26 of Iyar – Day of Liberation and Rescue

A historian, three Rabbis, a Council member, a Cantor and a Professor showed us during an international online event, conducted by Beit Juhuro on Iyar 26, how a catastrophe can unite us throughout cultures and ages, why the Jewish nation can be compared to a Phoenix bird, what religious significance 26 of Iyar has for us and how this holiday was instituted. Unbelievable stories were told, Tehillim and Male Rachamim were recited, and documentaries were shown, accompanied by the beautiful singing of Rabbi Cantor Yaakov Bar.

Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt started his speech with an incredible comparison.

When Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu were killed by fire, Aaron was quiet. There was nothing to say. When 6 million Jews perished during one of the darkest times of Jewish history, the world stayed quiet. There was indeed nothing to say for them.

Slowly, very slowly people started to talk again about what had happened.

It the year 1950, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was faced with the question when to recite Kaddish or light an anniversary candle for the ones that had been killed during the war and who’s day of death was unknown. The Rabbis chose 10th of Tevet, a day of fasting and grief over the siege of Jerusalem during the first Temple period, as a collective anniversary date of the departed.

Three years passed and the secular leadership of Israel decided to create a Holocaust Remembrance Day, for which they chose 27th of Nisan, the date of the uprising of the Warsaw ghetto. Haredi Jews didn’t accept this date and wrote Kinot, eulogies, which they added to the Tisha be Av prayers.

In 2005, 60 years after end of Word War II, the UN agreed to institute a worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Day. They picked the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, January 27.

Many years passed and a group of Russian Rabbis, led by German Zakharyayev, the president of the STMEGI foundation of Mountain Jews, finally come to the conclusion that May 9, the date of the liberation from Nazi Germany, or 26th of Iyar in the Hebrew calendar, should be the true Holocaust Remembrance Day, since it is the day celebrating the surrender of Nazi Germany and thereby the end of World War II. While Western countries recognize May 8th as the end of war, Eastern countries only celebrate it on May 9. Iyar 26 unites both dates because the days in the Hebrew calendar start at night (Rabbi Goldschmidt).

Which major concept can be learned from Iyar 26, as opposed to the other previous dates that were chosen?

In every generation there have been enemies who wanted to eradicate us (the Holocaust was probably the most evident), Rabbi Aryeh Katzin, executive director of RAJE explained during our Zoom event. Somehow, we always survive miraculously and praise Almighty for destroying our enemies.  Many of our Jewish holidays, e.g. Pessach, Hanukah, or Purim, celebrate our survival as a nation, Rabbi Katzin continued. This in fact, is our very essence. Even though God hides his face in the darkness of exile, His presence still manifest Itself in the history of the Jews. 26 of Iyar is, therefore, not a day to praise ourselves for our victory, but about praising Hashem. Praising is our essence and the reason why we are here in this world.

Rabbi Reuven Khaskin, a Rabbi in Manhattan Beach Shtieble and one of the speakers that night, compared the constant survival of the Jewish nation to the Phoenix bird. In Greek folklore the Phoenix bird obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. This is exactly what characterizes the Jewish nation. While our enemies fall, we get up from the ashes and start rebuilding.  The Bamidbar Torah portion starts with Hashem counting the Jews, Rabbi Khaskin noted. This is to show how precious each Jew is to Him. Indeed, every Jew is a world. We lost 6 million worlds during the war. But it’s not our numbers that make us great, but our connection to God.

But what can we do to stop this seemingly endless cycle of our enemies attacking us and Hashem delivering us from their hands?

Historian and a child of war, Dr. Svetlana Danilova gave us a beautiful answer to this by quoting the Nobel prize winner, Israeli mathematician, Robert Aumann: “There is a danger of terrorism and war that faces the Jewish nation, but what is even more dangerous to us is the division among our own people.” Unity is indeed the key to our survival as a nation. Only when we are united, we can stand up against nowadays fascism.

After Dr. Danilova had mentioned the word unity, we realized how evident it was in the very Zoom meeting we were having. Most participants of the meeting were young people from the Leadership Fellowship program, while many speakers belonged to an older generation. Some of the notes speakers we had the pleasure of hearing from that evening were Dr. Faye Zakheim, an NYU professor and a community activist and Councilman Chaim Deutsch, Brooklyn politician of Jewish faith. Both are the children of the Mauthausen concentration camp survivors. Rabbi Katzin’s grandfather was the one of the people who liberated that same camp. The memory of our nation’s tragic events can unite people of different ages and cultures. May the Holocaust Remembrance Day, Iyar 26, inspire us to further unite as a nation and at the same time prevent such a tragic event from taking place ever again.