It’s not all party hearty and “Burn Him!” this year—a solemn, special event is planned for the night before the burning of Zozobra. At 6 pm on Sept. 1, the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, in collaboration with the Santa Fe Jewish Center–Chabad, aims to hold a candlelight vigil in memory of Holocaust victims. This comes as Zozobra enters the 1940s phase of its Decades Project, in which the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe is recreating the many different looks of Old Man Gloom throughout the years. Event chairman Ray Sandoval says, “It didn’t feel right as a club to go through the 1940s and really miss a teachable moment for our youngsters about the Holocaust.”
The horrific mass slaughter of millions of Jews during World War II left a stain on the decade that Sandoval worries is in danger of being forgotten.
“I work with a lot of young people this time of year,” Sandoval says. “They come out, excited about Zozobra and want to help stuff him, but when we talk about the time periods, their information is a bit cursory. … They’ve kind of heard about Hitler and that a couple people died in the Holocaust.”
The Kiwanis Club reached out to Rabbi Berel Levertov at Chabad several months ago to determine the most appropriate way to educate people about the Holocaust.
“We are unfortunately seeing a lot of turmoil in the world again,” Levertov says. “There are very few survivors remaining and people are forgetting what [the Holocaust] was.”
The candlelight vigil takes place on the 77th anniversary of the beginning of World War II and the 75th anniversary of the German order for Jews to wear an identifying yellow Star of David. The event will consist of remarks from Levertov, Kiwanis International President Jane Erickson, Mayor Javier Gonzales and a Holocaust survivor who has yet to be named. Other possible items on the itinerary include a short film and a Jewish memorial song.
“We’re also going to have a speaker talk about the Japanese internment camps,” Sandoval says. “We need to be honest about what happened in Germany, but we also need to be honest about how we as Americans reacted as well.”
Is there any concern that tying the burning of Zozobra to the Holocaust, an event in which hundreds of thousands of Jewish bodies were burned in crematoriums to destroy evidence of Nazi war crimes, might bring up some unfortunate associations? The thought has not escaped Sandoval.
“I understand that people may get mixed up or get their wires crossed, but that’s not going to stop us from having a teachable moment for our kids,” he says. “I don’t feel we can go through this decade and ignore the Holocaust.”
Sandoval can’t tell SFR much about the appearance of Zozobra this year, but says he’ll be “sporting a 1940s style with a couple of surprises for you later on, very close to the time he’s revealed.”
Levertov hasn’t had much experience with Zozobra, as the event takes place on Fridays, a day on which Jews typically observe Shabbat services. However, he says that Sandoval is educating him on the subject.
“It’s about getting rid of our gloom. It’s about getting rid of our hardships in life,” Levertov says. “The 1940s was a difficult time. It was definitely a time to get rid of tyrants, and we get rid of them by marking them and by remembering.”
It might be trivializing to call the Holocaust “gloomy,” but it’s certainly not a time that anyone wants to relive.
“You don’t have to look back to the 1940s for gloom,” Sandoval says. “2016 has been a very gloomy year. You can’t get to the moment where Zozobra falls off the pole without having a solemn commemoration the night before.”
This night of remembrance is followed by what is traditionally thought of as an evening of leaving the past behind. Whether these two concepts can exist simultaneously will be borne out in September. While the vigil may not draw the same number of attendees as Zozobra the following evening, those who do observe both events may have a bit more on their minds as they watch the 50-foot paper-stuffed marionette tyrant turn to ash.