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Preserving memory with new tradition
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Preserving memory with new tradition

Holocaust Council creates Shoa seder as model for others

Well past the Passover season, the Holocaust Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ is planning a seder on Sunday, May 19, at the Aidekman campus in Whippany.

Drawing on some of the rituals associated with the Passover Haggada, the Shoa Seder is being planned to coincide with the month that Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps in 1945.

Council director Barbara Wind said she hopes the special meal and the readings she has prepared will become “an option to conventional memorials” and “a way for individual families to commemorate the Holocaust,” enabling Jews and non-Jews to learn from it.

“It is about creating a new ritual that may become a substitute for the commemorations which are standard now,” she said.

Efforts to ritualize the Holocaust have been under way almost from the time Jews absorbed the news of the slaughter of the Six Million. The Israeli government established Yom Hashoa in 1953 as a secular day of commemoration, although many rabbis and religious movements have created rituals around the commemoration, from lighting yahrtzeit candles to writing special liturgy. Others have created Holocaust “haggadot,” including Rabbi Avi Weiss, a Modern Orthodox rabbi in Riverdale, NY, and Conservative Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg of Edison.

Still, few of these rituals have become universal.

With an eye on the not-so-distant future, Wind is anticipating a time “when the survivors and even their descendants are no longer with us. Some survivors are very concerned that people will stop remembering this watershed in history and stop learning from it as well.”

With that concern in mind, the Haggada deals with issues of genocide and the myriad challenges survivors have had to deal with, both in the physical and psychological realm. It expresses the hope that “all who participate be strengthened to change the world for the good of all who dwell herein.”

The program will include participatory readings and songs performed in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. Luester Wesley, who works as a bookkeeper at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, will perform gospel songs.

“There will be a variety of breads, including matza,” Wind said, to “symbolize the variety of people who were killed.”

In another ritual, one side of an egg will be dipped in a bowl of ashes as a traditional symbol of mourning, and the other side will be dipped in salt water to symbolize tears. Bitter herbs, along with turnips and potatoes, will be eaten “because they were the food eaten by most survivors,” said Wind. “Milk and honey at the end of the meal will represent redemption and the Promised Land.”

Unlike conventional remembrance services, the seder will not feature speakers who recount their personal stories of survival. “It will be very structured,” Wind said. “We will be following a specific order.”

Because many Holocaust memorials are held in the Greater MetroWest area surrounding the observance of Yom Hashoa, Wind is sensitive to the notion that some may perceive the Shoa Seder as redundant or excessive.

“In our community we have the advantage of having many survivors and liberators,” she said. “That is not the case elsewhere. So our hope is this will be something other communities will use. I want people to be moved enough by it to want to replicate it.”

For the time being, Wind believes the seder should augment — not replace — Yom Hashoa memorial ceremonies.

“I am a firm believer in giving every survivor the opportunity to testify about his or her experience and giving those who did not have that experience the privilege of hearing a living survivor. Until the last survivor is unable to do that, the memorials and commemorations should absolutely continue,” she said.

The program is open to the public. A grant from the Darivoff Family Foundation will make it possible for the council to conduct the seder at no cost to participants. Admiral Wines will provide beverages for the occasion.

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