A Biblical Explanation of Israel’s Days of Remembrance
by Joseph Shulam
Israel is keeping a day of remembrance twice in the next few days. The first day of remembrance is for the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe during World War II. In Europe these days, there is a strong tug to stop remembering those days of World War II, and especially the plight of the Jewish people in what is called the Nazi Holocaust.
Some very intelligent people in Europe and around the world ask the following question: Why do you Jews want to remember those terrible, horrid, days of Auschwitz? Of Bergen-Belzen, and Mathousen, or Sobibor?
The most important reasons why we must remember are that we don’t want to forget, nor do we want the next generations of Jewish people and the people of the world to forget what happened in those camps, where Jews were not even considered as human beings. Jews were treated much worse than the Europeans during that time treated the street cats.
In the song “The Way We Were”, Barbara Streisand sings:
Memories light the corners of my mind,
Misty watercolored memories of the way we were,
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind,
Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were.
Can it be that it was all so simple then,
Or has time rewritten every line,
If we had the chance to do it all again,
Tell me, would we?
Barbara Streisand captures in the words of this song the essences and the importance of our memories and the question in the end: “If we had the chance to do it all again – Tell me, would we? Could we?”
For this very reason the State of Israel keeps two annual days of memorial just a few days apart: Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaSoah), and a week later Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism (Yom HaZikaron).
These days in Israel are almost considered holy. All the entertainment places, like coffee shops and restaurants and theaters, are closed for 24 hours. When the sound of the memorial siren sounds, people stop their cars and get out, and stand in attention for the 60 or 90 seconds until the siren stops.
We want to remember those who were victims, innocent, and guiltless,. Those who suffered at the hands of those who worship the cross and forget who was crucified on it – Yeshua of Nazareth the King of the Jews!
As Israelites, God commands us not to forget some things and some events in our history. The big question is why God wants us to remember these horrible events that could have brought the end of the Israelite nation. For this very reason God commanded us in the Torah of Moses not to forget these nations and not to forget His deliverance from the horrible and unforgettable predicaments.
I just turned on the radio. The song that is playing a song called “Eretz Chadasha” (“A New Land” in Hebrew). The singer is Shlomo Artzi. He is like me. We are the children of Holocaust survivors.
When I was 13 years old, all the boys in my neighborhood were the children of Holocaust survivors. One of the boys found out how to make tattoos with a sowing needle and Indian ink. Almost all the boys in the neighborhood sat on a cement bench in the entrance to Camp Allenby on Hebron Road, and each made himself a tattoo.
Everyone made the same tattoo in the same place in our bodies. In the middle of the left arm a star of David. The reason that we did this is because most of our parents had numbers tattooed on their arms. I still have my tattoo on my arm. We just wanted to identify with our family, and never forget from where our families came, and through what hell they had to go through to arrive in the land that God gave to our forefathers.
As my father said to Teddy Kollek in 1947 after landing south of Haifa on the ship Pan York, “Are we in Israel now?” Teddy Kollek answered “Yes, you are in Pardes Hannah”. My father said: “We are not yet in Israel! – Jerusalem is Israel.” This is the only place that he considered Israel – Jerusalem.
I was raised on these stories and on what the Bulgarian Jews went through during the German occupation of Bulgaria. Yes, the Bulgarian Jews did not go to extermination camps, and they never left the borders of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Jews only went to labor camps.
My mother, grandmother, sister and uncle. They were all in labor camps in Bulgaria. They never forgot it and always traveled with the yellow star of David in their bags. They remembered and never wanted to forget. My mother’s handbag always had the little red book and the yellow star of David with her.
In God’s word, remembrance is a big topic. God remembers, and we, Israel, are commanded to remember. I want to bring just a few passages from God’s Word about remembrance and draw some conclusions in the end.
“Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided.” – Genesis 8:1
I consider this verse, which is the first verse in which the word “remember” appears in the Bible, as one of the first demonstrations of God’s grace and concern for the human race! God remembered Noah – the one person that saved eight souls from a sure death in the flood. Because God remembered Noah, God made the waters of the flood to subside.
“And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten.” – Exodus 13:3
We are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt. This is one holiday that almost all Jews, no matter how secular they might be, still observe and mention and keep. And they even try to eat unleavened bread, matza, for seven days!
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” – Exodus 20:8
The Lord God, creator of the universe, commanded man to sanctify the seventh day as an act of creation itself. This command is already in the first verses of the book of Genesis.
It was given to all mankind in creation. It was given to Israel as a part of God’s command in the book of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and in Isaiah it was extended to all who dwell in the tents of Jacob – Israel.
“I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.’” – Leviticus 26:42,45
God binds Himself to remember his covenant with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Please note that the purpose of God’s remembrance of the covenant that He made with our forefathers is that in the future He might be their God.
“And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.” – Numbers 15:39,40
“And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” – Deuteronomy 8:18
This text speaks for itself. It does not need any commentary.
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.” – Deuteronomy 25:17-19
This text, from Deuteronomy 25:17-19, is probably the most relevant to Israel’s days of remembrance. God commands here in these verses that Israel should never forget what Amalek did to them during their wilderness wandering.
The 40 years in the wilderness were hard enough. But then there was Amalek, a nation that had no homeland, that wandered through the Middle East with great cruelty, and harassed, killed, pillaged, and raped as a way of life.
For this reason, God made this unique command to remember these people and what they did. God commanded Israel to blot the memory of Amalek from the Earth. A special and unique command with second to none in the whole Bible.
“Remember these, O Jacob, And Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you; you are My servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me! Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!” – Isaiah 44:21
I especially like this verse in Isaiah. God wants Israel to remember the promises to Jacob and Israel that they are His servant, and that Israel will not be forgotten by Him. Israel answers in a very typical Israeli way, of course we are your people!
There are 225 places that the word “remember” appears in the Bible. I think that the verses that I bring to you above are enough to show you how important it is to remember and to know that God Himself remembers.
You might ask yourself, “how can God remember so much for so many years of so many people from so many nations?” The amount of data that He, the Lord, has to remember is so great. We are not talking of trillions, and I don’t know any higher number than trillion and there would be many trillions multiplied by trillions and multiplied again by trillions.…
Just think that one household ant has in its miniscule head more computing power than all the Cray computers in the world. I have a thumb drive, that is only the size of my thumbnail, that has 256 Gigabytes. You must trust that God remembers you and knows all your deeds, and even all the words that you have spoken, for good and for bad.
We remember those who killed, and burned, and mutilated, and tortured in the basements of the Gestapo, and in the halls of Catholic churches during the Inquisition in Europe, and in the pogroms of Ukraine and the death camps of Europe. We also remember the 24,000 Jews who died in battle to preserve our God given land to Israel, Isaac, and Abraham’s seed forever.
You too, our Christian brothers and friends, must remember that God does not forget for the good and bad – and the neutral – that we all do! Let us remember God and Yeshua our Lord, and trust that all will be remembered when the books are open and the Son of Man will be seated in judgment of all flesh for all of history.
About Joseph Shulam
Joseph Shulam was born in Bulgaria in 1946 to a Sephardic Jewish Family. In 1948 his family immigrated to Israel. In 1981, Joseph and the small fellowship that was started in his house established one of the first official non-profit organizations of Jewish Disciples of Yeshua in Israel – Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry. Joseph has lectured extensively and has assisted in encouraging disciples around the world. He and his wife Marcia have two children and two grandchildren.