July 4 in Latvia
July 4 is a great holiday to celebrate and to observe. I have spent July 4 in many different places, among my favorite are at Dodger Stadium, at the beach for fireworks, or at a BBQ with family and friends. Some of the other more memorable ones have been in Palo Alto for the 1994 World Cup semifinal match between USA and Brazil, in Boston to see the Pops, and in Israel in 2002 on a Federation mission (and everyone's phones started ringing which in Israel alerted everyone to an attack–but this one was not in Israel, it was at LAX).
However this year July 4 was a day to observe. In many countries the US Ambassador hosts a BBQ to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, but not in Latvia. July 4 is a national holiday commemorating the destruction of the synagogues in Latvia, including the Great Choral Synagogue in Riga where several hundred people were burned inside.
So rather than celebrating American Independence, at noon on July 4 in Riga, while most Americans were asleep in the USA, I was at the remains of the Great Choral Synagogue attending a ceremony observing the holiday and remembering those who perished. To recognize the importance of this holiday in Latvia does not go unnoticed considering those in attendance, including Latvian President Andris Bērziņš and several Latvian government Ministers, United States Ambassador Mark Pekala and Israel Ambassador Hagit Ben Yaakov and nearly one dozen other ambassadors of various countries were also there.
President Bērziņš spoke eloquently, as did the Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs, Ambassador Ben Yaakov, US State Department Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson and Rabbi Andrew Baker. Events as these that commemorate the Holocaust are important not just for remembering those who perished, but to keep us cognizant of the issues around the world still before us today regarding anti-semitism and hate directed towards other people whether be it religious, ethnic or social orientation. And events like these are not just memorials and commemorations but a call to action which is why organizations like ADL, AJC, and JWW are so important. Rabbi Baker closed his remarks saying “the lessons that we draw from today’s solemn commemorations are not only about the past. They are very much about our future.”