Mother’s Day: Give a personalized tribute to Mom for Anna Jarvis’ holiday

Mother and daughter, back to camera, walking hand-in-hand in sunny cornfield

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, MAY 10: In 1908, a small church service in West Virginia gave birth to the American version of Mother’s Day—today, a national holiday that grosses billions of dollars in flowers, gifts and cards, and pays homage to the millions of mothers across the country.

Though versions of the current American Mother’s Day predated its creation—and, worldwide, several variations have existed for centuries—our modern American Mother’s Day will celebrate its 101st year in 2015. Ironically, the primary advocate of the first Mother’s Day—Anna Jarvis—soon regretted having petitioned so persistently for the holiday, as the commercialism that rapidly followed its ascent was a stark contrast to the small-scale, personalized holiday that had originally been envisioned. Nonetheless, experts attest that had it not been for the early commercialization of Mother’s Day, it—like other smaller holidays of its time—would likely have fizzled out.

The first “official” service took place at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. At this church, Anna Jarvis honored her mother, who had been a Sunday School teacher at the location. By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson had set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Care to learn more? This tiny church, built in 1873, became the site of an International Mother’s Day Shrine in the 1960s. Wikipedia has the details about this tourist destination that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.


Woman in middle being kissed by two children, with silly look on her face

Photo by Theresa Martell, courtesy of Flickr

During the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitation conditions, lower rates of infant mortality, fight disease and contamination and assist other mothers. When the Civil War broke out, women in these clubs looked after wounded soldiers. Following the Civil War, Jarvis and others organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics, as a means of uniting citizens from both sides of the former Union and Confederacy. (Wikipedia has details.) Julia Ward Howe—composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—went a step further, and publicly encouraged women to take an active political role in fostering peace.

Upon the death of Ann Reeves Jarvis in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, was prompted to organize a tribute service for her at her church. Jarvis distributed hundreds of carnations—her mother’s favorite flower—to mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton. With financial backing for the holiday from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, thousands of people attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in 1908.

Jarvis worked tirelessly to establish a national day for mothers, and by 1912, many states had adopted the holiday. (Learn more from Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association for her cause and, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.

Despite every intention by Jarvis, Mother’s Day became an enormously profitable holiday for the retail industry, confectioners and florists. The U.S. National Restaurant Association now reports Mother’s Day as the most popular holiday for dining out, and Hallmark reports the holiday as trailing only Christmas and Valentine’s Day in the volume of cards exchanged. The American version of Mother’s Day is currently also celebrated in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


  • View President Woodrow Wilson’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, here.
  • Free Mother’s Day sermon ideas, available for a variety of denominations, are at
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Categories: National Observances

Beltane: Welcome summer the ancient Celtic way

Young girls in fancy matching dresses dance around a Maypole with ribbons in their hands, others dance while crowd looks on

Children in Wiltshire dance around a Maypole, an integral part of ancient Beltane celebrations. Photo by Anguskirk, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MAY 1: An ancient Gaelic festival ushering in the joy of summer blossoms across Ireland and Scotland, parts of Europe and in Wiccan and Pagan communities worldwide, as Beltane. (In the Southern Hemisphere, Wiccans and Pagans mark Samhain.)

Enormous bonfires light a night sky that paints the backdrop for elaborate costumes, reenactments, dancing, fire-jumping and a revival of ancient rituals. Edinburgh now draws tens of thousands of attendees annually for its Beltane Fire Festival, which boasts hundreds of volunteers and performers; in some areas of Scotland and Ireland, remnants of old Beltane customs still remain. Halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, Beltane has always ranked among the most significant of pagan festivals.


The earliest Irish literature mentions Beltane, and for the pastoral Celts this festival marked a key time of year. In daylight hours, cattle were adorned in flowers and driven to summer pastures; at nighttime, people and cattle walked or leapt between bonfires in a cleansing and protective ritual. During this sacred time of year, early pagan customs were meant to protect crops, cattle and people from disease and other forces of nature. (Wikipedia has details.) A home’s doors and windows were decorated with May flowers, and holy wells were visited. The morning dew of Beltane was believed to hold unique qualities that conserved youthfulness and beauty. Candles and hearth fires that had been put out on Beltane Eve were re-lit with the Beltane bonfire.

Dark, nighttime, outdoors, crowds in front of building with pillars holding enormous bonfires

The Beltane Fire Festival at Edinburgh. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As Samhain commemorates the dark half of the year, Beltane celebrates the light half of the year. New life springs forth, the sun returns in full strength and energy is abundant. In centuries past, both Beltane and Samhain were regarded as days of “no time”—that is, when veils between this world and the other world are thinnest. With this belief, pagans would protect themselves and their homes from spirits and mischievous faeries with rituals and natural objects, such as rowan branches, on the outside of their homes. Dancing would commence throughout the countryside and, following a promiscuous night in the woods, young people would gather in the morning to weave the ribbons of the Maypole. Feasts ensued, which were often accompanied by athletic tournaments, costumed performances, an elected king and queen and the decoration of flower wreaths and garlands.


In 1988, the Beltane Fire Festival made an attempt to revive the energy and atmosphere of ancient Celtic bonfires. With a focus on appreciation for the cyclical nature of seasons and the environment, the first Beltane Fire Festival was organized in collaboration with a folklorist from the Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies. Five performers and less than 100 attendees were present; by 1999, the event drew 10,000 spectators. Today, approximately 300 performers attend and audience numbers vary between 6,000 and 12,000.

This year, organizers are announcing a debut of never-before-seen fire-related performance elements, along with glowing elements in a giant faerie garden made from wax gathered from Edinburgh’s underground caves. (STV Edinburgh has the story.)

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

It’s Spring! Enjoy these nationwide themes at work and home!

Field of yellow flowers beneath blue sky with some white clouds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

APRIL and MAY 2015—Spring is in full swing as April and May unfold, bringing a rainbow of colors with flowers in the fields, in parks and in gardens everywhere. Till some soil and showcase the beauty of nature, because Earth Day and Arbor Day are both in April. Encourage conservation during National Park Week (April 18-26), and then welcome spring at its fullest on May Day.

If you’re stuck inside, days at the office are more fun by observing the Administrative Professionals Day in April, which may sound awkward, but your office will be a happier place if you remember it! There’s a lot of action at work this spring with Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, too. After work, spend some quality time with the family—May is National Family Month.

With warm weather and spring in the air, get outside and get active, as May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Surprise Mom with some flowers on May 10, for the American Mother’s Day, and remember the fallen on Memorial Day.

Also, bring awareness of Jewish American heritage and Asian/Pacific American heritage, as both will highlighted. Don’t forget about Mexican heritage, too—May 5 is Cinco de Mayo!

The month of April raises awareness of autism, and May brings Arthritis Awareness, Asthma Awareness and National Stroke Awareness Month. May is also Older Americans Month, so pay special attention to the older persons in your life—and learn more about the public issues that concern them. Eager to get outside and grill? May is National Barbecue Month and National Hamburger Month, so dust off those grills and fire ‘em up.

Check out these highlights …


Flat view of countries and oceans, world

Photo in public domain

Examine your daily impact on the environment—and what you can do to improve your carbon footprint—on Earth Day, an annual event that encourages all of us to understand environmental issues and take action. The first Earth Day launched in 1970, following a UNESCO Conference and fueled, in part, by the aftermath of a massive oil spill near the coast of California. An environmental teach-in drew 20 million participants nationwide and focused efforts within the United States. Since its fledgling beginnings, Earth Day has grown exponentially in global efforts, and now reaches close to 200 countries. This year, on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, the theme “It’s our turn to lead” brings grassroots to the forefront and encourages every world citizen to lead by example.

Make a difference! The year 2015 has been named the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. By composting your old fruit and vegetable peels, you can create rich soil—instead of letting the peels decompose in landfills where, without oxygen, they create methane. (Get a how-to here.) Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.


Soft tacos on plate topped with fresh lettuce, onions, tomatoes and other fixings

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Each year on May 5, citizens of the U.S., Mexico and beyond celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the 1862 Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla. May 5 often is mistaken for Mexico’s Independence Day. But, Cinco de Mayo is a big celebration of Mexican culture, history and cuisine around the world. What began as a small celebration by Mexicans in California, excited by news of the victory in 1862, has been observed in California ever since. In the 1940s, the Chicano movement fueled national celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, and Cinco de Mayo soon became a national commemoration for Mexican culture. On June 7, 2005, Congress issued a resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation for the American people to observe Cinco de Mayo. Today, Mexican heritage is on display in schools, restaurants, public buildings and more worldwide.

Hungry for some authentic Mexican recipes? Find ideas at Food Network, Food & Wine and AllRecipes.

Young woman, fit, with weights in her hands and bending down

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


There’s no better time to get out and get active! Spring weather is rolling across the Northern Hemisphere, and May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Only 1 in 5 adults gets enough physical activity to see substantial health benefits, according to national reports. And those benefits are important: a lowered risk of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and some types of cancer are among a few. Studies also show that children who get enough exercise perform better in school, and fit older adults experience fewer falls and generally have better mental functioning. Spread awareness of the importance of physical fitness by holding a community event, Tweeting about the cause or writing about sports and health in a newsletter or on a blog. Aim to get 60 minutes of exercise per day, by walking, bike riding or using an outdoor community play area. Consider exercising during part of a lunch break at work.

Having trouble getting your family outdoors? Become part of UofM Dr. Wayne Baker’s campaign #OurKidsEarth

Learn more by visiting and


Older couple in hammock, smiling, man kissing woman on cheek

Photo by Patrick, courtesy of Flickr

The Administration for Community Living urges Americans to set aside time each May to observe Older Americans Month. In recognition of the contributions that seniors have made to their country, Older Americans Month promotes health and longevity of these important citizens through awareness programs, campaigns and more. This year, on the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, the theme is Get into the Act. Older Americans are being urged to engage in their communities through volunteering, mentoring and more. By highlighting issues like elder abuse and promoting healthy aging, and establishing programs that properly address the needs of older adults, the Administration for Community Living hopes to create a better quality of living for all older Americans.

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Earth Day: Cut your carbon footprint. Add to A Billion Acts of Green!

Large crane in still, shallow water with large tropical trees growing in water

This Earth Day, President Barack Obama will be speaking at the Everglades, a fragile area of the United States that is seeing the effects of climate change. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22: This Earth Day, rally behind the world’s largest faiths as they call global citizens to protect the planet and promote stewardship. Every major faith regards the Earth as a gift that must be respected: Whether the action is Christians supporting Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical; Sikhs in Washington, D.C., reminding the faithful of the Earth as the Divine Mother; Jews reflecting on the Book of Genesis; or religious statesman Rajan Zed directing a multi-faith invocation that includes interfaith prayers, the term “environment” spans the religious divides. Earth Day Network, the massive organization that drives environmental movements year-round, recognizes that faith leaders and organizations play a key role in supportive efforts, offering several resources for congregations and an entire section devoted to faith-related, environmental news.


Want evidence of the widespread interest in this theme? An Earth Day rally and concert last Saturday drew thousands to the National Mall, where dignitaries from around the world watched performances by No Doubt, Usher, Mary J. Blige and more. (Read more in USA Today.) Saturday’s event highlighted the connections between poverty and climate change, pointing out how sustainable growth will aid poverty, but continued climate change will inevitably lead to increased poverty worldwide. This year’s Earth Day theme is, “It’s Our Turn to Lead.”


Scholars charting the rise of Earth Day awareness point to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” as a milestone in public awareness. Then, a massive oil spill near California hit the coast in 1969. Harnessing the youthful passion in anti-war protests, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson proposed a day for an environmental teach-in—first held on April 22, 1970. (Wikipedia has details.) The event, which followed a similar proposal made at the 1969 UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, attracted 20 million participants, from coast to coast.

In 1990, Earth Day went global, with events taking place in 141 countries. Today, Earth Day Network—founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970—promotes year-round environmental action, by launching campaigns, connecting activists, providing a platform for communication and pushing for changes in global policies. The Earth Day Network currently reaches 192 countries.


Pope Francis in white, waving

This summer, Pope Francis is set to release an encyclical on the environment. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This year, President Barack Obama is set to mark Earth Day in the Florida Everglades, where climate change is not only evident but a marked threat to the local economy. With the 21st century witnessing many of the warmest years on record thus far, millions of Americans are aware we’re facing a problem. In his talk, Obama will address the nation’s positive actions—such as cutting carbon pollution and collaborating on a global agreement for emissions cuts.

This summer, the Vatican will go green. Pope Francis is promising to issue a papal encyclical on the environment—thereby making the environment a mandatory topic for Catholic institutions worldwide. One of the highest forms of church teaching, an encyclical is permanently incorporated into the teaching documents of the Catholic Church, and Pope Francis is using this platform to show just how relevant—and necessary—global action now is. (Huffington Post reported.)

Anticipated themes in the encyclical include:

  • Earth as a gift from God
  • Humans as stewards of the earth’s order
  • And, the poor as the most threatened victims of climate change.

In 1997, Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church became the first worldwide Christian leader to call pollution “sinful,” and it’s anticipated that Pope Francis will regard the matter in a similar way. Though the encyclical will be focused on the worldwide Catholic community, the headlines surrounding its release are expected to prompt many other men and women in leadership positions to echo these themes.

In September, Earth Day Network will reveal an in-game experience designed to raise environmental awareness and created with the developers of “Angry Birds.” The in-game experience, called “Champions for Earth,” will be unveiled as world leaders congregate in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

What can I do? In December, key UN meetings in Paris will present another chance for a global treaty on climate change. As international treaties have consistently stalled or failed over the past 20 years, groups around the world are calling for public efforts to urge the Paris conference to take new actions.

Locally, individuals can take time on Earth Day to clean up their community, change habits, start a community garden or contact elected officials. The possibilities are endless, says Earth Day Network. To change your footprint, check out My Plastic Free Life, for ideas and suggestions of cutting down on the materials that threaten landscapes and environments. (Learn more here.)

And, remember: Earth Day is every day.


Monday through Friday this week, UofM’s Dr. Wayne Baker will post daily ideas in the OurValues project that you can explore with your family. We want you to chime in, too! If you decide to share your own Earth Day-themed ideas this week on Facebook or Twitter, use the #OurKidsEarth hashtag.

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Categories: InterfaithInternational ObservancesNational Observances

First of Ridvan: Baha’is prepare for elections and 12-day ‘Most Great Festival’

Terrace with patio and tropical trees and grasses high above big city below, sunny

An upper terrace at the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, APRIL 20 and SUNSET TUESDAY, APRIL 28 and SUNSET FRIDAY, MAY 1: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan. Named “Ridvan” for “paradise,” this sacred festival commemorates Baha’u’llah’s time in the Najibiyyih Garden—after he was exiled by the Ottoman Empire—and the first announcement of his prophethood. For Baha’is, Ridvan is the “King of Festivals,” and the first, ninth and 12th days are occasions for work and school to be suspended.


The story of Ridvan actually begins years before Baha’u’llah revealed his identity and took up temporary residence in the Najibiyyih Garden, with a man who called himself “the Bab” (translated, the Gate). The year was 1844 CE when Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, of Shiraz, made the proclamation that he was the Bab—and that a Messianic figure was coming. Nine years later, the man known as Baha’u’llah experienced a revelation while imprisoned in Tehran, Iran: he was the Promised One foretold of by the Bab.

After release from prison, Baha’u’llah settled in Baghdad, which was becoming the center of the Babi (followers of the Bab) movement. Though he made no open claims related to his revelation, Baha’u’llah slowly began attracting more and more Babi followers. The growing Babi community, along with Baha’u’llah’s increasing popularity, caused the government to exile Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to Constantinople. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library Online.) After having packed his things, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih garden to both receive visitors and allow his family sufficient time to pack for the journey.

Precisely 31 days after Naw-Ruz, on April 22, 1863, Baha’u’llah moved to a garden across the Tigris River from Baghdad with his sons, secretary and a few others. In the Najibiyyih Garden, Baha’u’llah announced his prophetic mission to a small group of close friends and family. In addition, Baha’ullah made three announcements: that religious war was not permissible; that there would not be another Manifestation of God for 1,000 years; and that all the names of God are fully manifest in all things. (Wikipedia has details.) For 11 days, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih Garden. On the ninth day, the rest of his family joined him; on the 12th day, the entire group departed for Constantinople.


The festival of Ridvan begins two hours before sunset—the approximate time when Baha’u’llah entered the garden. During Ridvan, those of the Baha’i community gather, pray and hold celebrations. Local Spiritual Assemblies—that is, the governing bodies of Baha’i communities worldwide—are elected on the first day of Ridvan.


The Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois—the oldest surviving Baha’i House of Worship in the world and the only one of its kind in the U.S.—is set to dedicate a new welcome center next month. (Chicago Tribune has the story.) The temple, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and welcomes a quarter million visitors each year, will experience its first major architectural addition since its opening in 1953.

With millions of Lego pieces, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei created the images of more than 176 human rights prisoners—including Baha’i prisoners Faran Hesami, Kamran Rahimian and Navid Khanjani—and has exhibited them at the Alcatraz museum. (See images here, in an article from Iran Press Watch.) Weiwei has named the prisoners, “The heroes of our time.”

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Categories: Baha'i

Anniversary: A nation mourns the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination

“Now he belongs to the ages.”
Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, upon the death of President Lincoln

Drawing of assassination of President Lincoln

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, APRIL 14: This date in April was Good Friday in 1865, and despite the general solemnity of the Christian holiday, President Abraham Lincoln was in a joyful mood: “The Friday, I never saw him so supremely cheerful,” Mary Lincoln later wrote. The American Civil War had ended days earlier, yet the 16th President told his wife that he felt this was the day the war had come to a close. His eldest son, Robert, had returned home, and Lincoln had urged his wife that they should both be more cheerful from that day forward. Despite dreams of his impending assassination—which had continued for three nights in a row—Abraham Lincoln took his wife, Mary, to Ford’s Theatre on the evening of April 14, 1865. The show would be his last.

While seated in a private box in attendance of “Our American Cousin,” Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot in the back of the head at approximately 10:15 p.m., by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The muffled noise of the gunshot caused confusion in the Ford’s Theatre audience, but after Booth jumped to the stage, the First Lady screamed. Booth ran from the theater to escape from Washington on horseback.

Slumped in his chair and struggling to breathe, soldiers carried the President to a house across the street. In a bed too small for his 6-foot, 4-inch stature, the President was laid diagonally. When the surgeon general arrived at the house, he told those who had gathered that Lincoln would, inevitably, die during the night. Vice President Andrew Johnson, members of Lincolns’ cabinet and several of his friends stood by his bedside through the night, until the President was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m.

Did you know? Lincoln was the first U.S. President to be assassinated.

A temporary coffin carried Lincoln’s body to the White House, where an autopsy was performed. By the end of the day, news of the President’s death had spread across the country, and flags were flown at half-mast while businesses closed their doors. (Learn more from Wikipedia and On April 21, Lincoln’s body was boarded onto a train headed for Springfield, Illinois, where he would be buried. Tens of thousands of Americans paid their respects along the railroad route.

Black-and-white drawing of men in small room gathered around man in bed

President Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, a frantic search for John Wilkes Booth had thousands of soldiers, detectives and citizens on his trail. A $100,000 reward was offered for anyone who located Booth. Twelve days following the assassination, soldiers found Booth hiding on a farmstead; Booth was killed, and four of his convicted accomplices were later hanged. Booth’s last words were, “Useless, useless.”


As the American Civil War entered its final stages, the Confederacy was becoming desperate: John Wilkes Booth and several associates created a plot to kidnap the President and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital. When the planned kidnapping fell through, however, Booth hatched a plot to kill Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward—with the intention of throwing the U.S. government into chaos. Last-minute changes in plans prevented this plot from being carried out successfully, although Lincoln suffered a tragic end that, many believe, he had long felt was inescapable.


From the bullet that killed him to the top hat he was wearing to the chair he sat in on that fateful night, museums across the country will be showcasing exhibits dedicated to Abraham Lincoln for the sesquicentennial of his assassination.

In Dearborn, Mich., visitors to The Henry Ford will have a rare chance to view the chair that Lincoln was assassinated in outside of its usual enclosure, as part of the museum’s observance of the sesquicentennial. In New York, “Abraham Lincoln and Civil War New York” will lead visitors on a walking tour of sites significant to Lincoln and the Civil War in New York. The National Park Service will launch Lincoln’s Journey Home April 18-May 3, with commemorations in many of the major cities that held a service for Lincoln. Ford’s Theatre will host events on April 14 and through to the following morning, with events culminating in a wreath-laying ceremony accompanied by church bells at 7:22 a.m. on April 15. The cottage of President Lincoln in Washington, D.C., will be draped in black.

Even those unable to visit an historic site for the sesquicentennial can tour Ford’s Theatre online, through an interactive field trip available for viewing April 13-14, at Also on the digital front, a massive archive—containing more than 100,000 documents related to Lincoln, and entitled, The Papers of Abraham Lincoln—is growing rapidly as a project of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (Read the full story here.) Public access to the digitized documents is currently available through a temporary website, and a more in-depth website is planned for when the project is closer to completion.

Looking for more coverage of the sesquicentennial? Forbes, CNN, the Washington Post, Smithsonian and the Chicago Tribune all covered this important milestone.



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Categories: Anniversary

Yom HaShoah: Israelis, Jews and more mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

Young people dressed in white and blue carry Israeli flags and walk down railroad tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

March of the Living participants, April 2007. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, APRIL 15: An Israeli memorial for the tragic 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated worldwide as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all paint the picture of this solemn observance.

Literally “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day,” Yom HaShoah has been defined, in recent decades, as having a scope broader than the millions of deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies: Today, the millions who mark this annual observance also remember the Jewish resistance during that era, they celebrate righteous acts in such dangerous times, and they emphasize the meaning of human dignity. (Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library.)

Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in Israel in 1953, and by the next decade, a siren of silence filled the country’s streets for several minutes each year on the 27th of Nisan. No public entertainment is permitted on Yom HaShoah, and all radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.

Did you know? Yom HaShoah was originally intended for Nisan 14—the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—but was shifted to Nisan 27 because of the original date’s proximity to the start of Passover.

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. Flags are flown at half mast; sirens blare in the evening and the following morning; services are held at military bases, in schools and by various organizations. (Wikipedia has details.) Though no specific rituals are carried out on this day, memorial candles and prayers are common. (Note: Some Orthodox Jews choose to remember Holocaust victims on other Jewish days of mourning, and not on Yom HaShoah.)


Sheet music with page turning, close-up

In 2013, Daniel Gross’ musical liturgy for Yom HaShoah, ‘I Believe,’ had its performance debut in Detroit, Mich. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, thousands of Israeli teenagers, Jews and non-Jews from across the globe embark on The March of the Living, a ceremonial walk that vividly contrasts the Holocaust death marches. This year will mark the 27th annual March of the Living with young people gathering from more than 45 countries. (The Jerusalem Post reported.) This year will focus on “passing the torch,” notes the organization’s chairman, as each year brings fewer Holocaust survivors.

No complete musical liturgy existed for Yom HaShoah until recently, when Daniel Gross—a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and The Juilliard School, and cantor in Farmington Hills, Mich.—composed I Believe—A Shoah Requiem. (Watch it performed, here.) On April 7, 2013, I Believe had its world premiere presentation at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, Mich. (In 2013, My Jewish Detroit interviewed Gross.)


Israel will welcome 20 French mayors on Yom HaShoah this year, all of whom are visiting for the same reason: each has a resident back home in France who has been designated as Righteous Among the Nations, an honor given by the state of Israel to non-Jews who jeopardized their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. (Read the story in The Algemeiner.) When the mayors learned that they did not know the stories behind some of their own Righteous Among the Nations, they began to dig deeper—and that research led them to Israel, to more information and to the possibility of additional memorials within the towns.

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Categories: Jewish