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Trips to Poland, Holocaust Education & The Six Million


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Av 30, 5777
a. Where did this number "Six Million" come from? It always seemed to me that it is either a theological number (from the 600,000 men in Exodus) or a euphemism meaning, "very serious". b. I read that many Israeli student’s visit Auschwitz yearly. Is this a wise policy? It just seems that as the decades go on these students seem to take this trip less seriously. As far as American Jews are concerned, I think they have used these Holocaust remembrances as a substitute for practicing Judaism.
a. This just happens to be the number of holy Jews killed in the Holocaust (even the atheists or those who thought they converted to Christianity are counted, for their suffering was irrelevant to their religiosity, so they’re considered holy, regardless of their level of religiosity, Rama, Y.D. 340, 5 and Resp. Chatam Sofer Y.D. 333). Although the number is not mentioned as significant in any previous sources, there may be historic significance in that the world Jewish population never passed 12 million, until the beginning of the 20th century when it suddenly jumped to 18 million. Without belittling the horrors of the Holocaust in the least, thank God, at least as a nation, we were statistically “prepared” for even the murder of 1/3 of our people. b. Serious surveys have found conclusively that these trips to Poland have an important educational effect on the students, preparing them with more understanding, depth and motivation as they are about to dedicate the 3 best years of their lives (and if need be, their very life!) in the Israeli army. Experience must be personal, so each class gains from it respectively, regardless of the fact that their older brothers also did. Obviously the Holocaust study shouldn’t take the place of the ideals and mitzvot of Judaism, and it’s pretty sad if this is what defines one’s Judaism (especially after God clearly "re-appeared" in the miraculous State of Israel). It is clearly a much deeper experience for those who are already involved, but even for the unaffiliated, it often opens the door and catalyzes curiosity for teenagers at this important stage of life, to understand their heritage and roots, and take Judaism and their connection with the Chosen People, that much more seriously.
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