Yom Hashoah moves the community

by | May 12, 2017 | Featured

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 not just awareness and sadness, but honor, hope, and music on a rainy Sunday night. Yom Hashoah co-chair Carol Jason says, “It was overwhelmingly poignant to see so many students and their parents, teachers, and community members, both Jewish and non-Jewish, come together to support and help cultivate the Holocaust Commission’s efforts.”

Ohef Sholom Temple hosted the annual event, and after a round of applause for Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander, Holocaust Commission Chair Wendy Auerbach opened the evening with her thoughts on the current climate of incivility that seems to be gripping the nation. Referencing the rise in antisemitic rhetoric and other hate speech in America today, and sharing the goals of the Commission, she urged attendees to try to bring back civil discourse, which is “vital to a vibrant and active democratic system.”

Democracy’s future was represented beautifully by the winners of the 2017 Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts Competitions for Students. With more than 1,700 entrants, it was the largest contest in the competition’s 20-year history. Entries came from nine states and as far away as India. Winners were from a record 18 schools, making this year’s competition a fitting tribute to its namesake, who died last July.

Two winners 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 grandmother, went to Marianne McMillin of Oscar Smith High School, and the Ruthi Sherman Kroskin Award, named for the late commission member who embodied the spirit of the Holocaust Commission, went to Amy Lindgren of The Williams School.

The evening’s guest speaker was Virginia Beach native, Dr. James A. Grymes, author of the award-winning Violins of Hope. He shared with the nearly full sanctuary the stories of two of the violins featured in his book about the work of Tel Aviv luthier Amnon Weinstein, who lost 400 members of his own family in the Shoah. The instruments Weinstein continues to restore tour the world being played by first class orchestras, in honor and memory of their lost owners.

The lighting of memorial candles followed Grymes’ talk. Holocaust survivors, liberators, Righteous Gentiles—or those lighting in their place—were handed long tapers by Holocaust Commission volunteers. As names were read, those in the sanctuary were silent, while those who had attended prior commemorations noticed the dwindling number of candles on the table. Organizers say that this is a motivation to continue to hold the event—so the stories and the survivors, and their rescuers are never forgotten.

After all candles were lit, the beautiful music played by the Berz family (mother Lei Lei on cello, and daughters Lily and Amelia on violins) continued, as the names of the survivors who made their homes in Tidewater and who have now passed away, were displayed on the screen on the Bima. They are gone, but never forgotten.

Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin shared with the audience one of his last beautiful melodies as cantor of Ohef Sholom, the K’El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer, and Jay Klebanoff, UJFT president, closed the evening with some words on loss by Rabbi Naomi Levy. As attendees quietly exited, the candles burned in honor and memory, urging to never forget.

“Each year Yom Hashoah highlights how Holocaust education branches out with amazing positive effects on so many different people, from students and teachers, to the military, to community members of all faiths. Our goal is that these branches not only continue to grow, but multiply and reach more and more people with the message of the Commission each year,” notes event co-chair Rachael Feigenbaum.


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

Photography by Dmitry Gotkis.