Yom Hashoah: A time to remember and honor

by | May 18, 2023 | Other News

This year’s Yom Hashoah Commemoration, honoring the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, as well as liberators and righteous gentiles, brought the community together around awareness, sadness, honor, hope, and the understanding that the ordinary can be extraordinary.

Temple Israel hosted the annual event on the evening of Sunday, April 16. Anne Fleder, Holocaust Commission member, welcomed the guests as she reflected upon the work of the Holocaust Commission in the past and its roots as an organization driven by survivors who made their homes in Hampton Roads and then succeeded as professionals and lay leaders committed to contemporizing the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.

Chloe Zuckerman sang the American and Israeli national anthems and Rabbi Michael Panitz of Temple Israel gave the D’var Torah, exploring the idea of the importance of knowing how to adjust one’s behavior and words depending on the situation.

The Commission honored the 2023 Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts Competitions’ winners who have accepted the challenge to speak up to support vulnerable populations. Winners came from multiple schools and states; and senior poetry winner Rebecca McGuire, from Herriman High School in Utah, read her winning poem, Shoes, on video during the ceremony.

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 the honors to master teacher Jennifer Goss and middle school English teacher Laura Murphy.

The   speaker, Michel (Mike) Ashe, shared his remarkable story of survival in France.  Ashe told of the ordinary people in Arthes who protected him and his family.  While Ashe told of the details of his life in hiding, he also shared the extraordinary steps he took to honor his protectors.  With great work and tenacity, Ashe searched for documents that he submitted to Yad Vashem and was able to have those who saved his life honored as Righteous Among the Nations.  All parts of Ashe’s story demonstrate each person’s ability to be a hero, large and small, and the importance of fighting against bigotry and discrimination, while working to promote human dignity.

Six memorial candles were lit to represent not only the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, but also several other groups: 1.5 million murdered children; liberators; survivors who came to call Tidewater home; and educators who dedicate themselves to teach the era’s lessons. After the lighting led by Fay Silverman and June Prager, the names of the community’s survivors were scrolled across the screen while Lei Lei Berz played the cello, which held the contemplative mood of the sanctuary.

Cantor David Proser of Kehillat Bet Hamidrash sang the K’El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer, and Rabbi Adam Ruditsky of Beth Sholom Village led the Kaddish for Shoah victims, followed by a prayer offered by Laura Gross, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater president.

At the end of the night, it was clear that it is important for the community and for individuals to learn from the Holocaust to build a better future for all.
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For more information about UJFT’s Holocaust Commission, visit www.holocaustcommission.org, or contact Elka Mednick at emednick@ujft.org. 

-Elka Mednick