Organizers of the annual Yom Hashoa Commemoration at Kean University in Union are asking survivors to tell their stories of resilience and renewal.
The spotlight of the April 18 event will be on the contributions made by survivors who settled in Union County, from the “builders” who flourished in real estate to the professionals, homemakers, educators, and businesspeople who shaped Jewish and civic life.
The Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, said its vice president Marcy Lazar, “along with our area synagogues, community centers, day schools, and local commerce would not be what they are today if we had not been blessed by survivors who shared their strengths and passions upon arrival in our community.”
“I hope many people will attend the event to honor those still with us and the memories of those we have lost,” said Lazar, who heads the Yom Hashoa committee.
The event, held in the university’s Wilkins Theater, is a collaboration between the Central federation and Kean’s Holocaust Resource Center. Rabbi Joseph Preil, the founding director of the resource center, initiated the event, together with cofounder Clara Kramer and others in the mid-1980s.
The program is organized by a committee of staff members from both organizations and volunteers ranging from students to retirees.
Lazar and her team are asking survivors from all walks of life to participate in the event. As in previous years, they will get to tell their own stories of the war, or have them related by a friend, relative, or a local student. The survivors will also light candles in memory of the Six Million. The audience usually numbers around 900 or more.
“All the survivors, the liberators, and my parents always had the same look in their eyes when I spoke to them about Yom Hashoa: ‘Don’t let what we saw, what we experienced, what our families were murdered for, be forgotten,’ said Pete Kessel of Springfield, who has served as a member of the organizing committee, its cochair, and chair.
“I have learned so much and met so many wonderful people” through his work with the committee, he wrote in an e-mail. “I continue to learn more every day. I will always look back at my involvement with Yom Hashoa as an amazing experience.”
Kessel knew that his grandparents were killed by the Nazis, but he said it was only after he got involved in Holocaust remembrance that his father opened up and began to tell him their own family’s story.
Dr. Henry Kaplowitz, director of the Human Rights Institute at Kean, has served on the committee for a number of years.
“As we get further away in time from the Holocaust, and with fewer survivors still around to bear witness, I find the work of the Yom Hashoa committee critical in keeping the memory and the lessons of the Shoa alive,” he said.
Yvette Andriola of Watchung has been involved with the Kean event for about five years. Her father, his mother, and his sister were liberated from the Theresienstadt concentration camp. When her father was honored in 2007, her daughter and son both spoke on his behalf.
“After experiencing the power of this event I encouraged them to join the committee with me as well,” Andriola said. Two years ago, Andriola spoke on behalf of survivor Marsha Kreuzman. “It was an honor for me to be able to share Marsha’s incredible story,” she recalled. “I remember the evening grew even more compelling when she introduced me to two other women being honored who had been in one of the same concentration camps as her.”
Robin Sabony of Scotch Plains got involved last year after her daughter Gabrielle was asked to read a short passage at the commemoration.
“On the way home,” Sabony said, “Gabi asked if she could be a part of the event committee because she wanted to participate in a more meaningful way going forward. Gabi and I feel strongly that these stories must not be lost, and that they are made available to as broad an audience as possible.”
This year’s commemoration may be the last before the expected merger of the Central federation and United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
“In prior years we honored survivors from our community while educating about Holocaust history in a wider spectrum,” said Lazar. “In light of the merger discussions between the Central federation and MetroWest, and changes that may come, the committee thought it very appropriate to focus this year on the positive impact that survivors made in and to our local community.”
Those interested in participating should contact Adina Abramov at 908-288-2404 or firstname.lastname@example.org.