A Google Israel search for alternative Yom HaShoah ceremonies this year turned up quite a few options. One could go to the Habama theater to hear singer Gilad Vital of the rock group Shotei Hanvuah perform with his father Haim Vital, a Holocaust survivor, or to the Khan theater to see a play based on Primo Levi’s If This is a Man. One could attend a ceremony in Yiddish with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai at the Yiddishspiel theater, or hear piano compositions in Jerusalem written by the composer Victor Ulman while he was imprisoned in Terezin.
This broad range of offerings, however, is a somewhat new development. In 1999, when the Israeli writer Sarah Blau was 25, she noticed that her friends weren’t attending the country’s official Yom HaShoah commemorations. When she asked why, they told her that that while they cared about the Holocaust, the ceremonies didn’t speak to them. To fill the gap, Blau began her own Yom HaShoah commemoration.
She gathered 10 people from different walks of life—many of whom who did not have a direct connection to the Holocaust—and had them speak about it. Something clicked: the commemoration has taken place annually in Tel Aviv for the past 15 years. Blau ran the event until 2011, at which point Avi Gavison Bar-El took over.
The concept behind the ceremony, as articulated in a 2004 Yediot Ahronot article, was to turn “collective memory into a personal memory.” The idea was to invite a small handful of people, including Ethiopians and Mizrahi Jews who don’t have direct family links to the tragedies of European Jewry, to share about their memories and feelings. Among the speakers that year was Shai Nahon, who had his grandmother’s Auschwitz number—A27276—tattooed on his own arm. This year’s event offers a similarly robust program, with readings from Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and talks by professors, activists, writers, and, actors.
Each year there are fewer survivors to share their stories and discuss their experiences. But with each Yom HaShoah, it also seems that there are dynamic, challenging, engaging new ways to commemorate the Holocaust—and new generation of Jews ready to take up the mantle of remembrance.
Beth Kissileff is the editor of the anthology Reading Genesis (Continuum, 2016) and the author of the novelQuestioning Return (Mandel Vilar Press, 2016). Visit her online at www.bethkissileff.com.