Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker, calling the survivors “living memories of a tragic past, the spirit of endurance, the spirit of will, and the spirit of love,” addressed the city’s 24th annual Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration, held May 4 at Ahavas Sholom, the last remaining historic synagogue in what was once a thriving Jewish community.
But he also cautioned the close to 100 people in attendance that “we have yet to see the end of such horrors…. We must understand that we live in a challenging and complicated world…. The lessons of the past must stay true in our hearts through remembrance, but also in our collective commitment to continue to seek tikun olam, to heal this world.”
Striking the same chord, Rabbi Simon Rosenbach, religious leader of the Conservative congregation, after leading the multicultural, multi-faith gathering in prayer, placed the Shoa in ironic perspective.
“Don’t let us say we have not learned anything, because surely we have,” he said. “We have learned to substitute the phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ for the blunt word ‘genocide.’ Ethnic cleansing sounds benign enough…. If Hitler had ‘ethnic cleansing’ he just could have washed all the Jews and they would have come out Aryans…. Armenians would have been ‘Turkified.’ Turks would have been ‘Bulgarianized.’ Tutsis could have been ‘Hutuified.’ Croats could have been ‘Serbified.’
“So, now that we have switched to ‘ethnic cleansing,’ there is no ‘genocide’ anymore,” he said. The atrocities “are reshaped, recast, or remade.”
Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of MetroWest, told the audience it was important to ensure that the stories of Nazi atrocities and of victims and rescuers be preserved. She cited one program that matches survivors and eyewitnesses with teens who commit to retelling their stories in 2045, a century after the end of World War II.
Rabbi Clifford Kulwin, the program’s master of ceremonies, emphasized the importance of honoring those who risked their lives to save Jews. “The Holocaust story is filled with extraordinary acts of heroism, of valor, of courage, by one person doing one thing,” said the religious leader of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston. “Look at the difference they made. How wonderful it would be if each of us were capable of the same.”
Following Rosenbach’s invocation, members of the Newark Boys Chorus performed a lullaby from Brundibar, a children’s opera written by Hans Krasa, a Czech Jew who was killed in Auschwitz and who led youngsters’ performances of the work over 50 times in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The Newark event was sponsored by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ; Temple B’nai Abraham; the Berger Organization, a Newark-based real estate company; and the American Jewish Committee.