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Be the Light in the Darkness

We will continue to do our bit for as long as we can, secure in the knowledge that others will continue to light a candle long after us. - Gena Turgel MBE, survivor of the Holocaust (1923-2018)

The theme of this year’s National Holocaust Memorial Day is Be the Light in the Darkness. As the HMD website highlights: ‘This year’s theme encourages everyone to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’ before, during and after genocide.

Be the light in the darkness is an affirmation and a call to action for everyone marking HMD. This theme asks us to consider different kinds of ‘darkness’, for example, identity-based persecution, misinformation, denial of justice; and different ways of ‘being the light’, for example, resistance, acts of solidarity, rescue and illuminating mistruths.

Increasing levels of denial, division and misinformation in today’s world mean we must remain vigilant against hatred and identity-based hostility. Rapid technological developments, a turbulent political climate, and world events beyond our control can leave us feeling helpless and insignificant. The utterly unprecedented times through which we are living currently are showing the very best of which humanity is capable but also - in some of the abuse and conspiracy theories being spread on social media - the much darker side of our world as well.’

On 27th January at 7pm, the UK Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony will be streamed online– the first fully digital HMD ceremony ever. This is a perfect opportunity to participate in this important event of remembrance, education and call to action in our own lives to make a difference in the world we live in today. Just go to the HMD website to register: https://www.hmd.org.uk/uk-holocaust-memorial-day-2021-ceremony/  We are also invited to light a candle and put it safely in our windows to remember those who were murdered for who they were, and to stand against prejudice and hatred today.

We will be marking HMD 2021 in our service this coming Shabbat, with students from the Bnei Mitzvah class sharing stories of the Holocaust and of subsequent genocides, and Peer-mentors describing the impact of this year’s theme on their own lives. We will also have the opportunity to hear two distinguished Holocaust Educators share their personal stories of survival in joint events with ELELS on Tuesday, 26 January and Monday 1st February. Susie Barnett and Eva Clarke are both eloquent witnesses to the holocaust and passionate about the importance of education and learning from the tragedies of the past. Please do support all of our special HMD events this year.

With the end of 4 years of Trump Presidency in the United States, and the inauguration of President Biden in Washington DC yesterday, this year’s HMD theme couldn’t be more resonant with the times we live in. The past 4 years have seen the willful stoking of hate, misinformation and division. Many historians and political commentators have warned of the classic features of authoritarianism embedded in Trump’s leadership. The real danger of such leadership was evident in the violent storming of the Capitol on January 6th.

In her reading of her poem, The Hill We Climb, 22-year old poet Amanda Gorman stole the inauguration show yesterday. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s choice of a young African American woman to be the Inaugural laureate is an expression of the new leadership’s trust in a better future – a more united, peaceful, respectful and tolerant future that all Americans must build together. Resonating very much with this year’s HMD theme, Gorman’s poem opens:  ‘When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?’ … It is a call to inspiration and action to us all:

‘When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.’

Stay safe, Be well, and Wishing You All a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Lisa