Legacy. What’s a Legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.
-Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton: An American Musical
Every week at the end of our service we end with the same ritual, Kaddish Yatom, Mourner’s Kaddish. Literally, Kaddish Yatom translates to the “Orphan’s Kaddish.” Perhaps the prayer is called this because we become orphaned when our family dies. Ending a service on such a somber and sobering note is a curious tradition. Perhaps it would be more uplifting to end with some kind of blessing for children, to see the small smiling faces beaming at a congregation full of family and friends. Instead, we end in memory by reciting the names of loved ones newly and long gone. There is power in this act of recollection. When we say their names, we breathe life into their legacy. We don’t stop just at Kaddish. The names of our family members who have entered eternity become a part of the spoken traditions at all the family gatherings. Most families have a storyteller, even if they aren’t designated as such, and when there are family meals, this person can be found reciting the story and history of the family to everyone present physically and spiritually. This is how their legacy lives on.
Unfortunately, our community knows all too well that there are those for whom there is very little to recite, not because there was no family and there was no history, but because the stories and the memories died with the generation who was killed in the Shoah. The few who survived the atrocities have become the storytellers of six million—not only of the lowest depths humanity can sink but more importantly, of the beautiful lives lived by those before and after the darkness. Their legacy, the legacy of the Six Million, has become ours to continue.
On Yom HaShoah, we remember those whose legacy is a part of the collective story of the Jewish people. We recall those who died at the hands of evil oppressors and those who escaped and survived and have only died in recent years. The legacy of Six Million is many fold, but can be boiled down to the phrase, “never again.” On Yom HaShoah, we remember those who died at the hands of the Nazis long ago and we remind ourselves that the legacy of their lives has not yet been fulfilled. Still, to this day, humans are oppressed, mistreated, and killed for no other reason than for being who they are. As those whose responsibility it is to carry on the legacy of the Six Million, we must remember and never forget. Remember their faces, their villages, their vibrant lives, and never forget the vigilance needed to stamp out hatred and bigotry wherever it appears.
As you are reading, the sun is starting to set on another Yom HaShoah, and as we inch further and further away from WWII, we, the next generations, are the ones who must provide the testimony of our people. And so in their memory do we recite Kaddish, for those who have no one to say it on their behalf. This Shabbat, at the conclusion of services, when we typically recite Kaddish Yatom, we will read the adapted version for Yom HaShoah composed by Elie Wiesel. It may seem like a strange custom to talk about God after the Shoah. Many have questioned whether God is still with us after the Shoah. Even if we struggle with that part of belief, then Kaddish must be an act of memory to breathe life into the legacy of the Six Million.
Yitgadal v’yitkadash shmei rabah….May the Source of Eternity become ever greater and ever more present in our lives. May we find comfort in these words as an act of memory and as an impetus to action. May this Shabbat lead us to quiet reflection, and energize us for a week filled with purpose.