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The International School for Holocaust Studies

Lesson 1 - The Fast of Gedalia - Teachers Resources

Online Course


Contents:


Introduction
The Fast of Gedalia—from Devastation to Festival

The lesson is structured as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. My Calendar and My People’s Calendar
  3. The Jewish Calendar before the Holocaust
  4. The Calendar in a World of Chaos
  5. Celebrating under Siege
  6. Conclusion—Prophecy of Consolation

Gedalia is mentioned in Jeremiah 40:13-16 and in Kings II 25:25-26. From looking at these two locations, one learns the following about Gedalia: After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple and the nation of Israel was exiled to Babylon, a small contingency of Jews remained in the land of Israel. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedalia as a "governor" over them. When the Jews who were in exile heard that a group of Jews was allowed to remain in Israel and that Gedalia was appointed to oversee them, they were happy, and people started returning to the land to live.
The Fast of Gedalia (Tzom Gedalia) is one of several days during which Jews commemorate the destruction of the Temple. We now explore how previous generations before the Holocaust used the Jewish calendar to create structure, mark time, and celebrate festivals. Later, we will examine how observance of the Jewish calendar changed during the Holocaust.

Yishmael came to Gedaliah in the town of Mitzpah, and was received cordially.Yishmael, taking advantage of his cordial reception, assassinates Gedaliah on the Third of Tishrei. Together with a band of ten men, he murders a number of other Jews, along with the Chaldeans who have been left behind to keep their eyes on the Jews. The rest of the community fled to Egypt, fearing the vengeance of Nebuchadnezzar for the assassination of his chosen ruler, Gedaliah. They fled out of fear, defying the prophetic warning of Yirmiyahu to remain in Israel despite the assassination. Jeremiah 40:13-16

But it came to pass in the seventh month, that Ishmael the son of Netaniah, the son of Elishama, of the seed royal, came, and ten men with him, and smote Gedaliah, that he died, and the Jews and the Chaldeans that were with him at Mitzpah. Melachim II 25:25-26

The Fast of Gedalia commemorates the assassination of Gedalia son of Ahikam, an act of murder that doomed the few Jews remaining in Judea after Jerusalem and the Temple had already been destroyed. In the Jewish tradition, this fast emphasizes the extent of the destruction of the Temple, for even the few Jews remaining after the Temple was destroyed were later annihilated. Nevertheless, despite this emphasis on remembering the destruction, the Jewish calendar still sets aside moments for consolation.
The fast also reflects a more general sense of mourning for the Temple and stresses the ongoing nature of the destruction. Thus, the fast highlights how Jews set aside times for remembrance and commemoration through the Jewish calendar. In establishing the commemorative structure of the week, month, and year, the Jewish calendar serves as an agent of memory.
The lesson begins with the Biblical prophecies of consolation, which offer a religiously based means of coping with the Holocaust. The lesson continues with a discussion of the Jewish calendar and its relation to Jewish memory and identity. The lesson also explores how the calendar was observed before the Holocaust.

Thus says the Lord of hosts: the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall become times of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts to the House of Judah; therefore love truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:19)

My Calendar and My People’s Calendar

Student activities:

  • What is today’s date in the Jewish calendar? What does this day signify?
  • Below is a blank calendar. Fill in the dates that matter to you.
  • Add dates from the list that follows and mark them in a different color.
Calander

Tishre 1 and 2: Rosh Hashana,
Tishre 3: Fast of Gedalia;
Tishre 10: Yom Kippur;
Tishre 15–22: Sukkot;
Tishre 23: Simhat Torah
Kislev 25–Tevet 2: Hanukka;
Tevet 10: Fast of the Tenth of Tevet;
Adar: Fast of Esther
Adar 13: Purim
Adar 14: Nisan 14–22: Pessah;
Nisan 27: Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day;
Iyar 4: IDF soldiers Memorial Day;
Iyar 5: Israel Independence Day;
Sivan 6-7: Shavuot;
Tammuz 17: Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz;
Av 9: Fast of the Ninth of Av.

  • What is the difference between the dates that appear in different colors on your calendar?
  • Why might we remember a personal or collective event year after year?
  • “Remember the past, live the present, believe in the future,” said Abba Kovner. Think about this quotation. What place does it assign to the past? How important is the past, according to Kovner?

The Fast of Gedalia is one of several days during which Jews commemorate the destruction of the Temple. We now explore how previous generations before the Holocaust used the Jewish calendar to create structure, mark time, and celebrate festivals. Later, we will examine how observance of the Jewish calendar changed during the Holocaust.

The Jewish Calendar before the Holocaust
  • How did Jews observe the Jewish calendar before the Holocaust?
    Student activity: Look at the photographs taken before the Holocaust, and read the testimonies about how festivals were observed. How did these individuals and communities observe the festivals? What was the role of family, friends, and community in such celebrations? How might their observance be different from our practices today?
    Class discussion: What kind of atmosphere characterized the celebration of the festivals? What did the festivals mean to these witnesses?
  • See photos – group 1
  • Video testimonies about the celebration of festivals before the Holocaust:
    Watch the testimonies of Peter Abraham, Samuel Wertheim, and Samuel Federman.
The Calendar in a World of Chaos

Class discussion:
Read the quotations that follow. How are these descriptions different from the testimonies from before the war?

Tuesday, June 8, 1943

Today, the eve of the festival of Shavuot, no one senses anything of the festival atmosphere outside. A Jewish city without a Jewish festival. (Rabbi Ben-Menahem, Łódź Ghetto Chronicle, Vol. C., p. 302.)

Sabbaths, festivals, and birthdays were unendurable.
Leah Neumann Weiss

  • Why, in your opinion, might these days be so painful for Leah and others?
  • How are the two quotations related?
  • See Photos – Group 2

Read the following testimonies about the celebration of festivals during the Holocaust. How do these sources compare or contrast to the sources above?

Menachem Oppenheim of Łódź, Poland, was born in 1906. He entered the Łódź ghetto about a month after its establishment and remained there until it was liquidated in August 1944. He took notes in tiny handwriting in the margins of a prayerbook. Most of the diary is in Yiddish and a small part is in Hebrew.
After the Holocaust, biblical scholar Mordechai Zer-Kavod found Menachem Oppenheim’s diary by chance. Examining a prayer book that he had bought at a second-hand store, Zer-Kavod was surprised to find writing in the margins. The pages of this prayer book give us the only information we have about Oppenheim. Oppenheim was a religious man who continued to pray regularly in the ghetto. Both his wife and daughter fled to his in-laws, with whom they stayed during the war. The details of their deaths remain unknown.
Zer-Kavod translated the diary into Hebrew and published it in the journal Sinai. The circumstances of Oppenheim’s death cannot be verified, but it is likely that he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and died there.

From the diary of Menachem Oppenheim of Łódź
October 9, 1943

On the first Yom Kippur of the war, I was in Warsaw at 24 Nowolipki St. On the second Yom Kippur of the war I was in the ghetto; I went to services at the Bajka Cinema.
On the third Yom Kippur of the war, I was at the “Mizrachi” on 8 Zofii St. On the fourth Yom Kippur of the war, I was working at the sofa factory on 44 Wolborska St.
On the fifth Yom Kippur of the war, I was at Pasterska with the bakers. I also received some oatmeal at the factory.
(Mordechai Zer-Kavod, “The Łódź Ghetto Diary of Menachem Oppenheimer,” Sinai 14, vol. 28, pp. 253–265 (Hebrew).)

Source 2

April 9, 1942
Passover 1942. In the ghetto, terrible hunger. Only rye matzo and soup made of water and wild beets, that’s the festival. Because of the hunger, many people ate bread and so did I, the little one. For the seder*, all they prepared was matzo and black coffee.
I’m living together with Gershon Leib Krinitzer and Leibush Weinberg. On the night of the first seder, all we did was recite Kiddush over the matzos. On my third Passover away from my family, in 1942. I ate hametz [leavened food forbidden on Passover]for the first time.
(Memorial wreath, "The diary of Menachem Openheim of Lodz Ghetto," Sinai, Fourteenth Year, volume 28)

* Jews in the Diaspora celebrate the eve of Passover twice. For this reason, they perform the seder and read the Haggada on successive days. Oppenheim is describing the first seder.

  • How does Menachem Oppenheim describe Yom Kippur and Passover as the war progresses?
  • Study the photograph of Yom Kippur in the Łódź ghetto, where Oppenheim was forced to live. What feeling does this photo give you?
  • Can Menachem Oppenheim’s writings be considered testimony about the plight of the Jews?
  • See Photo Group 3

Celebrating Under Siege

Of course we didn’t have a calendar there and we couldn’t know when any particular festival fell. But there was a secular calendar in the factory and it had little pictures of the new moon, when the moon would be full, and so on. So I did a reckoning and realized that it was almost Purim. I tried to find a way to celebrate the festival in this valley of tears. In the yard I found a small but whole potato. I sliced it and baked it in the little stove that we still had as a refuge from the winter. Those slices became Purim food gifts for my good friends.
(From Bina Grünwald, Light from the Darkness (Me’orei Or, 1998, pp. 61–63.)

  • How did notions of time and the calendar change in the ghettos and camps of the Holocaust?
  • “I tried to find a way to celebrate the festival in this valley of tears.” Why, in your opinion, did Bina decide to celebrate Purim in the way she did?
  • What place did the calendar occupy in the consciousness of these Jews?
  • How did the events of the Holocaust challenge their observance of the Jewish calendar?

Conclusion—Prophecy of Consolation

Despite the devastation, the prophet Zechariah spread a message of hope and strength to bolster the nation’s morale:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall become times of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts to the House of Judah; therefore love truth and peace.
(Zechariah 8:19)

  • How does Zechariah use the calendar to offer consoling words?
  • What imagery does he draw on?
  • What significance does Zechariah’s prophecy suggest about the fast days?

Work in Pairs
Read the instructions below that the Holocaust survivor Donia Rosen leaves for future generations.

  • What type of monument does Donia propose for the victims of the Holocaust?
  • How might Donia’s request influence Holocaust remembrance?
  • What, in your opinion, does the charge to “remember” the Holocaust mean? How do we fulfill such a mandate?
  • What connection is there between the quotation from Zechariah’s prophecy and the selection from the diary?

Donia Rosen: The Men of the Forest
From my diary: June 23, 1943


… I don’t know when it will happen, but I’m sure such a day will come, victory will come, better days than these will come. And this is my aspiration: that precisely at that time they will revive my words, that many years later, after a better life will have obscured this cruel period of time, after schoolchildren will no longer be able to tell you whether Hitler had a mustache or a beard—then my words will take you back years and years. I believe that these memories will teach you to love your friends and hate your enemies. They will teach you to exact vengeance against the enemies of humankind, the enemies of freedom, justice, and law, and to fight them … I want to ask you not to forget the dead. I want to beg of you, in every possible way, to avenge us …. I want you to erect a memorial to us — a monument that will reach the heavens, a marker that the whole world will see—a sculpture made neither of marble nor of stone but of good deeds. For I believe with all my heart that only such a monument may assure you a better future. Then that evildoer who commandeered the world and made life into hell will not return.