The Los Angeles Jewish community continued to commemorate Yom HaShoah – which took place on Wednesday evening, May 5, through Thursday, May 6 – with programs at Beth Jacob Synagogue and at the Museum of Tolerance.
Rabbi Topp told the large crowd in attendance at Beth Jacob Wednesday night, “There is no Hebrew word for history. In our Hebrew language,” said Rabbi Topp, “we only have a word for memory and that is zachor.” He continued, “History is a combination of ‘his’ and ‘story.’ It’s a detached narrative. It makes no demands on us in the present, but in Judaism, we are never detached, it’s our story.”
Rabbi Adir Posy, associate rabbi at Beth Jacob, called six survivors and relatives to the stage to each light a candle for the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
The Harkham Hillel Academy Choir under Director Katherine Simon, sang “Hatikva,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and other selections explained by three of the young, talented choir members. Eliyah Horwatt introduced “Keli Keli,” music by David Zahavi and lyrics by Jewish heroine, Hannah Senesh. Ms. Senesh died by a firing squad at just 23 years old, al kiddush Hashem, when she refused to turn over any information to the Nazis.
The next musical selection was “K’shehalev Boche,” introduced by Sarit Hadad, and “Ani Maamin,” introduced by Aharon Topp. Beth Jacob’s Cantor Arik Wollheim joined the children and conducted.
The keynote speaker was Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, great-nephew of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a key figure in Modern Orthodoxy. He spoke about his admiration for Menachem Begin, who was born in Brest-Litovsk, Lithuania (also known as Brisk). Rav Meir Soloveichik recounted, “In 1972, a eulogy was convened for the Jews of Brisk by their descendents 30 years after the destruction of their city by the Nazis. I was overcome by the sheer love that one can feel radiating from his words for the Jews of Brisk. Who among us, cannot see ourselves as partners to the Beis HaLevi and to Rabbi Chaim Brisk as if we were with them for our entire lives. It’s a remarkable statement.” He suggested that the method to continue for us to partner with these gedolim is through Torah and mitzvos.
The Museum Of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s annual Holocaust program took place Thursday mid-morning. Director of the Museum of Tolerance Liebe Geft began by stating the theme for Yom HaShoah this year was “the struggle to maintain the human spirit during the Shoah.” Ms. Geft continued, “Even under the harshest conditions Jews exercised creativity, wrote, prayed, issued religious rulings, and secretly observed their holidays.”
Some of that creativity is being displayed in the new exhibit at MOT, The Vedem Underground, which commenced immediately following the program with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It features the remarkable underground magazine of the Terezin ghetto put together by brave teenage boys. The Vedem exhibit was created by Rina Taraseisky, Danny King, and creative director Michael Murphy.
Ms. Taraseiskey spoke about her family’s history: “In November 1941, my paternal grandfather, Ovsey Taraseiskey, started an underground resistance group while a prisoner in Lithuania’s Kovno Ghetto. In 1944, my paternal grandmother Rosa Lurie joined the Russian army after spending two years in a cave dug beneath a Lithuanian potato field, and in 1970, my maternal grandmother Fanya Taraseiskey participated in a demonstration at Moscow’s Central Post Office against the Communist regime’s Anti-Semitism and the government’s refusal to give her a visa to emigrate to Israel. So,” said Ms. Taraseiskey, “I guess you can say resistance runs in my family.”
The Honorable Pavol Sepelak, Consul General of the Czech Republic (where Terezin was located) spoke about the heroic boys. The boys were aged 12-15 and wrote/edited the magazine themselves in extraordinarily dangerous conditions, trying to hold onto whatever modicum of a normal life they could. Most of the boys were later taken to Auschwitz and murdered in the gas chambers. A survivor who currently lives in Florida discovered their work and saved it for future generations.
Consul General Sepelak told the audience that although it was hoped that the world had learned from this catastrophic genocide, they did not, and Anti-Semitism flourishes. Everywhere he goes, he hears the mantra, “Never Again.” He cautioned, “Appeasement to evil cannot be tolerated. The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”
Israeli Consul General David Siegal informed the audience that Hamas fired rockets and mortars into southern Israel in the midst of a Holocaust memorial as the IDF discovered yet another terrorist tunnel dug into Israel from Gaza several hundred yards from a kibbutz. Siegal spoke about how once again Jews are targeted because of who they are. “Iran with its nuclear weapon program calls for Israel’s destruction and continues to deny that the Holocaust ever occurred.” He said that survivors polled express deep anxiety about the prospect of another holocaust.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke about how the survivors had courage to keep going, to smile, to remarry, to have families, and to deliver the following message to their enemies: “Long after you have all been deposited in the dust pins of history the Jewish people, will still be sitting at their seder table, be singing the same songs of our ancestors.”
Finally many people headed upstairs to participate in the Butterfly Project (name inspired by the poem by Anne Frank. As a memorial to the 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust, 1.5 million handmade ceramic butterflies will be painted by people around the world, one for each child who perished. The Butterfly Project was created by talented artist Cheryl Rattner Price and Jan Landau, a teacher. So far, 10 percent of the project is complete. Every person who wants to participate can log onto http://www.thebutterflyprojectnow.org to get involved.