October 2, 2023 -
Rabbi Joshua Caruso shared these remarks during the April 20 Community-Wide Yom HaShoah Commemoration. The link to the entire streamed ceremony can be found here.
Shalom, everyone. On behalf of Rabbi Nosanchuk, Cantor Sager and Rabbi Chernow-Reader, and the lay leadership of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, we are honored to virtually host tonight’s commemoration of Yom HaShoah. While we had hoped to all join together in our beautiful Joseph and Florence Mandel Sanctuary, I have set its image in my background as a reminder of where we all should be right now.
Just last week I officiated at a funeral for a longtime temple member who had lived a good life. Her list of life achievements was numerous, as she supported many Jewish causes important to us all. When I met with her son and daughters, they told me how their mother had resolved, before marrying, to have three children (which she did). She would say, “Everyone who can bring children into the world should have three: one for you, one for me, and one for the Jewish people.”
I think there is a lesson here that means more than only fulfilling the mitzvah to “be fruitful and multiply.” It’s the idea that our Judaism survives beyond our time here on earth. There is you. There is me. And there is the Jewish people.
Our survival as a people depends on each one of us looking beyond our earthly selves. Our survival transcends Jewish movements. It transcends our personal beliefs, our practices, and our pilpulistic interpretations. It must surpass all of that. Most importantly, it must surpass identifying ourselves solely through victimhood.
The great attorney and defender against holocaust deniers, Deborah Lipstadt, once said that “being a Jew is about so much more than being a victim. Our identity as Jews must not be rooted in ‘Jew as object,’ what is done to Jews, but ‘Jew as subject,’ what Jews do.”
Yes, our identity is built on what Jews do…not what was done to us. This was demonstrated best in Halle, Germany, when Jewish worshippers on Yom Kippur were under attack from a Nazi terrorist. As you know by now, the only thing that saved them was a reinforced door and security personnel funded by Federation. After the attack, those very same Jews finished their prayers and celebrated the conclusion of Yom Kippur with a well-deserved Break-Fast – and dancing!
Every year, on Yom HaShoah, we should certainly continue to tell the story of the tragedy of our brothers and sisters who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis. We should pass on the stories of the crematoria, the dehumanization of our people, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the shame of the bystanders who let the horror happen.
But we must also remember how we rose up from the ashes, how we formed a Jewish nation-state so we could exercise agency in this world.
I am proud of what we do here in Jewish Cleveland, what we do to support and enrich our respective communities, and how we take care of our own.
There is you, there is me, and there is the Jewish people.
May we continue to thrive and grow in our Jewish identity today, and in the days to come.