Yeshiva University Yom HaShoah Ceremony Links Holocaust and Present-Day Anti-Semitism
In a darkened Lamport Auditorium on Wednesday, April 15, Stern College for Women student Michal Kupchik linked the lives of Alfred Rein, a young man who perished in the Holocaust, and Yoav Hattab, a victim of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket terror attack in Paris this past January.
“I am never again. I am all of those who were, but never will be, never are,” Kupchik told the audience against a backdrop of portraits of the two young men at Yeshiva University’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration ceremony. “We cannot let the scars of the Shoah fade. Today, the battleground is different. But hatred pervades. Je suis Alfred Rein. Je suis Yoav Hattab.”
This year’s theme, “I Am Never Again,” was inspired by the recent global slogans “Je Suis Charlie” and “Je Suis Juif.” The program united the Holocaust that occurred 70 years ago with the current rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world.
Hadassa Holzapfel, president of YU’s Student Holocaust Education Movement said that despite the physical distance between Yeshiva University and European Jewry, the student body must feel their pain and not let them suffer in silence. “Our grandparents swore to heed the warning signs and never again go as sheep to slaughter. This year, episodes of anti-Semitic violence have shaken Jews the world over. On this night of remembrance, with pained voices of past and present merging in our minds, we stand together and say ‘I Am Never Again.’ It is up to each one of us to stand up for being a Jew and stand up for the right thing. What happens to a Jew in France matters to a Jew in America. We cannot be passive but rather must be active to prohibit history from repeating itself.”
In his remarks, Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought, borrowed the opening statement from Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecuting attorney at the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. “When I stand before you here, Judges of Israel, to lead the Prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I am not standing alone. With me are six million accusers. But they cannot rise to their feet and point an accusing finger towards him who sits in the dock and cry ‘I accuse.’ Therefore I will be their spokesman and in their name I will unfold the awesome indictment.”
Rabbi Schacter stressed the importance of memory and the danger of forgetting by empowering the student body and audience with practical suggestions as to how to remember the Holocaust and stand up to anti-Semitism today. “Fifty-four years and almost to the day of Eichmann’s trial, in our Yeshiva University, we speak for those who cannot speak, and in their memory and in their name we announce tonight, zachor, remember.”
The evening included a discussion with Holocaust survivor and educator Sally Frishberg who offered her personal account and memories as a young girl. Born in Poland in 1934, her father decided to take their family and flee when German resettlement began in the eastern part of the country. She described how together with her parents and two younger sisters, she traveled between fields living in haystacks. Her family was then taken in by a friend who hid them in an attic for two years, surviving solely on beans and potatoes. Of the 15 family members hidden in the attic, 12 survived. When asked to reflect on the current resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, Frishberg said, “Once you learn to hate you can’t unlearn.”
Following a video presentation about the insecurities that French Jews feel in their country, Torah Activities Council President Amanda Esraelian recounted her recent solidarity mission to France along with Vice President Rabbi Kenneth Brander and Student Organization of Yeshiva President Natan Szegedi. “I could not imagine attending to my shul in New York and feeling unsafe, but in France, we were protected by three soldiers,” said Esraelian. “The daily life of this community is shaken.”
The program concluded with a recitation of “El Maleh Rahamim” by YU President Richard M. Joel and a performance by the Y-Studs a capella group. Six candles were lit on stage to commemorate six different aspects of Holocaust remembrance: Mrs. Sally Frishberg lit the first candle in memory of the grandparents who perished in the Holocaust; Zevy Kalinsky lit the second in memory of the one-and-a-half million children who perished in the Holocaust; Rabbi Brander and Esraeilian lit a candle in memory of the recent victims of anti-Semitism; and Yeshiva University students who served in the Israeli Defense Forces lit the fourth in memory of those brave soldiers protecting the Jewish people. The last two candles were lit by Rabbi Schacter and participants in the Adopt-A-Survivor program to represent the everlasting lights of Torah that are passed through generations.