An Evening of Remembrance, a Morning of Education
As Shabbat came to an end this past week I found myself celebrating Havdallah in a quiet, beautiful space within Temple Israel of Boston. As each person took their seat among a semi-circle of chairs, photocopied sheets were handed out, each containing the Havdallah blessings and the mourner’s kaddish, along with candles. Although the service itself would have been nice in any setting, what set this Havdallah experience apart from others I have had was the fact that it was organized by Boston 3G, a group of 3rd generation Holocaust survivors who are working to promote awareness of the horrors of the Shoah, to educate people about it, and to serve as a support network for each other. Since the New Vilna Review was a partner in their “Frozen Memorial” event which took place on Sunday (and about which I shall write more later) I thought I would go to the Havdallah service.
I was glad I went because I think, that while big events which attract a lot of people are important for raising awareness, it is these smaller events which sometimes turn out to be more meaningful for those in attendance. In addition to the service itself, which was led by Rabbi Matthew Soffer and incorporated elements from a traditional Yizkor (remembrance) ceremony as well as guitar and song, the current Ms. Massachusetts, Loren Galler Rabinowitz, herself the grandchild of Holocaust survivors (as well as an accomplished athlete, Harvard graduate and soon-to-be medical student) spoke with fondness and passion about the story of her own family. She recounted the work that her grandparents had done to increase tolerance and understanding in the American south after surviving the Holocaust and moving to America, and the harsh opposition they faced by racists and the Ku Klux Klan as a result.
The next day, Boston 3G and several partner organizations gathered at a restaurant beside Boston’s Holocaust Memorial, near historic Fanuel Hall. The purpose of this gathering also seemed to be about memory and reflection, but with an outward twist – the people who gathered there were preparing to take part in the Second Annual Frozen Memorial, an event which was the brainchild of Boston 3G board member Lisa Einstein. When asked what inspired this idea, she said “We were looking to put a modern and unique twist on a moment of silence.” As more and more people gathered in the backroom of the restaurant I had the opportunity to talk to a few of them, and to ask them about why they felt this was an important event to support. Liz Goldman of Boston, herself the grandchild of Holocaust survivors and a member of the board, told me that “It feels like a real honor to be able to engage so many people in the community, not only the 3rd generation, but our friends, our families, and others who help us to honor our grandparent’s memories and the others who were affected by the Holocaust.”
I had the option of either being one of the “freezers” or of observing the event and I chose to observe. I’m glad I did, because it gave me the opportunity to walk around the open air marketplace and observe not only the ways in which the participants froze – in all different positions, something which made me think instantly of the way in which the Shoah had swept down upon the Jews of Europe, catching them unaware in the midst of the mundane activities of everyday life – but the reactions of tourists and shoppers passing through. At first, the many figures dressed in red blended in with the rest of the crowd, but as they stopped moving and everyone else continued to move, it was obvious that something unusual was going on, and many of them stopped to watch. As the “freezers” remained motionless for five full minutes. Afterwards, I spoke with some of the “freezers” and one individual told me that it had also occurred to him as he stayed in a stooped position tying a shoelace, that the Holocaust had taken the lives of millions as they were simply going about their business on any given day. It was a beautiful insight, but a chilling one as well.
As we sat down to lunch after the event, I had a chance to ask Matt Seltzer, one of the leader’s of the group, what his thoughts were on how it had gone. He told me that he was happy to see the impact it had made on people passing by and pointed out that creating these kinds of teachable moments is important. This seemed like a good assessment to me – in the end, I think that for the participants themselves the experience was meaningful, and for those who stopped to watch and stayed to ask questions, it was educational. In essence, Boston 3G managed to successfully engineer and then use a teachable moment, something which is not easy to do. As we move forward toward other important days on the Jewish calendar which are also tinged with sorrow – Yom Hazikaron (during which we remember all of the soldiers and civilians killed in Israel by terrorists or fighting in wars) and Tisha B’av (when we mourn the destruction of the Temple, among other calamities) I think it is only appropriate that we keep the Shoah in mind, it is an event which is closer to us historically, and one that serves as a stark reminder of the power of hate and violence to dehumanize innocent people.
-Daniel E. Levenson
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson/The New Vilna Review 2011. This piece orignally apperared on the New Vilna Review website.