Congregants from three synagogues and three churches joined members of some 20 other American communities for a June 6 candlelight vigil to honor the 254 passengers of the S.S. St. Louis who were killed in the Holocaust. The United States turned the ship away from its shores 78 years ago.
The gatherings — titled #NeverAgain — were sponsored by HIAS, the Jewish nonprofit organization that partners with synagogues and advocacy groups to assist refugees and immigrants throughout the world.
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet, the Reconstructionist synagogue in Montclair, was an organizer of the Montclair vigil.
Tepperman, who spoke and played guitar at the rally, told NJJN that being a refugee is at the core of the Jewish experience. “We know what is at stake when countries refuse to offer safe harbor, and the story of the S.S. St. Louis is an especially profound and glaring moment,” he said.
The ship left Germany with more than 900 passengers. Upon its return to Belgium, some of the travelers were admitted into Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. More than 600 were returned to Germany. Of the 254 passengers murdered in the Shoah, some came from Germany as well as Belgium, Holland, and France.
“The United States knew there were people seeking safe refuge when they were in extreme danger if they were sent back to their country of origin, and we are in that moment now,” said Tepperman, in reference to residents of war-torn countries currently trying to escape to the United States. “America needs to do its part in welcoming those refugees.”
In addition to congregants from his synagogue, members of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, and three Montclair churches — The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, First Congregational Church, and St. Luke’s Church — attended the 35-person rally at the corner of Church Street and Bloomfield Avenue.
Other vigils were held in Princeton; Brooklyn; Manhattan; Omaha, Neb.; Baltimore; Los Angeles; Tucson, Ariz.; Woodland, Texas; and St. Louis, Mo.