How can we better Memorialize the Shoah in our Synagogues?

The Holocaust now is memorialized in synagogues mainly peripherally through added events and tacked on references or via artwork in the building vestibule. We think that the Shoah must be more tightly integrated into the ritual and symbolism of every Jewish place of worship.

We have pondered over the years how we could make this particular meaningful change in our synagogue. We want to add tasteful and appropriate symbolism for the Shoah in a more central shul location, to commemorate and offer a pause for reflection for the Holocaust, the most traumatic epoch in Jewish history.

Modifying a synagogue in any way is a difficult project for anyone. There are many pitfalls that can get in your way. You may find obstinate trustees, reluctant rabbis, timid members and the like that make accomplishing any change in a synagogue - no matter how well-justified - at least utterly aggravating and probably well nigh impossible.

As a result, as we said, most projects of this nature - adding a Holocaust memorial symbol to the synagogue - are relegated to a hallway or basement - not to the main sanctuary. But like us, many of you will prefer to have your own chosen symbol centrally located - in the main sanctuary in a more meaningful place of honor and prominence.

Accordingly we suggest it is best and most practical that you follow these five steps to complete your own synagogue-symbol-project promptly and without interference, rejection or aggravation from others.

Step #1
Enter your synagogue and visually locate the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light, in your synagogue's sanctuary. This perpetual light is commonly installed right above the Aron Kodesh, the Ark, at the front and center of the synagogue.

If you ask, officials of the synagogue may tell you that this light currently signifies either the menorah of the ancient Temple, or God's presence in the chapel, or the spiritual light that emanated from the Temple of old. Be that as it may, you are going to make a change in that signifier.

Step #2
This is the tricky part. Do not even think about touching the light. It is tempting to try to make some physical change during a revision project. However you must resist this impulse.

As we intimated, every shul has people who make it their business to oppose any visible improvement in the structure or decor of the synagogue. You do not want to run afoul of these folks. Your project is a work that you create independently with the help of your imagination.

Step #3
Close your eyes and imagine an inverted Hebrew letter vav. Yes, the eternal candle or lamp with its flame looks to us like an upside down vav, the letter that has the numeric value of six. Recall that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Step #4
Say to yourself the words, Ner Tamid lezichron Hashoah - meaning, this is the eternal light in memory of the Holocaust.

Step #5
Open your eyes. You have change the signification of a symbol that stands front and center in every synagogue sanctuary and you have completed your project.

Now you can meaningfully remember each time you enter the synagogue to look first at that eternal light at the focal center of your house of worship - to take a moment to reflect on the enormity of the suffering of the Shoah - and to give thanks for the constant resilience of the Jewish people.

[Repost from 2007.]

1 comment:

Duncan Olpin said...

Wishing you all the best!