Keeping the memory alive with Christians, Muslims and the Jewish Diaspora
As a typical Israeli, a third generation of Holocaust survivors – Bluma and Shlomo Berkowitz Z”l, I always thought of The Holocaust Remembrance Day as a day that I must commemorate in Israel. Hear the sirens and participate in a joint public or private event.
However, ‘Yom Hashoah’ 2023, I spent in New York, marking my third speaking tour in the US, honoring International Holocaust Day, and Yom Hashoah. I understand today, for the first time, that preserving the memory of the Holocaust has a broader meaning.
During my last ‘Yom Hashoah’, I walked the streets of New York, and spontaneously ended up in Times Square for the first time in my life. I was surrounded by the big iconic glowing screens flashing advertisements for lipsticks and movies and felt out of place and in foreign territory to be on this very solemn day in Times Square. And then suddenly, to my great surprise, I came across a replica of a World War II cattle car!
Listen to this! I have just had one of the most amazing experiences!As this is my first time in NY, today I walked around the city, spontaniously. At some point, around 5pm, I decide to head to The Times Square. When I get there, I am looking at all the signs and buildings and thinking how weird it is to be here on Yom Hashoa. but then- I suddenly see a Cattle car! (replica) like from the Holocaust! and Candles with names of Holocaust Victims, in the middle of Times Square!It is a project of ShadowLight Hate Ends Now together with NCSY where you can take a journey of learning about the Holocaust in a special presentation that is shown in the ShadowLight cattle car.It was amazing to see it there, and to experience it. When I introduced myself to one of the organizers- Rabbi Gideon Black, he asked if I could give a speech.So I can tell you that today, Yom Hashoa 2023, I gave a speech in Times Square! I got to talk about my grandparents, about memory, about choice, and about how we can learn from the life of the victims and survivors- to still believe in humankind. It was a such great honor, and I am so thankful for it. You can see in the video everyone with the candles singing "והיא שעמדה".AMAZING!#activistholocausteducation #yomhasoa23 #holocaust #HolocaustEducation
Posted by Adi Rabinowitz Bedein on Tuesday, April 18, 2023
It was a ShadowLight Hate Ends Now partnership project together with NCSY where they invited the public to learn about the Holocaust through an audio visual presentation.After talking with the organizers, I found myself giving a speech in honor of ‘Yom Hashoah’ in the middle of Times Square!!
I shared with the crowd the words of Shmulik Shilo, a Holocaust survivor who became a great theater director, who said on his first Yom Hashoah (1959) in Israel:
“I drove to Tel Aviv, and suddenly I heard a siren. Everybody froze in their place, and I was shocked. The world was standing still! I looked around me with tears in my eyes, and one question came to my mind: “All of those people are standing here for the memory of my mother? I started to cry. This has been maybe the first time where I have realized that it is not just my personal story”
The personal memory- becomes a collective memory.
The responsibility for Holocaust remembrance is not only carried out by the Jewish People, but also by people of other faiths, such as Muslims and Christians whom I have had the chance to personally meet and get to know and who have taken took upon themselves the responsibility of commemorating the Holocaust.
Remembering the Holocaust with Muslims and Christians.
How about the educational universal messages, connecting other nations to the memory of the Holocaust?
I got to meet with Dr. Mahanaz Afridi, director of the Center for Genocide and Interfaith at Manhattan College, who is a Pakistani Muslim, an expert in Islamic studies and the Holocaust (!) and the only Muslim woman who directs a Holocaust center.
I think of Dr. Afridi’s universal connection and the way she is able to empower many different and diverse audiences, preserving the memory of the Holocaust through these audiences that for us, the third generations of holocaust survivors are most unlikely to be able to connect with and reach out to.
Dr. Afridi told me that she is proud of being able to convey messages not only about the Holocaust, but also about Israel, to non-Jewish students and especially to Muslim students.
What really “blew my mind” in the universal connection was when I received an invitation to speak at the memorial ceremony of Mrs. Rozalie Jerome, a Jewish woman from Houston, Texas. Mrs. Jerome founded The Holocaust Remembrance Association and has been organizing “Ýom Hashoah” events in Houston together with Holocaust survivors, Holocaust descendants, veterans, third generation descendants of Nazi criminals (!) and descendants of the Righteous Among the Nations (!)
Once a year, a Jewish-Christian remembrance event is held, joined by hundreds of participants and endorsed by the Israeli consulate. Following the ceremony, everyone joins the March of Remembrance through the streets of Houston.
Standing together with Christians in this event, on my left is a woman whose grandparents were Nazis and on my right – a Holocaust survivor, listening to representatives talk about perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust, fighting anti-Semitism, the importance and meaning of standing with Israel – was one of the most significant experiences for me, as an international Holocaust educator.
The justice and the truth we seek to spread in this world for the sake of memory preservation of the Holocaust, is not only the obligation of ‘third generation’ descendants, nor the sole responsibility of the Jewish people. It needs to be shared with people all over the world.
Remembering the Holocaust with the Jewish Diaspora
In addition, on ‘Yom Hashoah’ 2023, I feel I have connected for the first time to the Jewish diaspora communities from pre-Holocaust days up to Jewish People in the present today – even if they are physically or religiously and culturally unlike me.
The particular Jewish educational message of the Holocaust crosses Israel’s borders, as I experienced at the event of the Third Generation of the Holocaust in New York (3GNY) during my last speaking tour. I got to participate in a very special ceremony that was held in a synagogue that was established back in 1913. The ceremony included the new “Hitkansut Haggadah” developed by the Shalom Hartman Institute. In the ceremony, there were songs, reflections and third generation testimonials in honor of our grandparents and the other survivors along with countless others whose stories will never be told.
I felt very much what we call peoplehood – one Jewish community. I felt how I connected to all the diverse Jewish people around me.
To remember means to connect spiritually. Connect to the chain of generations, and to this generation. It is like our spiritual DNA. Therefore, memory is identity.
Today the Jewish people living in Israel and in the Diaspora aren’t overly connected. The shared memory of the Holocaust reminds us that we are all from the same nation and People. It necessitates that it be part of our identity.
It was incredible to appreciate and feel for the first time the deep meaning of memory, the personal and the collective, everywhere and with everyone. Preserving the memory alive is a task for today’s generation and we all must learn how to do it. Time is of the essence. We are nearing the time of the last of the survivors of this very dark and sinister period in Jewish history. We all carry this torch – together.