International Holocaust Remembrance Day is Friday, January 27

Experts speak on importance of this day amidst recent antisemitic occurrences.

[One-sentence description of what this media is: "A photo of a vaccine site on USC campus" or "Gif of dancing banana". Important for accessibility/people who use screen readers.]

Friday, January 27 marks the first International Holocaust Remembrance Day since USC President Carol Folt announced acceptance of the Advisory Committee on Jewish Life’s final report.

The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27 as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005. Tomorrow marks the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp complex Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“International Holocaust Remembrance Day is distinctive to me in that it is not a Jewish community commemoration — it’s an international day of remembrance, of learning, of reflection, unlike other times when this topic is prominent [...] like Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which commemorates the breaking of Jewish business and synagogue windows and is almost exclusively marked in Jewish communities,” said Executive Director of USC Hillel Dave Cohn, who served on the Advisory Committee.

Israel and many Jews in the Diaspora observe a separate Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day — Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah in Hebrew, shortened to Yom HaShoah colloquially — on the 27th day of the Hebrew calendar month of Nisan. This year, Yom HaShoah falls on April 17-April 18 (on the Hebrew lunisolar calendar, a new day starts at sundown and ends the following sundown). International Holocaust Memorial Day is a more secular observance.

“If we just set aside a moment [each] year to think about one particular tragedy — in this case, the Holocaust — that has an effect,” said Finci-Viterbi Executive Director Chair of the USC Shoah Foundation Robert Williams.

“It’s important. But by itself, that’s not very much. To really remember, you have to personalize your understanding of a tragedy, you have to understand who the victims were, you have to understand how you as a person may fall. You know, you may even be susceptible to acting either as a perpetrator or as a bystander — you have to think about how you would act as an individual.”

2,717 antisemitic incidents occurred in the U.S. during 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League in their annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. This is an average of more than seven incidents per day, the highest number of incidents on record since the civil rights non-governmental organization began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

“The day has taken on additional significance as antisemitism and acts of violence against Jewish people are on the rise across the nation, fueled by social media disinformation, extremist celebrities and athletes, and politicians,” said the university in a news release.

The Advisory Committee on Jewish Life worked throughout the spring 2022 semester to produce its final report. The committee included Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life Varun Soni, Louchheim School for Judaic Studies Director Leah Hochman and Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity and Title IX Associate Vice President Linda Hoos, as well as several other university officials and experts on antisemitism. Also present on the committee were several leaders from the Jewish community, including 2021-2022 USC Hillel Student President Jacob Miller, 2021-2022 USC Chabad Jewish Center Student President Megan Saghian, and Chabad Jewish Center Director Rabbi Dov Wagner.

“I think one of the things that was most notable about that committee and its work [was that it was] a university committee; it was our campus saying that it cares about this, it’s willing to dedicate really significant resources to it and that it’s not the Jewish community’s problem to solve, that the university has a responsibility to it” said Cohn. “So to me, that’s very resonant.”

The committee recommends creating a standing committee to support Jewish life on campus, focusing on definitions of antisemitism in campus dialogue to educate the community, reinforcing university protections against bullying, harassment and intimidation and acknowledging “explicitly that anti-Zionism can sometimes be experienced as antisemitism in responding to issues and incidents.”

“The committee’s recommendations give us tangible direction across nearly every aspect of Jewish life at USC, including experiences of antisemitism, university processes and policies, the Jewish experience on campus, and education and training,” said Folt in the August 23, 2022, announcement.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is an opportunity for secular institutions — like USC — to stimulate meaningful allyship that must be continued long after the day’s observance, according to Cohn.

“Tomorrow is a day that’s not centered on the Jewish community observing it, but that reflects the wider world’s need to reckon with it,” said Cohn. “And I think that’s reflective of the fact that our university has shown this commitment.”