Thursday, May 7, 2015

May 9th - A Day to Celebrate and Remember

Dear Colleagues,

Throughout the globe and across time, the Jewish community has been blessed with countless heroes who have made a difference. During World War II millions lost their lives, among them hundreds of thousands of Russian Jewish soldiers and officers who fought in the Red Army against Nazism. May their memory be a blessing.

In recognition of their sacrifice, we are sharing a letter from Ilia Salita, Chief Executive Officer of the Genesis Philanthropy Group. We join three million Russian-speaking Jews who will commemorate this important moment in our history this weekend.


Jerry Silverman
President & Chief Executive Officer
The Jewish Federations of North America

May 9th, a Day to Celebrate and Remember
By Ilia Salita, Chief Executive Officer, Genesis Philanthropy Group

In every culture, there are days on the calendar that stand out. Our unique celebrations have always been cultural markers of a shared history, each year adding one more link to a chain that connects grandparents and grandchildren, as well as those who have never met. The Jewish calendar is punctuated by a plethora of such days, and there is no doubt about how critical they are to the identity we share.

I mention this to provide a sense of the scope and depth of feeling that comes with May 9th for those whose families hail from the Former Soviet Union. This year is especially important, as it commemorates a 70th anniversary. If mental math is your thing, perhaps you have already zoomed back to May 9th, 1945 and are wondering what exactly happened on this day, or, perhaps you have known all along. But just in case…

On this day, 70 years ago, Nazi Germany capitulated to the Soviet Union, finally closing the Eastern Front of World War II, or the Great Patriotic War, as it was known in that part of the world. Thus, Victory Day – a celebration of the triumph over Nazism, of the end of a long and bloody war and, of course, a memorial to those who lost their lives in the struggle.

Flickr photo courtesy of Eike Siemrodt
So, how is this a Jewish story? It is the story of the 500,000 Jewish soldiers and officers who fought in the Red Army, just as V-Day is the story of the 550,000 Jewish soldiers and officers of the U.S. Armed Forces. It is the story of airmen and partisans, of nurses and factory workers, of those who died and of those who survived. They fought for their lives, the lives of their families, the lives of so many others whom they had never met, and they were victorious.

Several decades later, their children, grandchildren and, in many cases, they themselves, due in no small part to the hard work of the Jewish Federations, as well as to the generosity of the North-American Jewish community, won another victory: the right to live where they choose.

It is a tradition for many of these families to raise their glasses in thanks on the date of their arrival in their new homes, celebrating their new lives. Likewise, every May 9th, they thank and honor their grandparents and great-grandparents for their contributions and sacrifices 70 years ago, without which everything else would have been impossible.

It is because this day is, very much, a Jewish story - one of triumph, medals, and lives saved, despite the many that were lost – that I wanted to share it with you, so that this Shabbat, May 9th, all of us might celebrate together.


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