Making the Memories

By: Rivkah Maryles Greenland

USA, California, Los Angeles skyline, sunset

Rabbi Leonard Matanky, said it best last night. “Why is it that people seem to forget Yom Hashoah or argue its validity as a day to remember the Holocaust? Why do people seem to move past Yom Hashoah?

He poignantly responded “To have a memory, takes effort. When the memory is fresh, it’s easy. When the memory is two generations ago, it’s harder. It takes effort to mourn memories we don’t actually have. And unfortunately, we live in a time where people don’t always have a willingness to put forth the effort.”

I, of course, do not remember the Holocaust. I was born 25 years after it happened. Though when I was a kid it seemed like it was just yesterday— the way people talked about it.

What I do remember is the people in my life who DID remember it and those that still do.

“The war” was a common phrase in our home…”after the war”, “before the war”, “during the war”….”survived the war”, “didn’t survive the war”. With four survivor grandparents and four survivor aunts and uncles, it was such common speak that the idea of forgetting the Holocaust would have sounded absurd. In fact, it didn’t really need a “Yom”.

….And then BH I had my own kids. And my own grandparents’ relationships with them were more distant. And they did not hear those words. And it wasn’t common speak. Sure I talked about my grandparents, but more about their lives AFTER the war, and who they were. And how this kid reminds me of this grandparent, and that kid reminds me of that one…and “oh how Zadie Shimon would have loved you all!!!” But I neglected to teach my kids about “the before” I neglected to give them memories. I shared stories with them here and there but not enough for them to have anything concrete to make it real.

…..And now, we are coming to the end of a generation that were first-hand account witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust. And it is our responsibility to make those memories real for our kids. As my first cousin Helen (Maryles) Shankman (daughter of Holocaust survivors) said today, “in our house, every day was Yom HaShoah.”

…My son, named after my paternal holocaust surviving Zadie, leaves back to Eretz Yisroel in just a few days. With all the hectic of yuntif and the getting things back to normal and all my son still needs to do to get ready to go back to Yeshiva, I just stopped him today and asked him if he wanted to come with me to the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

I’d never been.

There was never a right time.

Today was that time.

We went together, granddaughter and great-grandson of survivors to hear stories and see pictures and make it real and create memories. So that I do not forget and he has memories to give over. The speaking holographic image of the survivor on stage at the museum said, “Yes! it could happen again.”

That was scary to hear. But I think remembering is the first step. If we forget, on whatever day it is…. Yom HaShoah or Tisha Bav or any day, we won’t have memories, and we’ll become complacent and it wont be real.

I am grateful to have had the time to spend with my son even for just a couple hours going through the museum and experiencing the Holocaust through the lens of the exhibits. I hope it will spark more interest in him to go back again and again, and read the stories of his namesake and all of his grandparents so it can be a memory for him and for future generations, one day bez”h.

In light of the holiday of Pesach that just ended, where we are supposed to sit at the Seder and remember the travails of our ancestors, as if we, ourselves were there, I felt this idea was particularly appropriate now.

Written in loving memory of my Zadie Shimon, Bubbie Bella, Zadie Mordechai, Bubbie Tzirel, Uncle Barry, and Auntie Brenda a”h. May all of their Holy Neshamos have an Aliyah.

And may Hashem keep us safe but never let us forget.


*Rabbi Leonard Matanky is the Rav of Congregation K.I.N.S. of West Rogers Park, Chicago and Principal of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy

*Rivkie Greenland is the proud wife of Rabbi Micha Greenland International Director, NCSY, mother of five children, graphic artist, writer, photographer, guidance counselor, and teacher.