Our grieving for the victims of the Holocaust will never end. Yet, it will change.
Most of us have had experience with personal loss. A parent, a spouse, a dear one has died and left a gap where once there was substance. Depending on the circumstances, the pain may persist for a long time, or may begin to be assuaged in the course of shivah and sheloshim. However long it takes, we find different ways to remember.
Initially, we worry that letting go of the intensity of grief is a betrayal of our promise to keep the immediacy of a dear life alive. As time passes, we come to realize that the richness of memory is in its ability to integrate gently into the stuff of our lives, enhancing rather than diminishing. When we reach that point of peace with death and loss, we not only begin to heal ourselves, but to pay true tribute to the legacy of the one we mourn.
As a people, we continue to deal with the unhealed wound which six million murders produced. Desperate to sustain their memory, we sometimes allow the continuing pain to stand in the way of the potential for their legacy to be preserved in a way which enhances our lives without diminishing their tragedy.
But two generations after Auschwitz, glimmers of change reach across the years, and nowhere better than in Alexandria. Each year, during the Congressionally-designated Days of Remembrance, Alexandria sponsors a civic observance. For many years, representatives of the Jewish community rotated among themselves the responsibility to deliver speeches and present liturgical music to reflect on the cold hearts and hot pain which the ceremony recalled.
When Charlene Schiff began her custom of offering not a lecture, but a poem, the ambiance of the observance changed. We have seen the introduction of music by composers murdered by the Nazis, or inspired of non-Jews reacting to the tragedy. We have welcomed the reflections of non-Jews as the main messages of the day, and the connection to moral concerns of our time. And this year, thanks to Charlene and Ed, an artistic expression of light – a specially designed memorial lamp – will become a part of our ceremony. The memory of the six million will find expression not just in tears, but in beauty, inspiration and fellowship.
Try to join us May 3 at noon in Market Square at City Hall for the annual ceremony. However, even if you cannot, take the evolutionary lesson and allow the six million to inspire you to reach for life in all its positive affirmations – in their memory, in their honor.