The notion of “Never again” was uttered with resolve but also a sense of despair at the Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance gathering in South Orange on May 1.
One religious leader after the other pointed out that the hatred that led to the horrors of World War II and cost — according to the latest figures from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum — more than 15 million lives in Nazi death camps, labor camps, and ghettoes is not a thing of the past.
Rabbi Mark Cooper of the host synagogue, Oheb Shalom Congregation, said, “We cannot erase yesterday’s pains, but we can ensure that they were not suffered in vain.” He called on those present “to learn from hate and evil to live for good.”
“As the world faces the largest refugee crisis since World War II,” Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El prayed, “may we open our hearts and our borders, and be inspired to help as many people as possible.”
The annual event, now in its 39th year, is sponsored by the South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Committee, with cosponsorship from the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest, a department of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Imminent rain caused the cancellation of the usual commemorative march, planned this year from Spiotta Park to Oheb Shalom. Ushered in by the young drummer who would have led the marchers, the participants gathered initially in the synagogue foyer. They held posters created by teen volunteers bearing words like “tolerance,” “liberation,” “peace,” and “acceptance.”
The speakers included representatives from local Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Ethical Culture congregations, and one from Edinburgh, Scotland: Presbyterian minister the Rev. Gayle Taylor, who is on sabbatical in Maplewood.
As she recalled “the great darkness” of the Holocaust, she urged those present to aspire to “the great light of hospitality and welcome and connection.”
The service that followed was dedicated to the memory of those who helped established it 39 years ago: Sister Rose Thering, Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein, Msgr. Philip Morris, and the Rev. Charles Thompson, under the leadership of Max Randall of the South Mountain Lodge of B’nai B’rith. Candles were lit by 16 survivors, and a personal account of survival was provided by Ilona Wedwied, who was three when the Germans invaded her hometown of Czestochowa in Poland.
‘Tolerance through education’
At the event, the Sister Rose Thering Education Award was presented to Barbara Wind, an initiator of the award, for her work over the past 16 years as director of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest.
Thering, a strong lifelong advocate of Jewish-Christian relations and Holocaust studies, was a Seton Hall University professor for whom the Sister Rose Thering Scholarship Fund was named. She died in 2006.
Wind’s parents, according to their daughter, “never expected their lives to be disrupted, as they were by the Holocaust, or to have a little girl who would graduate from a Catholic university.” Sister Rose Thering’s parents, she suggested, were probably equally unprepared for their daughter, the middle child of 11, to become what she herself called a “religious,” said Wind.
“She disliked the term ‘nun,’” explained Wind, who was mentored by Sister Rose as a graduate student at Seton Hall University. She is currently completing a memoir, Scaling the Mountain, about a week in Rome when the two attended a Vatican-sponsored conference.
The Remembrance committee selects the award recipients in recognition of their commitment to the educational ideals championed by Sister Rose. Wind was selected, according to the committee, “for her years of contributing to creating tolerance through education.”
Wind, a poet and playwright and former journalist, has served as director of the council since September 2000, organizing educational and commemorative programs, lectures, and exhibits, including “From Memory to History: Faces and Voices of the Holocaust,” now in its 12th showing at the Aidekman campus in Whippany. For each exhibit, she writes training manuals. She also helps educators create lesson plans, as she has done for Asociatia Tikvah in Romania and for the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
In 2013 Wind wrote and published a Holocaust Haggada in preparation for a Shoa seder organized by the council on the Aidekman campus in Whippany. Several of her poems are published in Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and also in the curriculum of the NJ State Commission on Holocaust Education.
Wind has presented papers at numerous academic conferences and has lectured throughout the United States and in China and South Korea. She continues to deliver talks on Sister Rose’s life and message. Last summer she was a resident scholar at Oxford University, where she participated in a two-week seminar on contemporary global anti-Semitism, and, while there, created syllabi on the subject for middle, high school, and college students.