This past week, we recognized Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah, which translates to “the day of remembrance for the Calamity and for heroism,” but which is commonly known as Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Not an organized group at the 5Cs, including the multitude of Jewish organizations, ran a program, event, commemoration, or memorial in the day’s honor.
In conversations with Jewish leaders across the campuses, I was stunned at the abject dismissal of Yom HaShoah programming. The excuses ranged from the hosting of other events, such as retreats, or a general lack of proactivity, preparation, or time which doomed any potential openings for an event.
All are thoroughly unacceptable and, frankly, pitiful justifications for any Jewish organization’s decision not to put on a commemoration for Yom HaShoah or, at the very least, send out a public message.
In fact, as far as I can tell, the only attention paid to Yom HaShoah this year was a Facebook post by the campus group Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance. (In the interest of full disclosure, I sit on the board of the C.P.I.A.)
Remembrance is at the core of who we are as Jews.
From our holidays throughout the year to our liturgy and cultural environment, an integral theme is the importance of recalling our suffering and salvation and passing it onto the next generation of Jews — a concept known as L’dor Vador. It is downright irresponsible for a Jewish organization to prioritize a recreational social gathering over Yom HaShoah.
Holocaust Remembrance Day should be the lynchpin of the semester around which all other events are coordinated and organized. Honoring the six million members of our family whom the Nazis and their collaborators targeted and eliminated is paramount to the survival of their legacy.
Coinciding with this year’s Yom HaShoah, a groundbreaking study produced by The Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany — the preeminent organization working toward justice in the form of compensation and restitution for Holocaust victims — revealed that understanding and basic knowledge of the Holocaust in the United States is rapidly declining and, in many instances, nonexistent. The worst offenders are aged 18 to 34, according to their survey.
The Claremont Colleges have an enormous opportunity to insist Holocaust remembrance be appreciated among an institution teeming with 18 to 34 year olds.
As of now, the colleges themselves are failing mightily. Yom HaShoah isn’t even marked on the colleges’ calendars. As if that isn’t negligent enough, in response to recent anti-Semitic episodes — including the removal and theft of students’ ritual Jewish prayer encasements affixed to doorposts known as mezuzot or mezuzah — Pitzer College chose to host a mezuzah-making event on Yom HaShoah.
Pitzer College band-aiding its abysmal track record of combating anti-Semitic sentiments on campus by scheduling a non-related event to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance day is so ironic it is almost laughable.
Despite Pitzer’s presumed well-intentions, its actions indicate a lack of Holocaust awareness. On the other hand, one exception to the consortium-wide disregard for Holocaust remembrance was a Harvey Mudd College event featuring the child of a Holocaust survivor earlier this semester.
One need not speak with one of the 400,000 living Holocaust survivors worldwide or, as I have, visit Auschwitz or Majdanek and witness the preserved horrors firsthand to appreciate the importance of Yom HaShoah.
The reality of burgeoning anti-Semitism, from college campuses to right and left wing parties across the globe to Jewish murders on grounds still wet with the blood of the Holocaust, makes clear why Holocaust remembrance is not only crucial for the sake of sentimentality, but also for current peril facing the Jewish community across the globe.
Yom HaShoah is the ideal date for the Colleges to prove that they take Holocaust education and awareness seriously.
No, education is not the exclusive solution to anti-Semitism; the German Empire was the leading educational powerhouse in Europe at the close of the nineteenth century.
But, I invite you to consider how many college students are knowledgeable of, or could properly explain, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an unparalleled act of Jewish heroism during the Holocaust to which Yom HaShoah is partially dedicated.
Education, in conjunction with an emphasis on tolerance and respect, is an effective apparatus for weakening the stranglehold of hate.
Those who learn of the Holocaust are responsible to fortify a frontline against tyranny. The Colleges, as distinguished institutions of higher learning, must observe Yom HaShoah as a day of reflection, action, and learning.
Zachary Freiman PO '20 is a Music and Public Policy Analysis double major from Sleepy Hollow, NY. He dreams of one day meeting Oprah Winfrey.