Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance reception at Old Dominion University

by | May 3, 2013 | Other News

Students and faculty were guests of Old Dominion University’s Office of Intercultural Relations and Hillel on Monday, April 8, for the Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance reception.

Jay Ipson, a holocaust survivor from the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, and a cofounder/ director for the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, who is also my grandfather, was the keynote speaker. John Broderick, Old Dominion University’s president, arrived before the event started. The president sadly couldn’t stay due to a prior commitment, but he wanted to meet Ipson and to demonstrate his support for Holocaust education.

As people entered, they looked towards the front of the room at the man in the cowboy hat and noticed a six-branched menorah sitting on the table.

I welcomed everyone and spoke about why the event was important. Not only was this a remembrance for the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust, but also it was to talk about how Holocaust education is necessary in today’s universities. Before passing the microphone to my grandfather, I explained to the approximately 70 people who attended the event, including eight students from Toras Chaim School, 14 students from Bina High School, as well as older college students from Old Dominion who will one day lead this community and many others around the world, that Yom HaShoah was Holocaust Remembrance Day and why it was important to have an event about Holocaust remembrance specifically on that day.

When my grandfather began to speak, the audience was silent, hanging on to every word about the survival of his family during the horrors of the Holocaust. He was only six years old when the Nazis invaded Lithuania in 1941. His family was liberated by the Russians in 1944. My grandfather began by asking the crowd questions such as “How big is your neighborhood?” and then by asking if everyone had cell phones as he proceeded to explain about today’s global society. One of the main points he made was about the Lithuanian neighbors who helped the Nazis to kill Jews, so that the people in the audience could understand that it wasn’t just Germans who killed Jews during the Holocaust. Over the course of the hour, he explained the similarities and differences between a ghetto and a concentration camp, his family’s survival from escaping the ghetto and hiding under a potato field for six months.

One of the more memorable moments of the discussion was when my grandfather told the crowd about the number of hate groups in the United States, specifically in Virginia, and even more specifically in Norfolk. He linked every part of his presentation to remembrance, but also the need to educate people about atrocities like the Holocaust, so that others won’t suffer like his family did. When my grandfather finished I explained the significance of the six-branched menorah. The menorah was a design by Al Rosenbaum and reconstructed by Terry Minter for this particular electrical version. The menorah had a few symbols: it had six branches, each for one million of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust; one lowered branch for the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust; silver to represent barbed wire; a partially broken Magen David to show the Jewish people had been broken but we still live on; red for the blood spilled during the Holocaust; and blue for hope.

As the event was about to close, Rabbi Gershon Litt, executive director of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel, noted that the Jewish people are not broken, and repeatedly saying with great pride and strength, “The Jewish people are not broken!”

Rabbi Litt explained that Jay Ipson was about to recite a Mourner’s Kaddish to honor those that were killed during the Holocaust. Before he finished, he explained that the Kaddish did not talk about sadness or despair, but of greatness and never once mentions death. He then told the audience that Yom HaShoah should not only be for remembrance, but that it was to inspire people not to forget what happened and to educate people about the Holocaust to prevent future atrocities. After reciting the Kaddish, my grandfather blew the Shofar to conclude the program.

by Ben Ipson