Yom Hashoah and Chabad of Poway

Each year, for many years, the JCA has worked together with the Maine Jewish Film Festival, area synagogues, and other Jewish organizations to develop a public Yom Ha’Shoah observance during which we gather in community to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day, and to honor and support Holocaust survivors and their descendants.


On Wednesday night, in collaboration with Chabad of Maine, we added a program earlier in the evening to mark last weekend’s terrible violence at the Chabad Center in Poway, California. This year, when the United States has experienced a sharp rise in anti-Semitic violence and at the same time a significant drop in levels of knowledge about the Holocaust and its history, the importance of Yom Ha’Shoah could not be more clear.


The full name of this holiday is the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism. We remember, against all odds and through unimaginable depravity, the Jewish people’s commitment to human dignity and the sanctity of life. Right now, we face a difficult moment that calls on us to draw upon the strength of who we are and move forward despite our grief and the presence of terrifying evil.


Earlier this week, Rabbi Ariel Berger shared eight lessons on how to respond to anti-Semitic and other hate crimes from the brilliant activist, thinker, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:


  1. When you see signs of hate – don’t wait – fight it.
  2. Believe the enemies’ words. They mean what they say.
  3. There is no escape from history, and we must not become complacent. We have always had to fight against hatred, and there are lessons in memory. Be alert.
  4. Use words carefully, with precision, to unmask and name evil.
  5. Don’t fight alone. Build unity within your community.
  6. Build unities across communities too. Our friendship with others is a powerful weapon against the forces that try to divide us.
  7. Don’t be defined by the hate you fight. Tragedy doesn’t define us; our response to tragedy does. As you fight hate, don’t fall into hate.
  8. Remember to celebrate the things worth celebrating. With the grief, pain, and anger, there will also be moments of joy. Celebration is an act of rebellion, subversion, revolution.


So today we remember not only the scale and brutality of the Shoah, but also the incredible heroism of the Jewish people. In our sadness and despair, we can still kindle the sparks of heroism to take action, make an impact, or change a life. We can continue to help the sparks grow by embracing and celebrating this incredible, beautiful tradition in whatever ways are most meaningful to us – and by never forgetting or diminishing its value. Last night, we heard many echoes of this heroism. May we be inspired to link our remembrance to action, to appreciate and celebrate the gifts of life, relationship, and history every day. May we be inspired to be alert to both danger and joy and to never stop fighting hate in all its forms.


Molly Curren Rowles
Executive Director

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