Isabelle was less than pleased that she was going to accompany me to our community’s Reading of the Names Ceremony this afternoon. Part of me couldn’t blame her. After a full day of school and after school reading tutoring, how many eight year-olds would want to sit in synagogue… even if it was only for ten minutes. However, I told her it was our solemn obligation, as Jews, to remember the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Isabelle walked into synagogue with nothing more than a fidget cube and was given instructions not to use the noisy part of it. I invited her to sit with me, stand next to me as I read my pages of names, or to read a page herself.
During my first page of names, Isabelle sat quietly and watched.
By the second page of names, Isabelle stood up to see what I was reading from her seat.
She remained standing as I read the third page of names too.
Once I finished reading, I told her it was time to go. That’s when she floored me. “I want to stay,” she whispered.
I encouraged her to move back a few rows with me, but she didn’t. She stood as close to the lectern as possible so she could see other people reading the pages of names.
After a few minutes, I decided it was time to go. This is the first year I’ve touched upon the Holocaust at home — and I’ve purposefully kept it light.
On our way out of the synagogue, I asked her, “How are you feeling right now?”
“Sad,” she replied.
“I feel sad too. It’s hard to hear the names and ages of all of the people who were killed, isn’t it?” I asked.
She nodded. “I heard the names of kids who were one. Why did they have to kill a baby who was one?”
Oh my G-d. So many answers. Which one do I choose?
“Because the Nazi were cruel. So very cruel,” I replied.
“It’s so sad,” she said.
“I know. Would a hug help?” I asked.
Isabelle rose from her seat and leaned-in for a hug.
On the drive home, Isabelle surprised me when she said, “Can I have peaceful music?” she asked.
I turned Symphony Hall on and we listened. A minute later she asked, “How did the people get killed.”
I was not about to tell her about the firing squads or the gas chambers. “In ways you’re not ready to hear about,” I replied.
“With a gun?” she asked.
“Some, yes. Others… by starvation. And others in ways that we’ll talk about as you get older.”
The conversation continued as we drove on. With every question I felt a bit more of her childhood innocence slipping away. However, I knew I hadn’t made the wrong decision to bring her when I finally asked, “Would you like to accompany me to the Reading of the Names next year?”
“Yes,” she answered immediately.
In synagogue, there’s a passage in the prayer book we sing entitled “L’dor v’dor,” which means “from generation to generation.” It often refers to the passing of spiritual knowledge from one generation to the next. Today, the responsibility for this tradition of keeping the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust was passed from me to my daughter. It is my sincerest hope that my children will pass on this sacred responsibility to their children some day.