Judaism: Yom HaShoah Social Justice Guide

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, many commemorate Yom HaShoah by lighting yellow candles in order to keep the memories of the victims alive. Most synagogues and Jewish communities gather together to commemorate the day through worship, music and the stories from survivors.

The word Shoah is Hebrew for “catastrophe” or “utter destruction.” It is fitting, then, that Holocaust Remembrance Day is known as Yom HaShoah, a day first commemorated in 1949 and officially made Israeli state policy by 1951. It is observed annually on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – which means that this year, we’ll observe it from May 1-2. Commemorations begin at sundown.

In Israel, a state ceremony is held in Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. During the day, ceremonies take place on military bases, in schools, and at community organizations; places of entertainment are closed. At 10am, an air raid siren sounds off throughout the country, and Israelis observe two minutes of silent, somber reflection. This moment is taken so seriously that even cars stop in the middle of the road, and drivers stand beside their vehicles silently during this two-minute period.

You can incorporate social justice themes into your Yom HaShoah observance in the following ways.

Connect With a Holocaust Survivor

There are more than 500,000 Holocaust survivors worldwide, and much of the remaining survivor population is over the age of 85. In New York City, Holocaust survivors are among the lowest-income Jews in the city. On Yom HaShoah, make contact with your local Jewish federation to learn how to connect with Holocaust survivors who may benefit from a visit or some other form of assistance that your family may be able to provide.

Never Forget

As a family or as an individual, make a donation to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum or another foundation. You can make a general donation, or you can donate in memory of your ancestors who perished in the Holocaust or in honour of loved ones who survived. If you don’t know of a direct familial connection to the Holocaust but want to help children understand the impact of the tragedy, consider learning, as a family, about one individual or family who went through the Holocaust – be it Anne Frank, a friend’s great-grandparent, or a total stranger whose story is available online or in books – and make your donation in his or her memory or honor. You can research 3 million names and victim biographies at YadVashem.org.

Commit to Preventing Genocide

As a people intimately acquainted with the horrors of genocide, we are obligated to speak out and take action when other peoples are similarly threatened with annihilation. Today, other regions in the world face immense humanitarian crises, and only with an immediate end to the violence and increased humanitarian assistance can the horrors these people are experiencing be alleviated. This Yom HaShoah, educate yourself and your family on the horrors of the genocidal activity taking place in other areas and then take action. Write to your government representatives to ask them to support. Donate your family’s tzedakah money to an organization that works to end conflict in other areas of the world or provides aid to those affected by the crisis.


On Holocaust Remembrance Day, many commemorate Yom HaShoah by lighting yellow candles in order to keep the memories of the victims alive.

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