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JCF Blog

Never Forget

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 4/28/2016

 “We are a people in whom the past endures, in whom the present is inconceivable without moments gone by.”  

Abraham Joshua Heschel

At the onset of Passover each year there are a host of emotions that surface for me.  It is a time of reconnecting with an ancient ritual that helps to identify who we are as a people, a time of gathering for friends and family around the dinner table (and what’s more Jewish than that?), and a time to celebrate freedom.

At our Seder each year, we make room for discussion of what slavery means to us in a modern sense. Fortunately, for most of us slavery is only a metaphor even if it is still one that moves us and influences how we define ourselves and our people.  However, I was reminded last week while attending a “symbolic Seder” for Holocaust survivors (organized and hosted by Jewish Family Services and the Mandell JCC) that for the oldest members of our community it isn’t a metaphor. 

The room was filled with elderly survivors, community leaders and students from Hebrew High School of New England – a fitting representation of all that Passover means. It is, after all, a holiday with a unique perspective on time.  In some symbolic way a strange bending of time in which past, present and future all coexist at the same time.

We are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus each year at Passover “as if we were still slaves in Egypt”; telling an ancient story as if it were occurring in the present. Yet, we are also commanded to tell the story to the youngest among us so that they may forever remember into the future. This coming together of past, present and future is an inherent, often unrecognized component of our Passover Seders.

Remembering and celebrating with a room full of survivors was a powerful and emotional experience – made all the more significant by the realization that it was also the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Here stands a generation of our elders who experienced, not unlike the Israelites escaping Egypt, unthinkable horror.  The lessons they have to teach us about humanity and evil and perseverance are profound and eternal.

As this generation slowly leaves us perhaps our Passover Seders should be adopted to include a commandment to remember them as well.

There are resources all around us to teach us of the past. To remind us that to see slavery and oppression we do not have to look further than those in our community that are still with us. As we each explore the modern meaning of the Exodus story during this Passover season, I encourage all of you to seek out those resources that remind us of the oppression that is not so far removed. 

Explore the resources (on line and in person) of the U.S.Holocaust Memorial Museum or Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Center; seek out the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford, the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at the University of Connecticut, or Connecticut Voices of Hope – the 2nd and 3rd generation survivor’s organization – and learn more. 

So that we will never forget.

Important resources on the Holocaust and Genocide:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - https://www.ushmm.org/

The Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford -http://uhaweb.hartford.edu/greenberg-center/

Connecticut Voices of Hope - http://ctvoicesofhope.org/

Yad Vashem - http://www.yadvashem.org/

Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at UConn - http://judaicstudies.uconn.edu/

    Michael Johnston is the President and CEO of the Jewish                Community Foundation of Greater Hartford.


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