holocaust

Observing Yom Hashoah in 2021

 

OBSERVING YOM HASHOAH (DAY OF REMEMBRANCE)

Over 75 years ago, the Jewish people experienced mass genocide under the Nazi regime. The casualties were astronomical— six million lives were lost, approximately 2/3 of Europe’s Jewish population. In remembrance of the event and the lives lost, Israel celebrates Yom Hashoah each year. This year, Yom Hashoah falls on Tuesday, April 21st. In similar fashion, the US will celebrate Holocaust Remembrance Day through a series of weeklong events spanning from Sunday, April 19th – Sunday, April 26th.

 

In previous years, a quick Google search would reveal services held in synagogues or museums around town.  However, due to the coronavirus, organizations have not released any official plans for 2020.  Luckily, you can still observe the day without leaving your home. Here are four ways to observe Yom Hashoah from home.

 

LIGHT A YELLOW CANDLE

By Jewish tradition, a yahrzeit memorial candle is lit during periods of mourning. These candles burn 24 hours and are lit annually on a loved one’s anniversary of death. So it is no surprise that observing Yom Hashoah also invites participants into a yearly lighting of candles.

 

To participate from home, light some candles and observe a minute of silence. Be sure to grab yellow candles, which represent the yellow armband that Jewish people were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

 

VISIT THE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL WEBSITE 

Located in Washington DC, the USHMM offers resources to observe the day from home. They recommend reading the names of some of the victims to both honor their lives and to better understand the scale of the loss. An estimated 650 names can be read in an hour.  You can find more information at ushmm.org.

 

WATCH A MOVIE

Though Holocaust-inspired movies can be difficult to watch, becoming desensitized and forgetting the impact of the Holocaust would be devastating too. If you feel up to it, there are fantastic movies to watch that commemorate the stories of those in the Holocaust. Keep in mind that movies of this nature are generally not suited for children and contain many themes of violence. While there are several movies to choose from, consider Schindler’s List. Or, for a short documentary about a Holocaust survivor, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.

 

GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA

There is no denying the impact that social media has on all generations. Show your support on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. Be sure to include #WeRemember or #HolocaustRemembrance to sync up with the international movement.

 

There are several ways to observe Yom Hashoah from home, whether it’s lighting a candle, watching a movie, or simply spreading awareness on social media. While each is a small endeavor, there is power in numbers.

 

Let us never forget the Holocaust.
And by doing so, may be we never relive such a time.

 

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Why Do We Give Gifts at Purim?

The book of Esther tells the tale of Esther and Mordecai, two Jews who saved the Jewish people from annihilation in the Persian Empire. During the holiday, many who celebrate the holiday dress up in fun costumes, hold fun traditions and give gifts to others in celebration of God’s redemption.

But why gifts?

GIVING GIFTS FOR UNITY

Chapter nine of the book of Esther speaks to the 14th of Adar, the day Purim is celebrated. The people of Israel are beckoned to partake in “gladness and feasting and sending gifts of food to one another.” In traditional Judaism, this giving is called mishloach manot. 

At the time, the Jewish people were a people not in their own land. When Babylon captured Israel, the exiles were sent to Persian cities like Susa as a way to assimilate them into the culture. Thus, Israel became a “scattered and divided nation.” For the Jews living in Persia, the events of Purim called for action, and the people united to protect their culture and tradition.

That’s where the gifts come in.

The purpose of gift-giving then was two-fold. First, the Jewish people sent gifts to encourage a sense of resolve and unity. No matter their physical whereabouts in the empire, gifts affirmed their Jewish heritage. The ability to stand together in conviction and faith in God has preserved the Jewish people through every period of history.

GIVING GIFTS TO CARE FOR THE POOR

Secondly, gifts were used to bless people who were struggling. Looking out for the poor and marginalized is so important to God, that He commands His people to practice a lifestyle of looking out for the poor in Deuteronomy 15:11. Giving gifts to each other during the holidays such as Sukkot (Tabernacles) and Purim were normal occurrences. Giving gifts, especially food, ensured that everyone had the ability to celebrate the holiday, regardless of income. Every Jewish person was provided for because of the community coming together to fulfill the mandate of God. In this way, the poor and rich alike were brought together and given a chance to experience the redemptive power of God through Purim.

GIVING GIFTS TODAY

Think giving gifts at Purim is outdated? Or just for the Jewish community? Thank again!

We have the same opportunity today to come together in unity with our Christian brothers and sisters. The New Testament also speaks of providing for those in need. Jesus asked his disciples in Matthew 19:21 to give up their possessions to those in need so that they would “store up treasures in heaven.” In Philippians 2:4, we are called to “look to the interests of others.” During Purim, we can remember the words of Jesus and generously extend our hands to those who are in need.

So as you prepare for Purim, ask yourself this question: how am I considering those in need around me? Take time with your family to recognize the needs of those around you and brainstorm some ways you can help. Do you know a single mom who needs money to pay her rent? Send her an anonymous gift of cash. Is there a family who needs a good meal on the table? A grocery gift card or a basket of food would mean a lot. Is there someone who is single and alone who just needs time in community? Invite them over for a good dinner and a Purim celebration. There are so many ways to show some love.

Giving gifts isn’t just for Hanukkah or Tabernacles, and it certainly doesn’t go out of style. May you be blessed this season as you open your arms and hearts to Jesus and those around you.

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The Themes of Purim

The festival Purim is a Jewish holiday traditionally celebrated in the Jewish month of Adar, falling in March or April. The biblical holiday is not a mandated festival, but Purim is a rousing event marked by storytelling and costumes, giving and feasting. Why is it important for us to celebrate Purim as Christians? Why is it a celebration anyway?

The book of Esther tells the riveting tale of Esther and Mordecai, two Jews who saved the Jewish people from annihilation in the Persian Empire. Read a synopsis of the story here. The Purim story is fascinating and gives a unique account of the events that transpired when the Jews were exiles from their homeland around 480 BC. It gives us a glimpse into the lives of the people who God providentially uses to rescue his people from being wiped out. Watch a video on the story of Esther here.

Esther is a young Jewish girl who unexpectedly rises to power as the Queen of the Persian Empire. The King’s Prime Minister Haman created a plot to annihilate the Jewish people. Esther and her cousin Mordecai bravely use their political stance and cunning to bring the evil Haman to justice and save an entire people group from extinction. The book is political, dramatic, artfully written, and the arc of the story shows the writer of Esther to be truly brilliant in his portrayal of details and climactic themes. So what are the themes of the book and why should we celebrate the holiday as Christians?

THE THEME OF GOD NEVER MENTIONED

The first thing a reader notices when they read the story of Esther is that God is never mentioned. No reference to the God of the Israelites is ever noticed, although there are a few implications given when Esther and Mordecai pray. The author strategically wrote the book in this way to reveal the  main theme of the story: God is never absent from his people, even when we don’t see him. The author of Esther told the story through “behind the scenes coincidences” and the work of people in “just the right place in the right time” situations. Every perfect situation and happenstance moment cannot be just mere coincidence, but points very clearly to the God who orchestrates the entire story. We can be encouraged by this as Christians, because we know that God is always working, even when we don’t see him.

This theme is most present when we observe the many times the Jewish and Christian people have been persecuted throughout the centuries. We still know that God has proved himself faithful to his people no matter what. The story of Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish people who revolted against the Greek empire 400 years before Jesus. During the Holocaust, many Jews died at the hands of Hitler, but God proved his faithfulness to his people again in the death of Hitler and the miraculous redemption of the Jews from death camps. God performed another miracle when the State of Israel began in 1945, offering a safe place for the Jewish people. Joseph Stalin died on Purim in 1953, which ended his brutal slaughter of the Russian Jews. These were not mere coincidences, but the guiding hand of the God of Israel.

THE THEME OF REVERSAL OF ROLES

The Purim story is told in sections, beginning with a party, leading into a face-off between Haman and Mordecai, a turn into the frightening plot of Haman, and then arcing in a complete reversal of the story. The story arcs in what is called a “chiasm”, which is a storytelling technique in which a story is told in a repetition of a reverse sequence of events. Essentially the events are structured in an A-B-C-B-A sequence with the climax being the turning point in the story to reverse the details. The reversal incidence in this story is the banquet scene when Esther reveals herself as a Jew. The evil Haman who plotted against Mordecai is hung on the very gallows he meant for Mordecai. The destruction of the Jews turns into a day where the Jews destroy their enemies. We see a reversal of roles as Haman, the most powerful man in the empire next to the King, reverses roles with Mordecai and the victory meant for Haman goes to Mordecai. The story, which should have ended with Haman celebrating his victory, instead ends with a banquet and party as the Jewish people celebrate their victory over Haman. The story is so artfully written that we see this chiasm unfolding before our eyes and our minds are blown by the purposes of God. What man meant for evil, God will turn into good.

THE THEME OF GOD USING ANYONE FOR HIS PURPOSES

In addition, the book of Esther powerfully shows that God can use anybody to accomplish his purposes. Most of the story of Esther is told in a world of power-plays, political hierarchy, murder and drinking. Many of the characters are morally ambiguous and even Esther and Mordecai are not following the laws of the Torah (Such as marrying non-Jews and eating unclean foods). Yet, God displays his glory and power through Esther and Mordecai even though they are not portrayed as law-following Jews themselves.

IN CONCLUSION

The Purim story is meant to give us pause and consider the sovereignty of God, even when we don’t necessarily see God working. It causes us to stop and consider where we see God working in our lives in the mundane and seemingly hopeless situations of life. As Christians, the book is meant to give us hope and faith in the God we serve. We can better trust that God will work powerfully for those who hide in the shadow of his wing.

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What is Challah?

Challah is a Jewish braided sweetbread, usually enjoyed during Shabbat, or Sabbath, a weekly biblical celebration of rest. But why is challah such an important part of Sabbath, and what is it’s history?

BIBLICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF BREAD

In the Bible, bread symbolizes provision from the Lord. God provided manna or “bread from heaven” for the people of Israel while they were in the desert. On the sixth day of the week, Friday, God provided twice as much of the manna so the people of Israel could rest from work on Sabbath. God provided more than they needed in order to show his abundance and provision to his people.

In Numbers 15:18-21, we see the first reference in the Bible to challah or “cake”. “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the LordOf the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. Some of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord as a contribution throughout your generations.” We see in this passage that some of this bread that was presented to the Lord in his tabernacle or temple was to be holy. 

Bread continued to be an important part of biblical stories. Specifically in Mark 14:22-25, Jesus broke bread and drank wine with his disciples, symbolizing his death on the cross in provision for their sins. So bread continued through the Bible as a representation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross in communion.

THE HISTORY OF CHALLAH

The term challah may come from the phrase hafrashat challah or “separating bread” representing a tradition of the Jewish people back during the first and second Temples in Jerusalem in which they would rip a portion of the dough off of the bread before they braided it as a sacrifice to the Lord. While the word challah means many things in various languages, it consistently has referred to bread in a Jewish context. Through history, challah became the term for a yiddish bread that was made all across European countries by Jews ranging from Poland, Austria and Germany.

THE SIGNIFICANCE AND TRADITION OF CHALLAH

Challah became a tradition during Sabbath dinner in order to represent the provision God gave to his people in the wilderness and the tradition continues today.

Challah is made into two loaves representing the double-portion God gave to his people.

It is to be braided so it has twelve “humps” representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve loaves of holy bread in the Tabernacle.

It is braided in three strands to symbolize unity, peace and love because they look like arms intertwined. In addition, it is a reminder of the Shema or “Hear and Obey”. Christians today can also see the trinity in the three strands of bread woven together into one.

When the bread is baked, it is ripped rather than sliced to remember the priests in the temple who would rip a portion of the bread off to offer it to the Lord.

CHALLAH TODAY

Today, challah can be made with toppings such as poppy seeds, rosemary, salt, cinnamon, raisins and nuts. The bread is covered with a decorative cover and prayed over during Sabbath. As believers we eat the bread and drink wine in communion during Sabbath in remembrance of God’s provision, and Jesus’ sacrifice. Challah is a delicious bread, a wonderful addition to the Sabbath meal, and makes a fantastic French toast for breakfast the next morning. Now, as you dive into the following recipes and new baking traditions, remember the story and tradition that we are blessed to be a part of as we braid our Sabbath challah bread!

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