By: Dan Leshem, PhD
Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Director
Eighty years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising—in which a loose band of ill-fed and ill-equipped Jewish ghetto inhabitants resisted the Nazis for longer than the entire Polish national army—and 78 years after the liberation of the last survivors from camps and hiding places across Europe, antisemitism persists, mass atrocity and genocide are ongoing, and Israel is at renewed risk. Hence, the need to set aside a day each year to think about the causes and consequences of the Holocaust is as important as it ever was. Yom HaShoah, the Israeli “Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day” commemorated this year on April 18th was marked in Israel by speeches, survivors telling their Holocaust experiences, and two minutes of national silence marked by a loud and continuous siren blast that stops all activity across the country including cars that pull to the side of the highways as passengers exit their vehicles and stand at attention.
As a minority in the U.S., we do not always expect our celebrations and commemorations to be at the center of the public stage; so, it was profoundly moving for me and the other representatives of the Jewish community who were invited to participate from the House floor, to see how Colorado’s legislature marks this day. This year, as has been the custom for at least a dozen years so far, Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Ron Weinberg, —supported at the podium by countless other representatives— introduced a resolution to the House of Representatives that was read in full to the entire house on the morning of Yom HaShoah. Along with the above-mentioned guests, we were able to bring 14 Israeli teens from our partner region in Ramat HaNegev to witness Reps Michaelson Jenet and Weinberg delivering heartfelt and insightful remarks. And as the sponsors spoke, we in the audience also felt ourselves being pulled into a unique moment of communal commemoration, one that not only included, but also centered our story as Jews, as Israelis, and as Americans.
Outside of the JCRC’s work at the Capitol, we also partnered with several member organizations to provide speakers and help develop educational programs for a variety of Yom HaShoah commemorations. These programs also help build awareness of the historical events of the Holocaust and the importance of commemoration, while educating schools and the public about the new state mandates for Holocaust and Genocide Education that JCRC helped pass into law in 2020. From the Israeli American Council’s public commemoration at Babi Yar Park to introducing survivors at the Denver Academy of Torah and at Temple Sinai, the JCRC is proud to support Holocaust and genocide education across the state.
JEWISHcolorado JCRC Director Dan Leshem and Colorado Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet were just some of the speakers at the IAC-led event at Babi Yar Park on April 16, 2023.
In April, JEWISHcolorado, along with DJDS, hosted teens from our Israel partner region of Ramat HaNegev and one of our introductions to the difference between American and Israeli Judaism was to emphasize how differences marking our cultural, national, and historic moments is as a small minority group from how it is for Jewish Israelis in Israel. These teens sat in the gallery as the resolution introduced by Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Ron Weinberg was read.