Holocaust Scroll

The Conservative movement's creation of this scroll is the latest attempt in contemporary Judaism to create a liturgy for Yom Hashoah.

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Adopting a fixed ritual for Holocaust Remembrance Day appears to fly in the face of an argument made in 1999 by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary and nominal head of Conservative Judaism. Writing in JTS Magazine, Schorsch argued that Yom Hashoah should be folded into Tisha B'Av, a fast day on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av that commemorates the destruction of the Second Temple and other historic Jewish tragedies. A JTS spokeswoman said Schorsch would not comment on the new Megillah because he had not read enough about it or enough of the Megillah itself to comment.

While the effort to merge the two holidays has been sidelined for now, Megillat Hashoah does incorporate elements of Tisha B'Av. For example, part of the new Megillah is supposed to be chanted in the same melody used on the Tisha B'Av to recite the biblical Book of Lamentations, the dark account of life in ancient Israel after the destruction of the First Temple.

As opposed to the practice on other holidays, a blessing is not recited over the reading of Megillat Hashoah, said Rabbi Philip Scheim, religious leader of Beth David and author of the third introduction.

How the Holocaust Scroll Came To Be

Scheim credited Alex Eisen, a Holocaust survivor and member of Beth David, for coming up with the idea for Megillat Hashoah. More than five years ago, Eisen suggested that creating a liturgical Megillah would supply a unifying structure for the holiday and enable Jewish communities to observe it in a more spiritual way.

"Yom Hashoah is a secular commemoration in most communities," Scheim told the Forward. Eisen "wanted to make it into a religious commemoration." The Rabbinical Assemly and the Schechter Institute agreed to back the proposal.

A dynamic fundraiser, Eisen collected $280,000 in Toronto to sustain the project.

Shinan said he was uncertain how widely his text would be used in coming years. The Megillah was read this year on the eve of Yom Hashoah in Conservative congregations throughout Israel and the next day, April 29, at the Schechter Institute.

"I think it will take a few years for Megillat Hashoah to become part of the knowledge of rabbis and teachers" in North America, Shinan said. "I wish that many people will read it, but I'm realistic at the same time."

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Sheldon Gordon is a correspondent for The Forward.