‘Thou shalt not give Hitler a posthumous victory’ – Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah – SJN, January 2017
On 27th January, it will be National Holocaust Memorial Day; the day set aside by the UK government for annual commemoration of the Holocaust; chosen because 27th January 1945, the date when the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi horror. NHMD was established to ensure that people in Britain remember the Holocaust, acknowledge the genocides that have happened since 1945, and actively engage in learning the lessons of the past for the sake of the future.
I decided to study to be a rabbi for many reasons – not least, my determination not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. I found out about this additional mitzvah, when I read Emil Fackenheim’s book, The Jewish Return into History (Schocken Books, 1978), where he refers to it as the ‘614th commandment’. I had been one of those Jews who took their Jewishness for granted and didn’t do much about it – apart from witnessing the lighting of Shabbat candles in my family home and celebrating the festivals – again, with my family. But I didn’t take any personal responsibility for living as a Jew, and knew very little about Judaism. Like many females of my generation, brought up in the 50s and 60s, I hadn’t celebrated becoming bat mitzvah. I hadn’t even heard of bat mitzvah. I left cheder before my ninth birthday, after my older brother had his bar mitzvah.
Jews who choose to live as Jews after the Sho’ah deny Hitler a posthumous victory. A few years ago, I came across a very troubling statistic. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War there were 450,000 Jews living in Britain. By the1980s, the figure had dropped to 270,000. That decline during a period when Jews were not under threat startled me. In 2005, participating in a rabbinic study trip to Berlin to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, I was confronted with another statistic. We were visiting the villa on the Wannsee lake outside Berlin, where the Nazi top brass had met together in 1942 to deliberate ‘the final solution’. Looking around the exhibition, one item on display caught my attention: it was a typed list of all the Jewish populations of Europe. The ‘total’ at the foot of the list was 11 million. Amongst the countries listed: Britain….. 500,000. Hitler never got to Britain. If Britain had been invaded…
Of course, there’s much more to living as a Jew then defying Hitler. I have dedicated my rabbinate to making Jewish teaching and practice relevant and engaging for our lives today. After havdalah following Shabbat Chanukkah, BHPS launched Celebrating Shabbat, a 52-page booklet of Hebrew text, transliterations and translations to accompany the YISM’CHU CD of Shabbat songs I produced with BHPS principal soloist, Andy Cable in 2007. The booklet includes Erev Shabbat kiddush, havdalah and birkat ha-mazon (thanksgiving after meals), as well as the Torah and Haftarah blessings and begins with my thoughts on how the gift of Shabbat can nourish, renew and deepen our lives in today’s 24/7 culture. Copies of the booklet are available from BHPS for a donation of £5 + £1 p+p. Copies of the CD are also available for a donation of £10 + £2 p+p. On NHMD, let us declare with pride: Am Yisraeil Chai! The People Israel Lives!