Yom Hashoah 2019 at The Moise Safra Center

A gathering of Holocaust remembrance, unity, and Anni Maamin (the song of hope) By: Elisheva Lock MPA, LCSW Last night on the eve of Yom Hashoa, May 1 2019, three unrelated diverse Jewish organizations namely the beautiful Safra Center, The Jewish International Connection of New York (JICNY), and the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, JCCGCI, funded by the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany, had the pleasure of joining forces to promote Holocaust Remembrance and Jewish unity within the New York area. The dignified and feisty panel of Holocaust survivors which included Dasha Rittenberg, Esther Widman, George Wolf, and Leah Scharff along with many diverse members of the New York Jewish community filled both levels of the Safra Center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where the event was graciously hosted with the assistance of David Miller and Debbie Stone. Steve Eisenberg of the JICNY gave a brief motivational interlude, which led into our panel discussion with the survivors. As I facilitated the panel discussion with these survivors, I couldn’t help but notice the audience’s smiles, and surprising looks as to how tenacious, current, and articulate the survivors were. “Right after the war people were tired and didn’t want to hear our stories of the Holocaust, but now everyone wants to know and we are tired. However, since it’s 74 years later and nothing has changed unfortunately, we feel like we must tell you,” said Esther Widman addressing the “never forget “questions of the panel. Leah Scharff kept referring to her “duty to tell that Jews in Holland such as herself suffered terribly as well in concentration camps, and many may not know.” Dasha Rittenberg used some humor saying, “I’m here because some people tell me there are folks who want to hear these stories.” The experiences she shared were far from funny. They were tragic and poignant, and alive, unlike anything anyone can get out of reading a history book. George Wolf took the lead in addressing the “never again,” part of the panel in comparing pre-war signs of anti- Semitism to today, which led the gathering from Holocaust Remembrance into Jewish Unity and action of today. Survivors Esther Widman and Dasha Rittenberg empowered the audience with ideas of how to crush, or at least try and take steps to combat some of the Anti-Semitism the Jewish world is facing today. For example, Dasha pleaded with the crowd to not buy a paper like the New York Times, and stop promoting their blatant Anti-Semitism. Esther encouraged today’s generation to not only focus on the internet, but to also go out into the world and learn how to be vocal , like Jews were in the past fighting for Soviet Jews, Israel, and even civil rights. She also reminded us to use the power to vote for people who will be kind to Jews and Israel. After this emotional and impactful panel came to a close there was a very natural and powerful standing ovation for the survivors. On their way down to light the yartzeit candles I overheard one survivor tell the others, “We are strong; we are still here.” “Yes we are,” replied another. This appreciation of their own survival was not only touching to watch, but also reminded me that we were in the midst of true heroes. After a heartfelt Kel Malaih Rahamim (Mourner’s prayer) beautifully sung by a cantor of the Safra Center, the survivors put in a request for us all to sing the classic Jewish song of hope, namely Ani Maamin (I believe). This musical request was very be-fitting for this gathering, since Ani Maamin is a Jewish classic that was sung even in the dark hours of the Holocaust, and gave hope that Gd was with them. It was therefore very powerful to sing this song of hope, as well as Hatikavah, Israel’s national anthem as a group. This powerful group prayer for the Jews lost during the Holocaust, and singing the songs of hope and faith in our religion, our nation, and our homeland seemed to solidify and seal all that was said and heard that evening. We sang in unity with an unspoken understanding and sense of knowing that we faced adversity in the world then in the Holocaust, and unfortunately we do now as well nowadays, but as Jews we are standing here together in unity because that is what makes us strong. It also didn’t hurt to be able to glance at this group of wise and fearless survivors singing beside us, with complete hope and sincerity for the future, serving as a reminder for us that we are even tougher and stronger than we think.

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