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The twentieth day of Sivan was marked as a remembrance day on the calendar of Ashkenazic Jewry for centuries. It commemorated the terrible pogroms that Jews suffered in the Christian countries of Europe throughout the Middle Ages and it marked the culminating pogroms of 1648-9 led by Bogdan Chmielinicki. It is estimated that over two hundred thousand Jews were murdered in that war of Ukrainian nationalists against Polish and Russian dominion. When the Ukrainians, Poles and Russians weren't busy killing each other, they turned their fury indiscriminately on the hapless Jews living in their neighborhoods and provinces. The great uprising petered out by the end of 1653 but the damage done to the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe was incalculable and permanent. The last three centuries of Eastern European Jewish life were to be times of unending poverty, persecution, wretchedness and eventual destruction. Only the faith of the people in Torah and tradition allowed for any sort of Jewish life to continue and even flourish under such hideous circumstances. Thus the twentieth day of Sivan was declared to be a day of fasting and prayer, an attempt to atone for past wrongdoings and a plea to God to redeem us from our long and bloody exile. This day was not only a day for remembering martyrs and victims but a day to remember God as well. How to reconcile a just God with the sufferings and atrocities forced on the Jews by their Christian neighbors was a question that always remained unanswered. "The righteous person will live through his faith."

The twentieth of Sivan as a day of remembrance and fasting has pretty much disappeared from the Jewish horizon, even amongst many of the most rigorously observant. The Shoah has swallowed up within it all past Jewish troubles of the Exile. The rivers of blood and the ashes of the chimneys of Treblinka and Auschwitz have erased the memories of Chmielinicki and his murderous cohorts. I would hazard to say that most Jews today are unaware of the events of 1648-9 and certainly of the fact that somehow the twentieth of Sivan is to be regarded as a day of remembrance. The question then arises whether the remembrance day for the Shoah will also suffer a similar fate in the future. After there are no more survivors amongst us, after all of the perpetrators of the atrocities will pass on to their judgments, will anyone still remember what happened? And if remembrance remains, will anyone really care about it or will it just remain a curiosity for historians to discuss and ponder? If the twentieth of Sivan - a day of ritual and tradition commemorated for centuries - has practically disappeared, then why are people so sanguine that the memories of the Shoah will remain with us forever? It is painful to contemplate but history affords us many examples of forgetfulness and societal amnesia. It was not for naught that Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov characterized exile as forgetfulness.

Of course, the Shoah has the "advantage" of having museums and official national days of remembrance dedicated to its memory. But whether a museum, no matter how impressive and state-of-the-art and up-to-date as it may be, can stave off apathy, forgetfulness and ignorance of the past in any better fashion then did fasting on the twentieth day of Sivan remains to be seen. The Holocaust deniers have a subtle strategy. They are working to make the world- and the Jewish world as well- forget that the Shoah ever occurred. If Chemielinicki can be forgotten, then why not Himmler and Eichmann? If the twentieth of Sivan means nothing to most Jews then why should the twenty-ninth of Nissan be guaranteed remembrance? The key to remembrance lies in the culture, behavior and education of the Jews. While the twentieth of Sivan may no longer need be observed as a fast day, it should still be remembered for its historical value. In a Jewish world that suffers from amnesia about itself and its past, knowing about and remembering the twentieth of Sivan and all that it represents would be of immense aid in improving our perspective. I hazard that in our school systems, except for parts of the haredi system, the twentieth of Sivan is just another day on the calendar. What will be the fate of the twenty-ninth of Nissan one hundred years from now? It is a question that our educators and leaders should ponder.

Berel Wein

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