The Conservative movement's creation of this scroll is the latest attempt in contemporary Judaism to create a liturgy for Yom Hashoah.
The Holocaust Scroll
There have been a few attempts in recent years to create liturgy for Yom Hashoah. One attempt was undertaken by the Reform movement in the 1980's with the publication of Six Days of Destruction, a liturgy where the stories of survivors--written by Elie Wiesel-- were contrasted to the six days of creation. The latest attempt at creating a liturgical piece was unveiled by the Conservative movement at a Yom Hashoah service in Toronto, Canada in May 2003. Reprinted with permission of The Forward.
In a revolutionary attempt to ritualize the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Conservative movement has produced the first-ever formal liturgy for the holiday.
Dubbed "Megillat Hashoah"--"The Scroll of the Holocaust"--the document was recited publicly for the first time in North America during an April 29 ceremony here at Beth David B'nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue [in Toronto]. About 1,100 worshipers turned out for the event, which marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah.
Holocaust Remembrance Day was fixed by the Israeli government during the 1950s as an annual observance on the Hebrew date corresponding to the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943. Adopted over the years by Jewish communities around the world, it is commonly marked with a patchwork of poetry readings, musical performances, and speeches by Holocaust survivors, communal leaders, and politicians. In recent years, however, rabbis and theologians--particularly in the Diaspora--have complained that the holiday needs a formalized and less secular set of rituals if it is to outlive the last generation of Holocaust survivors.
The Need for a New Liturgy
The new Conservative liturgy, unveiled last year in Israel, represents the first attempt by a major Jewish religious movement to address the void. "Having one central text, shared by Jews wherever they live, will unite us and make possible the perpetuation of the story," Rabbi Reuven Hammer, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, wrote in one of three introductions to the Megillah. "It will help us to fill what has become the new imperative of Jewish life: We must all view ourselves as if we had personally experienced the Shoah."
Following the ceremony in Toronto, worshippers interviewed by the Forward said that the Megillah was an important development.
"I felt it was a necessity, and I'll be here again every year that I can," said Norm Solomon, a longtime member of Beth David. "It was very moving. I just wish there would have been more young people here to be a part of it."
Past Attempts Have Failed
Previous attempts to infuse the holiday with religious overtones have met with resistance. In 2000, controversy erupted in Philadelphia when a Conservative rabbi instituted a day of silence as a theological rebuke of God. In response, Ruth Littner Shaw of the Philadelphia chapter of Sons and Daughters of Holocaust Survivors wrote a letter to the Jewish Exponent in defense of the holiday's current secular character.