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Not So Fast

Dear Cyber-Rav,

I am second generation. My parents were Holocaust survivors. They did not speak much about the experience until the very end of their time. And even then it was difficult. I always light a candle on Yom Hashoah, but now I have heard of some people fasting on that day. I am not a good faster, but Yom Hashoah is an important day for me, for the sake of the 6,000,000 and for the sake of my parents. I want to do the right thing. Is fasting necessary?

Very Slow to Start Fasting

The Cyber Rav Answers:

Dear Very Slow,

Yom Hashoah is a very new commemoration, and as such, its ritual requirements are very fluid. The lighting of the yellow candle has become virtually standard in most Conservative synagogues. The recitation of an El Malei Rahamim, a special memorial prayer for the murdered is almost always done. At some point, the entire congregation or gathering will say kaddish together. And generally there are testimonials given by survivors or second generation children. These are all fitting tributes on this sad, sad day. But should we fast?

I once put the question to a congregation that I served. The gathering was rather quiet as they contemplated the effects of fasting or adding another fast day to the Jewish calendar. And then, Henry spoke. Henry simply said, "Rabbi, I'm not going to fast and I think it would be a mistake to do so." Henry's thoughts on the issue meant a great deal to me. He was himself a survivor and a former inmate of Auschwitz. "I spent too many days fasting. When you didn't eat, you grew weak. When you grew weak, that was when you were most susceptible to death. We cannot make ourselves weak on this day. The Jewish people must face our history and our future with strength."

That's all I needed to hear. In fact, that's all that any of us in the room needed to hear. We chose not to fast on Yom Hashoah. I never have fasted that day and though I hate to say "never," I suspect that I never will. Fasting has connotations of punishing the physical self for wrongs committed. This is not the message we want to convey on Yom Hashoah. God did not punish us during the Holocaust. We died for men and women decided to abuse the free will God had given to them and others decided to stand by idly. The crime of the murdered was this alone: they were Jews. That's no reason to be killed. This Yom Hashoah, don't hesitate to remember, to pray, or to light the candle, but please remember eat. We must face our enemies with strength and remain a living testimony to the murdered that such a tragedy will NEVER AGAIN happen.

The CyberRav

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