Reform Movement in Israel Unveils Special Holocaust Remembrance Day Prayer Book

Though most Israelis do not typically attend synagogue on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Reform movement is calling on congregations to meet and use this new prayer book, two years in the making

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The gate to the Sachsenhausen Nazi death camp bearing the phrase 'Arbeit macht frei' (work sets you free) on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 26, 2015.Credit: AFP

The Israeli Reform movement has published a first-of-its-kind prayer book for use specifically on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls early next week. The new book includes an eclectic mix of traditional liturgy, psalm readings, lamentations, modern Israeli poems and songs, poems and songs in Yiddish (translated into Hebrew) written by victims of the Holocaust, and special Yizkor (remembrance) prayers for family members and others who perished during the Holocaust.

The project, which has been in the making for two years, was officially unveiled on Thursday. In addition to text readings, the prayer book recommends incorporating mourning rituals into the special Holocaust Remembrance Day service that have become common practice in Israel over the years, such as the lighting of six candles to commemorate the six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. The prayer book, which is in Hebrew, is downloadable

Israelis typically do not congregate in synagogues on Holocaust Remembrance Day – known in Israel as Yom Hashoah – but the Reform movement is recommending that its congregations do hold services using this new prayer book. Yom Hashoah begins on Sunday night with an official state ceremony at Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial museum, and ends the following night.

An introduction to the prayer book notes that Yom Hashoah, of all days of the Jewish year, presents a daunting challenge for those who pray habitually. “The traditional language of Jewish prayer is rife with words of praise for God, thanksgiving, and acknowledgement of his just ways,” it says, “which seems almost inconceivable given the enormity of this tragedy and destruction.” For this reason, its authors note, even religious Israelis refrain from reciting many additional prayers on this day.

For those who ask why devote time at all to prayer on Yom Hashoah, the prayer book provides the following response: “Without belittling those who choose to keep silent on this day, among them also some who are no strangers to the prayer book, we would suggest that prayer on this day reminds us that Nazis and their collaborators waged a war against the Jews and the Jewish people, but not only – it was also against their spirit and faith.”