Like countless temples around the world, the Howard Beach Jewish Center held its Holocaust Remembrance Service Sunday night.
Yom Hashoah, or Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and Heroism, is the day dedicated to commemorating the six million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. The cruelest act of evil in history left a mark on the world that should not be forgotten or underestimated.
Rabbi George Hirschfeld led the service, and it began with a solemn historic telling of the horrific events during that period.
Hirschfeld picked out one particular line of the Congregational Prayer: “We remember and pay tribute to the survivors, who bore witness to what happened, and to the victims, so that robbed of their lives, they would not be robbed also of their deaths.”
This really makes it clear why this day is so important to remember. As a human being with any sense of morality, one cannot let those who suffered be forgotten.
“Don’t give Hitler the victory of forgetting,” said Hirschfeld.
The guest speaker of the night was Jack Josephs, who survived the Holocaust. He was just a young boy at the time, but he says he remembers it all quite vividly.
He told his personal story of his narrow escape from Austria through Spain, Gibraltar and the Canary Islands, until finally arriving in Brooklyn in July of 1941, just a few months before the United States entered the war.
He recalls being told “not to worry” and “everything would be all right.”
“Everything was not all right,” Josephs said. “My father was sent to a concentration camp, I got separated from family members, friends, and never saw them again.”
Children from the Howard Beach Judea Center Hebrew School read a poem and sang a song at Sunday’s service.
State Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate spoke and related a conversation with his daughter about the evil in this world.
She asked him “Would anything like that [the Holocaust] ever happen again?”
“I doubt the world would sit by and allow that to happen.”
Agate reminded people that evil still exists in the world and mentioned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Many believe it is not far-fetched to liken Putin’s excuse of “defending ethnic Russians” to Hitler’s claim that he needed to protect ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, a key element in the war he began.
Genocide is a terrible act of evil and has taken place all over the world. The Jewish population still remains millions short of what it was before the Holocaust.
The hatred of Jews that led to the Holocaust is not just in the past. It exists today. There have been many accounts of synagogues being vandalized. Anti-Semitic crimes are a social injustice still very alive.
Sunday night, there were six candles lit representing the six million lives lost.
The great Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim put it best when he wrote that Jews should observe a 614th commandment: “You shall survive as Jews.”
The promise of triumph over evil is the hope that gives the Jewish community the reason and strength to never forget the evil that so many endured.