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As we approach the month of Nissan, I have been thinking a lot about what Yom HaShoah will look like this year. The reality is we, and every community I have spoken to, have been struggling to get meaningful attendance at their Yom HaShoah programs and have not succeeded in a broad “buy in” to observe Yom HaShoah in any meaningful way. Do the most recent horrific tragedies and atrocities of October 7, combined with the ongoing war that has cost so many lives since, make it more or less likely people will show up and care about Yom HaShoah this year?

Will the unimaginable pogroms, the “never again” happening again, and the precipitous spike in antisemitism help people realize the same evil that led to the Holocaust still continues and we must gather to commemorate and address the most horrific end result? Or will the open wounds of the last few months overpower and cloud our ability to meaningfully connect to atrocities and losses that preceded it by 80 years?


Twice in our history, the 20th of Sivan was designated as a permanent fast day to commemorate massacres against our people. The first time was by Rabbeinu Tam, Rashi’s grandson, in 1171, after 31 Torah scholars were executed because of a blood libel in France. Rabbeinu Tam declared the 20th of Sivan as a day of fasting “greater than Tzom Gedalya, like Yom Kippur,” and instituted special selichos to be recited. Shortly after, the Crusades expanded and for the next 150 years brought great devastation to Jewish communities. This overshadowed the incident of the blood libel and the “permanent fast” ceased being observed.

Almost 500 years later, from 1648-1649, Polish Anti-Semite Bohdan Chmielnicki launched a series of pogroms that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews and the loss of hundreds of Jewish communities. The Shach, Rav Shabbsai HaKohen, instituted the 20th of Sivan as a private fast day for his family to commemorate their great loss. Soon after, the Council of the Four Lands, the rabbinic authority of Eastern Europe, adopted the fast for all Polish Jewry in commemoration of the tragedies of what became known as Tach V’Tat, mourning the loss of a third of Eastern European Jewry.

Twice the 20th of Sivan was designated as a day commemorating Jewish tragedies, and twice the observance faded until it is now entirely obsolete. Many observant Jews do not even know it was once a serious day of mourning. While those calamities remain very much part not only of our history, but of our collective conscience, they have been absorbed into Tisha B’Av, the designated day to grieve and reflect over all of the tragedies of our past.

For many years, I have thought about the fast of the 20th of Sivan and the inevitability of Yom HaShoah going the same way. But I always concluded we aren’t there yet for two reasons. First, in both magnitude and severity, the Holocaust is categorically different from every other persecution or genocide in all of human history. It stands alone and stands apart and deserves its own day for reflection. Secondly, as long as we are blessed to have survivors among us, we owe it to them and to ourselves to show up, to honor them, to learn from them, and just to be with them.

The uniqueness and singularity of the Holocaust will, please G-d, remain true forever. But other factors are changing. In the United States today, there are fewer than 50,000 Holocaust survivors. Although South Florida is home to one of the largest populations of survivors, we increasingly struggle to identify any survivor to present to us on Yom HaShoah. Whereas it was not that long ago when we had many survivors come to light candles to start our annual Yom HaShoah program, more recently we have been relying on the second generation to light the six large candles.

While the Holocaust was a defining event and experience for the last two generations, evidence shows that young people today want to move on, put it behind us, and come out from under its shadow. The younger generation is rapidly seeing the Holocaust in the context of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Expulsion from Spain: events that are part of our past and our history, rather than as something that happened to our parents and grandparents, a very real piece of our personal lives.

Does October 7 make the Holocaust more or less relevant to the average person? Will they be more or less likely to want to commemorate it? And most importantly, how much does it even matter? Maybe Yom HaShoah, though lacking the status of a religious day or having a foundation in halacha, is on the Jewish calendar and should be there permanently, regardless of participation. On the other hand, that wasn’t the case for the 20th of Sivan which ultimately stopped being observed. For some, Yom HaShoah never should have been established, and Rav Soloveitchik even tried to have it cancelled.

In the summer of 1978, newly elected Prime Minister Menachem Begin paid a visit to the United States and visited the Rav, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. In that conversation, the Rav proposed to the Prime Minister that Yom HaShoah be annulled as a separate day of mourning and be included within the framework of Tisha B’Av, as we do with other tragedies of our past, such as the Crusades. He quoted from one of the Kinnos that we recite for the victims of the Crusades, Mi Yiten Roshi Mayim, that states: “No other time of brokenness and burning should be added, rather, all matters of communal mourning should be included in a single day of mourning.”

When Prime Minister Begin returned to Israel he tried to convince his colleagues to make the change. Ultimately, he was unsuccessful as the government was concerned about the school system having the opportunity to teach about the Holocaust and school being on vacation when Tisha B’Av falls out.

Is it time to absorb Yom HaShoah into Tisha B’Av? If we dedicate a shiur, lecture, discussion or program for the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av, will we do more to commemorate it than if we leave it as its own day (with the added benefit of educating more Jews about Tisha B’Av)? Should we maintain Yom HaShoah and find a way to dedicate it this year to the atrocities of October 7?

I don’t have a conclusion about Yom HaShoah this year, but I think there are questions we need to ask ourselves and that are worthy of our careful consideration. Instead of groveling and begging for people to attend and being frustrated yet again by a room with many empty seats, let’s plan thoughtfully and consider collaboratively whether we are at a juncture in history where a change is appropriate, and if so, what it should look like. Whatever we conclude, may we no longer have tragedies to mourn and sad days to observe.


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Rabbi Efrem Goldberg is the Senior Rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS), a rapidly-growing congregation of over 950 families and over 1,000 children in Boca Raton, Florida. BRS is the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the Southeast United States. Rabbi Goldberg’s warm and welcoming personality has helped attract people of diverse backgrounds and ages to feel part of the BRS community, reinforcing the BRS credo of “Valuing Diversity and Celebrating Unity.” For more information, please visit