Yom HaShoah is such a young holy day that it has not set rituals. Only in Israel is there a ritual-at 11 am all people stop whatever they are doing and stand at attention for two minutes as the sirens sound.
Rabbi Telushkin wrote "One problem with establishing rituals for Yom HaShoah is that the Holocaust's horror overwhelms the religious imagination. What ritual can adequately convey Auschwitz, and what the Nazis did there?"
He adds that a number of years ago he heard a prominent Orthodox rabbi suggest that Jews should congregate on that day in synagogues and say nothing. They should not even say the Kaddish prayer because that prayer is an exaltation of God's greatness, which is not what needs to be expressed on that day. One rabbi would changed the way the Mi Camocha prayer is vocalized so that instead of mi camocha baElim Adonai which means "Who is like You among the gods Adonai," it reads mi camocha baIlim Adonai, "Who is like You among the deaf?" The revocalized prayer implies God's turning a deaf ear to the cries of His children.
Another rabbi suggested that the Holocaust be commemorated not once a year but at every Shabbat. Instead of serving a lavish Shabbat lunch, people should eat as they had in Auschwitz, rotting potatoes and stale bread.
It was decided that the day be on the twenty-seventh day of Nissan. The date was designated by the Israeli Knesset after much debate. The Israeli Rabbinate had wanted it to be the tenth of Tevet, a minor fast day that commemorates the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem in 586, but many survivors of the Holocaust opposed it, feeling that the Holocaust was so momentous it deserved its own date. Many secular Israelis lobbied for April 19th to be the date, the day in 1943 when the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto launched their incredible revolt. It accorded with the official Israeli name of the Holy Day which is Yom HaShoah ve-ha-Gevurah (The Memorial Day for the Holocaust and for Acts of Courage). However, that date in the Hebrew calendar coincides with the first night of Passover. Not a coincidence, as the Nazis wanted to destroy the Warsaw ghetto on one of the most joyous holidays.
Imagine how different Passover would be if the Knesset had agreed to make the first day of Passover a national day of mourning?
The 27th of Nissan was chosen as a date that does not coincide with other holidays or events, but does fall during the span of time the Warsaw ghetto was uprising.
I love the Holocaust Memorial Service that our 9th grade religious school class creates every year with such heart and soul. This year they will lead the service on April 20th at 8 pm in our sanctuary.
One week after Yom HaShoah is Yom HaAtzmaut, underscoring the connection between such tremendous loss and the miracle of gaining an independent homeland. It is emotionally challenging, to move in a short period of time from such a dark place to a place of such lightness, however, that is precisely what Jews do. We make light.
"To make light" means not to allow your troubles to weight you down, burdening you with pain. It also means, to illuminate dark places.
How can you learn from the juxtaposition of these two holy days to "make light" in your own life?
The fact that we have such a beautiful ancient ritual of spring and redemption, and two very young, modern holy days in the same month, teaches us something about God as well. It teaches that we have a God that is a part of history, and that the sacred parchment of our days lengthens with each striving generation.