On Yom Hashoah, the community remembered

May 24, 2019

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Elena Barr Baum, Dana Cohen, and Dr. Ludwig Sternlicht.

Elena Barr Baum, Dana Cohen, and Dr. Ludwig Sternlicht.

This year’s Yom Hashoah Commemoration, which honors the victims and survivors of the Holocaust as well as liberators and righteous gentiles, brought the community together to move forward with tolerance and remember those who have fought for justice and fallen to injustice.

Temple Israel hosted this year’s event. After Cantor Elihu Flax of Beth Sholom Home stirringly sang the American and Israeli national anthems, Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Israel challenged those assembled with his D’Var Torah. He reflected on the concept of ancient Hebrews fleeing Pharaoh while having “enemies on the left and enemies on the right.” Rabbi Panitz challenged those assembled to realize that, in the 21st century, anti-Semitism exists on both the political right and political left. He cautioned the need to be aware that danger can come from those with whom one is usually aligned—an interesting springboard to an evening of remembrance.

Lisa Bertini, Holocaust Commission chair, greeted the more than 430 attendees, solemnly referencing the Tree of Life and Poway Chabad synagogue shootings and other violent attacks against Jews, African Americans, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, and Roman Catholics. She cited “the historic 60 percent rise in ant-Semitic incidents from 2016 to 2017, the biggest single-year increase in reported anti-Jewish hate since the tracking of such data began almost 40 years ago. These statistics do not even include the horrors of 2018 and the recent 2019 heartbreak of the Easter Sunday massacre of innocents in Sri Lanka and the latest synagogue assault in California…on the last day of Passover.” Bertini asserted that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely stated that we must “seek a society that can live with its conscience.” Through Yom Hashoah and the other Holocaust Commission programs, she said, “we try to fulfill this call through collaborative and poignant Holocaust education.”

The Commission honored the 2019 Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts Competitions winners, who will become the compassionate and courageous future leaders of America. The Writing Competition is sponsored by the Simon Family Foundation and the Visual Arts Competition is sponsored by Towne Bank. More than 1,300 entrants came from 41 schools from 11 states this year. Winners came from 18 different schools, and senior poetry winner, Reina Rodriguez, from Oscar Smith High School read her winning poem, In Mine, Yours, Theirs, and Hers, inspired by the life of local rescuer, Dame Mary Barraco.

Two recipients of the Commission’s Awards for Excellence in Holocaust Education were recognized for their years of dedication to helping students understand the relevance and critical lessons of the Holocaust. Lauren Goldman Barkan, co-chair of the Educator Awards, presented this year’s honors. The Esther Goldman Award, in memory of Barkan’s beloved grandmother, went to Dr. Carroll Starling. The Ruthi Sherman Kroskin Award, named for the dedicated late Commission member who embodied the spirit of the Holocaust Commission, went to Heather Ely of Deep Creek High School.

The evening’s guest speaker, Dr. Roger Loria, shared his remarkable story of growing up and surviving the Holocaust. Because Loria’s father was a Polish national, he knew that he was in grave danger, even where they lived in Belgium. Before being deported to Birkenau, Loria’s father hollowed a toothbrush handle, filled it with diamonds, and gave it to his wife, Dina. Upon learning that her sister’s family had been deported to Auschwitz, Dina fled on foot with only a suitcase, Roger, and that toothbrush. They had many narrow escapes, and eventually reached Switzerland, where a Swiss guard “lifted the barbed wire for them.” Loria not only spoke about the harsh reality of the Holocaust, and the effects it had on survivors and the world, but also about the importance of educating others about the Holocaust, tolerance, and moral courage.

The lighting of memorial candles followed Loria’s poignant talk. Six candles were lit to represent the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust as well as several other groups. Dr. Ludwig Sternlicht and Dana Cohen lit the candle for the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust, and Liberator Bill Jucksch’s son, Jeff Jucksch and his widow Terry Jucksch, lit the candle for the brave and compassionate liberators. Bobby Friedman, son of former Commission Speakers’ Bureau member Anne Friedman, lit the candle for the courageous rescuers who risked their lives to shelter and protect Jews and non-Jews, and Frieda Igdal lit the candle for the survivors who fled Europe and made their homes in Tidewater. After the names of the community’s survivors were scrolled across the screen, Dr. Roger Loria lit the candle for the beloved survivors whom the community is so grateful to still have. Finally, teacher award winners, Dr. Carroll Starling and Heather Ely lit the candle to honor those who educate about the Holocaust, so that future generations will never forget. Throughout the ceremony, like the time leading up to the start of the commemoration, beautiful music played by Lei Lei Berz on cello, held the contemplative mood of the sanctuary.

Cantor Wendy Fried of Congregation Beth El sang the K’El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer, and Rabbis Marc Kraus of Temple Emanuel and Jeffrey Arnowitz of Beth El led the Kaddish for Shoah victims, infused with the names of some of the Nazis’ most notorious concentration camps. After the Kaddish, John Strelitz, UJFT president, closed the evening with a prayer for Yom Hashoah by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs of Great Britain. As attendees exited, they were offered special Yom Hashoah yahrzeit Candles from the Association of Men’s Clubs, to light at home in memory of the six million. The six candles on the bima continued to burn in honor and memory, urging to never forget.

Yom Hashoah co-chair Elka Mednick says, “We come together as a community each year on this night not only to honor the memory of the victims and honor the survivors, liberators, and righteous gentiles, but also to look to a better future with bright lights of students and educators dedicated to stand up for human dignity in the face of anti-Semitism, injustice, and hatred.”

Elena Barr Baum and Ciara Whitty

Visit and like the Holocaust Commission Facebook page to see additional photos from Yom Hashoah: www.fb.com/holcommission.

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