Gratitude and remembrance mark Yom Hashoah ceremony at Beth El

by | May 4, 2012 | Uncategorized

Interspersed within the reverent mood that marked much of the Yom Hashoah ceremony on April 19 at Congregation Beth El, were touches of passion, expressions of hope, and displays of dedication to remembering the lessons of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation plans and coordinates the annual event that honors local Holocaust survivors—both living and of blessed memory—those who perished in the Holocaust, the righteous gentiles who risked their lives helping Jewish people during the Holocaust, and the liberators who bore witness to the Nazis’ horrors as World War II ended.

“Tonight we gather to shine a light on their memories,” said Alicia London Friedman, chair of the Holocaust Commission. “We make sure the world knows that they lived, and how senselessly they died…Tonight we must tell our children this sad story in the history of the Jewish people, so they know what can come of hatred and indifference.”

Friedman quoted Holocaust survivor, author, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel: “How does one mourn for six million people who died? How many candles does one light? How many prayers does one recite? Do we know how to remember the victims, their solitude, their helplessness? They left us without a trace, and we are their trace.”

The 90-minute ceremony included songs, words of wisdom, student and teacher awards, a candle lighting ceremony, and prayer. The Hebrew Academy of Tidewater choir led the audience in singing Hatikva, Israel’s National Anthem, and Eli Eli, a poignant song whose lyrics were written by Hannah Senesh, a Jewish partisan who lost her life in the Holocaust.
Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Israel ardently reminded those present to avoid remaining silent when confronted with injustice. The evening’s gathering was not only about commemorating the victims and survivors, Panitz said, but to energize the community to help Jews at risk today, and, as a people, to rally around the banner of “never again.”

The evening’s guest speaker, author Thomas Weisshaus, was one of approximately 100,000 Hungarian Jews rescued by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg during the Holocaust. Weisshaus referred to his survival as a series of accidents, or lucky breaks, and advised those congregated to, “find the thing in Judaism that you can respect and love and have; that is the thing to fall back on. It is this, that will survive the survivors,” he said.

During the ceremony, students and teachers who received awards in the Holocaust Commission’s 15th Annual Elie Wiesel Writing Competition and the 10th annual Elie Wiesel Visual Arts Competition were welcomeonto the bima, and their names were individually announced. More than 1,350 entries were received this year, heartening members and supporters of the Holocaust Commission, among whose goals are making sure the six million are not forgotten, and promoting Holocaust education in area schools, military installations, and community organizations.

Before the final prayers of the evening were sung, Holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives in the local Jewish community were invited to the front of the sanctuary to light a memorial candle. Also lighting candles were special guests, including Dame Mary Barraco, a righteous gentile who saved many Jewish lives during the Holocaust, Bill Jucksch, a local army veteran who liberated the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp, and family members of survivors who recently passed away.

Two active and beloved members of the Holocaust Commission’s Speakers’ Bureau died at the beginning of 2012: David Katz and Hanns Loewenbach of blessed memory, and their absence was noted by Yom Hashoah co-chairs Anne Fleder and Wendy Juren Auerbach. The men’s presence lives on, though, in What We Carry, a Holocaust Commission educational program that includes documentary films in which the men tell their stories of survival and their hopes for future generations. Survivors Dana Cohen and Kitty Saks, who were present at the Yom Hashoah evening of prayer and remembrance, are also featured in the films.

The winners and notable “Judges’ Choice” entries from the Elie Wiesel Visual Arts Competition, including its popular Multimedia division, will be on display at the Diamonstein Education Workshop in the Chrysler Museum, at 245 West Olney Rd. in Norfolk, through May 27.

To find out more about the Holocaust Commission, to read winning written entries and see photographs of the winning artwork from the 2012 Elie Wiesel Competitions, visit

by Laine M. Rutherford