
To put it in stark perspective, while the world's population has more than tripled since the 1930s, the Jewish population remains at less than what is was before Hitler rose to power.
Why remember? Memory is crucial to understanding who we are as individuals, families, groups and nations. Mistakes remembered can become lessons that help us. A child learning to walk falls many times before muscle memory kicks in. One of the Torah's commandments is to remember The philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who fail to learn history are condemned to repeat it."
"Never again!" the cry of survivors after the war, has become the mantra of survivors of the post-Holocaust genocides that continue to occur. We cannot avert natural disasters but we can avert wars and genocides. In fact, in a world of nuclear capabilities, as well as biological and chemical weapons of war, we can and must resolve to learn from history if we are to continue as species. We must raise interest and awareness of protecting the history of the Holocaust in order to protect the world.
The Shoah Seder, the first ever in New Jersey, and possibly the country, took place on Sunday (May 19). It was an interfaith and intergenerational event that included ritual foods and a light festive meal, wine and water, musical selections and performances, candle lighting and participatory readings, poetry and power point presentations, singing and dancing. It was an amazing day.
It is the hope of the Holocaust Council, as well as my personal dream, that this seder be replicated in the years ahead by Jewish and non-Jewish families, organizations, congregations and schools. Please contact us at email@example.com or (973) 929-3194 if you want more information on the Shoah Seder or other Holocaust resources. Together, we will "Never Forget."
Barbara Wind is the director of the Holocaust Center of Greater MetroWest, part of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The child of Holocaust survivors, Wind, a published poet, wrote the Shoah Seder haggadah with advice from Rabbi Len Levin and Holocaust survivor Gerda Bikales. Graphic design is by Anne G. Zaccardo.