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Friday, October 18, 2019

Union—Wilkins Theatre on the campus of Kean University filled quietly on the evening of Thursday, April 16, for the 2015 Holocaust commemoration. There was no noisy conversational buzz in the room, as guests awaited the start of the annual Yom Hashoah Holocaust Commemoration, sponsored jointly by The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and the Holocaust Studies Department of Kean University. This year’s theme, entitled “An End and a Beginning…70th Anniversary of the Liberation,” was attended by well over 200 guests. The commemoration was greatly enhanced by the production staff of the Kean theatre department including ushers and sound and lighting technology, along with left-stage signing for the hearing impaired.

The Holocaust Commemoration was initiated a number of years ago to create a local memorial venue for Holocaust survivors and the families of those who perished, and because their lost loved ones have no recognized personal yahrtzeit/memorial anniversary of death date. The objective was to provide survivors and families of the victims an opportunity to come together with the community, and to recite Kaddish as a group on a date designated for this purpose. The commemoration gives a voice to the decades of silence, and addresses the absence of a meaningful prior outlet to this important and timeless need. It has also evolved into an opportunity to educate younger generations, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

Compelling opening and closing remarks were made by Barb Simon of the Yom Hashoah commemoration committee. Video testimonies were presented, featuring Dr. Alvin Weinstein, a US Army Liberator at the Dachau Concentration Camp, and Rabbi Hershel Schacter, US Army Chaplain and Liberator at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The testimonies give witness to the detestable and inhumane conditions they found upon entering the camps. They implored upon humanity to preserve the record of these conditions, and to educate the world to prevent and avoid repeating historical patterns that can lead to holocaust mentality.

Dr. Hank Kaplowitz, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Special Assistant to the President for the Human Rights Institute of Kean University, narrated a poignant candle-lighting ceremony at center stage. Dr. Kaplowitz introduced each person lighting a candle with a brief biography including his or her connection with or relation to the Holocaust, and concurrently invited audience members of similar background to also stand and illuminate an electric candle—which had been distributed to all prior to the candle ceremony. As each candle was lit, so too a group from the audience stood with their lit electric candle. Gradually lights flickered on all over the auditorium.

The first candle lit by Moshe Rosenthal represented the Holocaust survivors. Dina Cohen and daughter Amanda Lanceter, who lit the second candle, represented second- and third-generation survivors. Ed Bindle lit the third candle as a representative for “righteous rescuers”—those who aided victims in any way. The fourth candle was lit by Harry Ettlinger, as a representative of World War II veterans and liberators. Dr. Michele Dahl, teacher at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child, and representing Holocaust educators, lit the fifth candle. The final and sixth candle was lit by Morgan Bransky representing all people moved to create light against the darkness of evil. By the time all six candles were burning, nearly everyone in the theatre stood holding a lit “candle.”

The program was also enhanced by the vocal presentations of the joint youth choirs of the Jewish Educational Center Choir, led by Mrs. Chana Salamon, and the Elmora Public School No. 12 Choir directed by Dr. Anna Kroik. The choirs rehearsed together and presented beautiful renditions of the national anthem of Israel, “Hatikvah,” and two additional moving and inspirational pieces, co-directed by both women. The choir presentation was greatly appreciated by the audience, demonstrated by their lengthy and multiple applauding as the choir filed off the stage row by row.

Sam Goldfischer led the group in the traditional prayer recited at a gravesite, as part of a funeral service, for a yahrtzeit or yizkor observance, “K’ El Maaleh Rachamim”/G-d full of Compassion. Then Psalm No. 23 was recited in English and Hebrew by an oratory team of Lea Andriola and Josh Weiner. Mourner’s Kaddish was recited by Stanley Stone, Senior Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Also an annual tradition of this program was a vocal duet rendition of “The Partisan Song,” this year offered by Abe Bunis and Dr. Aryeh Pirak.

The program concluded with closing remarks, and was followed by an offering of light refreshments in the lobby, where the event planners, survivors, and families could visit and share thoughts about their experiences and the commemoration. The onstage fired-sculpture “ZACHOR” (“Remember”) is a creation of artist Etta Winigrad, winner of the 1981 statewide Holocaust Memorial competition. To get involved in future Holocaust events sponsored by the Jewish Federation, find them online at www.jfedgmw.org.

By Ellie Wolf