By: Noam Feifel  | 

Yom Hashoah Ceremony Emphasizes Family, Unifies YU Community

A somber atmosphere pervaded Wilf Campus's Lamport Auditorium this past Wednesday night, May 4th, as it hosted Yeshiva University's annual Yom Hashoah ceremony. 

The dimly lit auditorium filled quickly, as Yeshiva and Stern students alike piled in for the evening’s commemorative programming. 

Before the event commenced, a blaring siren sounded and instantly gripped the room, similar to the one heard throughout Israel on this day to commemorate the Holocaust's fallen. 

YU acapella group The YStuds followed by delivering powerful renditions of both the American and Israeli national anthems to begin the ceremony. 

Holocaust survivor Martin Greenfield then greeted the audience. "How lucky you are to be the future of our people here in America," he told the crowd full of college students. "The safest place to be." He stressed how privileged YU students are to be part of such an institution, and commended America as a safe haven for modern Jewry.

His opening remarks were followed by an on-stage interview, conducted by senior Yedidyah Weiss, who serves as President of YU’s Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM). Mr. Greenfield touched upon childhood memories, recalled his experiences in the Holocaust, and shared stories of his family, a theme that would be revisited many times throughout the evening. He urged the young crowd to realize how fortunate their situation is in America, a place where they could they could live happily with their loved ones and create the future that they desired for themselves. 

Though the moment was serious and topic grave, Mr. Greenfield kept the mood lighthearted with his frequent quips, animated personality, and bright red socks that illuminated the stage. 

Rabbi Hanoch Teller, renowned speaker and author, carried on the programming, continuing to discuss the importance of family, and its role within our lives. "Our message is family,” he preached, “which we have to carry on and which we must cherish and appreciate every moment, especially at YU, which is itself a family." Urging the crowd to internalize and appreciate how significant family relations are, he encouraged students to imagine a devastating reality of having family stripped from their sides, a reality that so many Jews experienced during the Holocaust.

This message resonated amongst students in the audience. “Rabbi Teller’s words made me really stop and think, and realize how lucky I am to have my whole family not only around me, but also healthy and happy,” offered Syms Sophomore Binyamin Zirman. “The stories you hear about the Holocaust really put everything into perspective.”

After Rabbi Teller provided scholarly insight and moving anecdotes from behind the podium, audience members, including grandchildren of Mr. Greenfield, were called up to the stage. One by one, they lit six candles, each representing approximately one million Jews who perished during the holocaust. 

“We realize how valuable our relationships are, and need to appreciate that every Jewish person is family,” offered SHEM Creative Designer Emma Mael, responsible for the evening’s closing remarks. “Today, we stand strong as one family,” she finished.  

The YStuds, who retook the stage multiple times during the procession, gathered one last time to conclude its poignant performance with a recital of Ani Ma’amin, echoing throughout the auditorium until the procession came to a close. 

“The whole evening was really moving,” said Syms sophomore Eli Lipner. “I think it’s so powerful how our school can become so unified over an event that attempted to do just the opposite.”

After the auditorium emptied, and the event drew a close, Mael reflected on the evening. “I feel that the event went really well, and we gave over the unique message that we intended to.” The Stern junior also noted that the program received very positive feedback from students, and that all the hard work that went into planning it, showed.

In a night that commemorated a tragic time in Jewish History, the YU community was able to join together and bond over the unparalleled value of family, while exuding a sense of unity and religious pride. The evening successfully provided a forum to remember the past, appreciate the present, and look forward to better future for Jewry all around.