Message from Rabbi Barbara Irit Aiello
International Holocaust Remembrance Day
It is my pleasure and great honor to offer my words of hope and gratitude to your esteemed guests and to everyone who has come here today to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. As the first woman rabbi in Italy and the first progressive rabbi in Italy, and founder of the B’nei Anousim movement in the Meridionale, this day and this event is very close to my heart. I am grateful that January 27 is recognized in Italy and throughout Europe as Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, serves as a reminder of the importance of love and tolerance as foundations of our society. The day is even more special because it marks an important step taken by the United Nations General Assembly to designate January 27 as International Holocaust Memorial Day. In addition, and in no small measure, the UN vote was the first time ever that a resolution introduced by Israel was adopted by the UN General Assembly As we light six candles to remember the six million Jews killed in the tragedy we call the Shoah, we say the Hebrew word, “Zachor.,” which means, “remember.” The first candle, recalls “Shabbat Zachor” when we hear the story of Amalek and we remember that Haman was a direct descendant of one of the first men who set out to kill the Jews. The first candle servesas a reminder that evil still exits in our world. “Zachor,” we say to candles two and three. Additional definitions of Zachor include “to mention,” and “to articulate.” We remember to speak about those we lost and to keep their stories alive in our hearts. We remember Italians like Becky Behar Ottolenghi, (of blessed memory) a child survivor of the Jewish massacre at Meina whose tireless efforts at sharing her experiences with school children throughout Italy brought understanding to thousands of Italian children and adults. Zachor also signifies remembering those who are different and is sometimes found in the Jewish writing within the context of Amchah Yisrael. Our fourth candle recalls all of those along with the Jews who were also killed, including homosexuals, gypsies, disabled persons and political prisoners. The Zachor of candle five honors the murdered children. And we honor child survivors like Fernanda Diaz, of Milan, who was saved for from certain death by a righteous gentile who shoved her into a trap door in the floor of an Italian fish market. We remember that for every Jewish child that lived through the Holocaust, thirteen children were murdered by the Nazis. The sixth candle is the Zachor of Shabbat. We are reminded that the first strand in the braided challah, the bread of the Sabbath is called Zachor. “Remember Shabbat and keep it holy,” Torah tells us. And no matter what our trials have been or will be, Shabbat brings us peace, hope and joy. Our survivors ask us to “Never Forget.” Your ceremony today honors their request. For those who can tell us their stories and for those who no longer speak, we remember and we will never forget. Our pledge to all those whose lives were touched by one of the greatest tragedies of the world is that we will work together to bring peace, love, compassion and understanding to those in our community and to world entire.
Ani Ma’amin (אני מאמין) “I believe” is a prosaic rendition of Maimonides‘ thirteen-point version of the Jewish principles of faith. It is based on his Mishnah commentary to tractate Sanhedrin. The popular version of Ani Ma’amin is of a later date and has some significant differences with Maimonides’ original version. It is of unknown authorship. Both Ani Ma’amin and a poetic version, Yigdal, form part of the prayers of Jews and have inspired varied settings to music.The penultimate line refers to the essential Jewish belief in the coming of the Mashiach. As such, this line has become a popular source of lyrics for Jewish songs. One version of the tune is attributed to the Reb Azriel David, a Modzitser Hasid, who reportedly composed the tune in a cattle car when being taken to Treblinka. The tune was taken up by the other Modziter Hasidim who sang the song as they were being herded into the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps. The song was then adopted by other Jewish prisoners and became known as the Hymn of the Camps. It is still frequently sung at Holocaust Remembrance Day services. Some also sing it at the Passover Seder, in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on the first night of Passover in 1943. Another tune to the words of Ani Ma’amin is used as a positive song included at happy events, mainly weddings. The words are the same, but a much happier tune is used. The popular Chabad-Lubavitch singer Avraham Fried has recorded a version of this song that has gained popularity, reflecting the Chabad-Lubavitch’s emphasis on the imminent coming of the Messiah.