By: Ilan Atri  | 

Bridging the Gap: Yom Hashoah 2017

On Monday night, April 24, the Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM) hosted a commemoration ceremony in Lamport Auditorium in honor of Yom Hashoah.

The program, entitled Bridging The Gap, was a great success and was attended by approximately 700 students, parents, faculty members, and guests. It featured moving speakers, a candle lighting ceremony, and a performance by the Y-Studs.

SHEM, spearheaded by Presidents Yedidyah Weiss and Tali Golubtchik, had been working on the program and securing their speakers since November. Once January came along, they began working even harder to get the whole event in order.

Tali Golubtchik remarked, “ a necessary part of Holocaust education is emphasizing the responsibility we play in passing on the stories to the next generation. Having had the chance to hear from both a survivor and a second generation survivor as well as students who had already taken this responsibility upon themselves, students were able to be inspired and continue to bridge the gap.”

In the majority of the seventy plus years since the end of the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah has been commemorated through the voices and first-hand experiences of survivors and heroes of the tragic event. As Yosef Sklar, one of the board members of SHEM, observed in his opening remarks at the program, that privilege is becoming a rarity today.

Following Sklar’s opening remarks, the audience was asked to rise for the sounding of the siren as a tribute to all of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Soon after, Survivor Irving Roth told his Holocaust experience.

Irving Roth was in Auschwitz I for about five years until he was finally liberated and regained his basic human rights. Mr. Roth began his discourse with the graphic events of his train ride from Eastern Slovakia to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The heat of the summer and lack of food, water, and bathrooms came together to create a torturous environment for the cramped Jews of his town. He explained how a seemingly innocuous situation in which he was barred from entering a park to play with his friends slowly devolved into a systematic oppression of the Jews of his town. He recalled his father being forced to pretend to sell his business to a Christian friend of his named Albert who eventually stole the entire business from him. Eventually, all of the Jews of the town were told to gather their belongings and meet in the shul where they were either shot into a mass grave or loaded onto a train.

Roth concluded by urging the audience to pass on his specific story and the entire atrocity that is the story of the Holocaust in order to silence the deniers of it and further prevent another similar occurrence.

The Y-Studs sang assorted songs throughout the ceremony. “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are at my side. Your staff and Your rod comfort me.” These words, beautifully sung, followed Mr. Irving’s words in the Hebrew song Gam Ki Elech. The meaning of the passage in the Book of Psalms reflects the mentality many Jews had while in concentration camps. They trusted and believed that HaShem was by their side and gained comfort from that.

On a different note, Professor Smadar Rosensweig told the story of another survivor, her recently deceased mother, Yaffa Eliach. Professor Rosensweig spoke primarily about her mother’s story, legacy, and involvement in preserving the history before and during the Holocaust. Professor Rosensweig strongly emphasized the importance of bridging the gap between the survivors of the Holocaust, a growing rarity, and the future generations who will never have the privilege of hearing from them. She urged the audience to actively remember and respect those who endured this atrocity and pass on their stories to everyone around them. She requested that the audience commemorate Yaffa Eliach by recognizing that every Jew is a hero in his or her own way and that every story is important.

Following that, Chani Grossman called up six different individuals for the candle lighting ceremony while she explained the significance of each candle. The first candle was for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The second was for the one and a half million children who were brutally murdered at the hands of the Nazis. The third was for the righteous gentiles who helped the Jews escape death, and for the non-Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The fourth was for the glorious and vital world of Torah in Europe that was lost and for the world that we must rebuild. The fifth was for our role as a link between victims and future generations. The sixth and final candle was in honor of the survivors whose incredible strength and perseverance inspire us to this day.

After the candle lighting ceremony, Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky led everyone in reciting a special Kel Malei Rachamim written specifically to commemorate all of the Jews that were murdered in the Holocaust.

Tali Golubtchik led the closing remarks and stressed how important it is to pass on stories from the Holocaust to ensure that the next generation will remember and commemorate the Holocaust. She then introduced a video of students speaking about how they have internalized the stories of survivors and how they will pass them on.

The response from those who attended was overwhelmingly positive. Michael Kohan, a sophomore in YC, said, “I felt that the event had a great impact on those who attended and was successful in rendering its message.”

Ending the night, the Y-Studs sang Ani Maamin, the 12th of the 13 principles of faith of the Rambam. Legend says that the tune was born when Reb Azriel David Fastag was divinely inspired to sing it on a train to Treblinka. A fellow captive who jumped out of that train and escaped eventually taught the tune to the Modzitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Shaul Yedidya Elazar.

“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah,” goes the song. “ And, though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming.” These words, relevant in tune and meaning, were a perfect close to a successful event.