Antisemitism Focus Of Yom Hashoah Commemoration

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Holocaust survivor Judy Hersh, assisted by Avi Goldman, lights the second candle during the April 17 Yom Hashoah commemoration at Temple Emanu El in Orange. CJN Photo / Courtney Byrnes


Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

As the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and Kol Israel Foundation’s Yom Hashoah commemoration shined a light on the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, featured speaker Irving Berkowitz drew parallels to the continued fight against antisemitism today.

As the commemoration of the Holocaust and heroism returned in person without restrictions this year, over 600 people tuned into the livestream and filled the sanctuary of Temple Emanu El in Orange April 17.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Jew hatred is real and it’s rising,” Berkowitz said. “You can stem a tide, but you can’t stop a tidal wave. Jew hatred today is washing over America and in Europe. And today is probably the best opportunity I have to draw inspiration from the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”

Berkowitz is the son of Holocaust survivors and a native of Cleveland Heights with more than four decades of research, scholarship and public speaking on the Holocaust. He is emeritus dean of academic affairs at Palm Beach State College in Florida and a scholar of the Holocaust and contemporary antisemitism.

He spoke of the conditions and what Jews faced in and outside the ghettos during the Holocaust. Living off rations, many died of disease or starvation in the first year while awaiting to be sent to Auschwitz or Treblinka, the two deadliest Nazi concentration camps.

Irving Berkowitz speaks about the Holocaust and the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. CJN Photo / Courtney Byrnes

“It was the leaders of the uprising that knew they had no chance to live, but they knew they had a choice,” he said. “... They made the choice to stand up and to push back against their oppressors. That’s the inspiration we should derive from the leaders and the participants in the uprising.”

While World War II was between the Allies and the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, Berkowitz described the Holocaust as a second war – Germany’s war against the Jews, in which the Jews had no allies. He compared that to the threat of antisemitism today and the need for Jews to continue in the fight whether or not others stand with them.

“We have to fight antisemitism with the same courage and with the same determination that the ghetto fighters did,” Berkowitz said.

The event, co-chaired by Robert Rosen and Marilyn Zaas, also honored survivors of the Holocaust as candles were lit by Albert Hersh, Judy Hersh, siblings Margot Luft Baruch and Alfred Luft, Eli Maher, Helen Marks and Alice Mendlovic. The Hershes are brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

A seventh candle for liberators was lit by Carla Newbury and Gail Silver in honor of their father, Dr. Alan Silver. And as Heights High School in Cleveland Heights marked 50 years of Holocaust education, Mark Sack, Sol Factor, Abbie Nagler Sender and Adrienne Yelsky, representing that educational program, lit the eighth candle to honor educators.

Avi Goldman, a lifetime director of Kol Israel Foundation, assisted the candlelighters.

There was also a procession of Holocaust-era Torah scrolls from Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, B’nai Jeshurun Congregation, Congregation Shaarey Tikvah, Oheb Zedek Cedar Sinai Synagogue, Temple Israel Ner Tamid and The Temple-Tifereth Israel.

Rabbi Matt Cohen, left, of Temple Emanu El and Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation place the final Torah scroll in the ark of the covenant following the procession of Holocaust-era Torah scrolls. CJN Photo / Courtney Byrnes

Rabbi Matt Cohen of Temple Emanu El began the evening with a prayer, and the HaZamir Cleveland Choir led the evening in song.

The HaZamir Cleveland Choir leads the evening in prayerful song. CJN Photo / Courtney Byrnes

Kol Israel Foundation president Robert Zelwin and past president Mark Frank shared remarks and introduced the evening’s events, while education director Lindsay Friedman introduced art contest awards.

The first-place poetry winners for high school and middle school read their poems to conclude the evening. Ruth Becker, a seventh grader at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School, read the poem “A Conversation with the Past” with Aviva Haas, and Elise Edwards, a ninth grader at James A. Garfield High School in Garrettsville, read the poem “5 Days.”

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