May his light shine on forever

On Kristallnacht, many synagogues were destroyed, thousands of shops and large department stores owned by Jews were looted and burned down, hundreds of Jews were murdered, and thousands arrested.

Frankfurt am Main Synagogue burning during Kristallnacht (photo credit: CENTER FOR JEWISH HISTORY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Frankfurt am Main Synagogue burning during Kristallnacht
(photo credit: CENTER FOR JEWISH HISTORY/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
On Monday, 22 Cheshvan 5781, November 9, 2020, the Jewish people will mark the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht – Crystal Night. On the night between November 9th and November 10th in 1938, a pogrom was carried out against Austrian and German Jews. Many synagogues were destroyed, thousands of shops and large department stores owned by Jews were looted and burned down, hundreds of Jews were murdered, and thousands were arrested and sent to concentration camps based on lists prepared in advance. The pogrom was premeditated and carefully planned, and the police did not step in to prevent the rioters from committing their violent acts nor did they arrest them.

This cluster of events is known as Kristallnacht because of the mounds of shattered glass that piled up on the streets after the windows of Jewish homes, public institutions and businesses were smashed. The official excuse for the pogrom was the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat and the third secretary of the German embassy in Paris, who was shot two days earlier by a young Jewish man named Herschel Grynszpan. Kristallnacht signaled the escalation in the antisemitic policies advanced by the Nazi regime.

Twelve years ago, the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora at the World Zionist Organization conceived an idea for commemorating Kristallnacht, which called on synagogues in the Diaspora to turn their lights on in the evening and leave them on until morning. The initiative was welcomed with open arms and the favorable response was widespread.

A year later, Mrs. Dalia Yohanan from Kibbutz Tirat Zvi, whose father experienced Kristallnacht as a nine-year-old boy in Germany, extended the initiative to synagogues in Israel as well. After enlisting support from the Tzohar organization and the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, synagogues in Israel were approached and asked to leave their lights on in memory of Kristallnacht and observe the event.

 Over the years, a growing number of synagogues and communities in Israel and in the Diaspora have adopted the initiative and they, too, leave their lights on and commemorate Kristallnacht.

A synagogue is referred to as a "mikdash me'at" due to its holiness and standing and its comparison to the Temple in Jerusalem. Following the destruction of the Second Temple, when prayer services began to be held in synagogues, they assumed even greater importance. Today, synagogues are the religious, spiritual and cultural centers of the Jewish people everywhere across the globe. The Nazis had hoped to destroy the Jews physically and extinguish their spiritual candle.

As we continue to face the coronavirus pandemic, many synagogues are closed and are not holding prayer services, and religious activities that normally take place there have been suspended. Consequently, the current situation has added even more meaning to the Kristallnacht commemoration initiative. 

So, in this unusual year, the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora approached Jewish communities once again, asking them to leave the lights on in their synagogues and hold a memorial event or an evening of study that complies with the restrictions in place in each country.

Eighty-two years after Kristallnacht and the horrific Holocaust of European Jewry that followed it, the State of Israel, the State of the Jewish People, is prospering and flourishing. In the seventy-two years of its existence, millions of Jews from all the diasporas worldwide have chosen to settle and make their home in the country. The State of Israel can boast of amazing accomplishments in all the spheres of its national life, including the economy, industry, science and security, and also in its spiritual life. Today, there are thousands of synagogues in the country where the sounds of rejoicing and prayer can be heard. And for the different Jewish communities, the synagogues are their spiritual focal points.

Leaving the lights on in synagogues in Israel and in the Diaspora will show the world that the promise made by the Creator of the Universe to David – "may His light shine on forever" - has been kept. The Jewish people are living forever in a Jewish state established after two thousand years, a state that is blooming and thriving.

Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman is a member of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization and head of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora