Yom Hashoah Commemoration returns to the community

by | May 19, 2022 | Trending News

This year’s Yom Hashoah Commemoration, honoring the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, as well as liberators and righteous gentiles, was the first in-person gathering for the purpose since 2019. After cancelling the public commemoration in 2020 and having a livestreamed commemoration in 2021 with survivor Marion Weinzweig speaking from her home in Arizona, this year was a breath of fresh air that brought a sense of normalcy not seen in a long time. Dr. Al Munzer, a survivor from the Netherlands, anchored the evening.

Congregation Beth El hosted the event. After Cantor Wendi Portman Fried of Beth El offered the Star Spangled Banner and Hatikvah, Beth El’s Rabbi Emeritus Arthur Ruberg gave what was one of his last D’var Torahs before he and his wife Miriam Brunn Ruberg leave the area in June after 33 years. He remembered Yom Hashoah commemorations of years past, and commended the Holocaust Commission for its dedication to bringing meaningful events to the community. He referenced the Torah portion where Aaron is stunned into silence at the killing of his sons on the altar of the sanctuary, and compared it to “how we sometimes feel in response to hatred, like the Holocaust, the antisemitic attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Colleyville.”

Rachael Feigenbaum, Holocaust Commission chair, greeted the 300 in-person attendees, as well as those viewing via livestream on the Holocaust Commission Facebook page. She shared news about the Commission’s upcoming 20th anniversary edition of To Life, a volume of stories of local witnesses to the Holocaust.

The Commission honored the 2022 Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts Competitions winners, who will become the compassionate and courageous future leaders of America. There were 1,200 entrants from 46 schools from 11 states this year. Winners came from 13 different schools, and senior poetry winner, Norfolk Academy’s Avery Britt, beautifully read her winning poem, The Dolls.

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 Meryl Ironson of Chester, N.J. The Ruthi Sherman Kroskin Award, named for the dedicated late Commission chair who embodied the spirit of the Holocaust Commission, went to Christonya Brown, History and Social Science Education coordinator for the Commonwealth of Virginia, a longtime partner of the Commission.

The evening’s guest speaker, Dr. Al Munzer, shared his remarkable story of being sheltered from the Holocaust by a Dutch Indonesian family and their Muslim nanny. This longtime volunteer docent at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum lost his father and sisters, and many other family members, to Nazi hatred. His soft-spoken presentation, including many family photos that had been saved by others, as well as the admonition to educate others about the Holocaust, tolerance, and moral courage, enthralled everyone listening. He also spoke to an additional 1,500 students from four schools in the following days.

The lighting of memorial candles followed Munzer’s poignant talk. Six candles were lit to represent not only the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, but also the 1.5 million murdered children; the brave liberators; survivors who came to call Tidewater home; and educators who dedicate themselves to teach the era’s lessons. The names of the community’s survivors scrolled across the screen while Howard Horwitz and Fred Kovner played beautiful music on violin and cello—holding the contemplative mood of the sanctuary.

Cantor Elihu Flax sang the K’El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer, and Rabbis Ron Koas of Beth El and Michael Panitz of Temple Israel led the Kaddish for Shoah victims, infused with the names of some of the Nazis’ most notorious concentration camps. After the Kaddish, Laura Gross, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater president, closed the evening with a note of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, in a fight for their existence with an authoritarian dictator, almost 80 years after the Jewish world began saying “Never Again,” and a prayer for Yom Hashoah from the Yizkor service.

As attendees quietly exited, they were offered special Yom Hashoah yahrzeit candles from the cAssociation of Men’s Clubs, to light at home in memory of the six million. The six candles in the sanctuary continued to burn in honor and memory, urging everyone to never forget.

Ina Leiderman, Yom Hashoah co-chair, who also accompanied Dr. Munzer to Princess Anne Middle School, notes, “The evening was truly an affirmation of what the Holocaust Commission stands for. I was touched and impressed that whatever his audience, Dr. Munzer was able to touch everyone he spoke to, whether it was hundreds, or a single person at a time, like me.”

Visit and like the Holocaust Commission Facebook page to see the recording of Yom Hashoah: www.fb.com/holcommission, and visit www.holocaustcommission.org to see the award winning entries from the Elie Wiesel student competitions.

Elena Barr Baum is director of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Holocaust Commission.

-Elena Barr Baum