For two decades, Chapman University’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education has hosted “An Evening of Holocaust Remembrance,” a night commemorating the more than 6 million lives lost in the Holocaust that typically draws hundreds of attendees to campus. But this year, Memorial Hall sat quiet, its lights off and doors locked to keep the community safe from COVID-19. And yet people made sure to gather, virtually, Tuesday, April 21 – in viewership numbers far higher than real-time attendance numbers in previous years.
During the scheduled time for the ceremony, some 350 people “assembled” online for the commemoration. However, through the rest of the evening and into next morning more than 2,000 viewed the ceremony, which is available through Sunday, April 26.
“It is the first time we are not able to gather as a community on our campus,” said Marilyn Harran, Ph.D., director of Rodgers Center, “But, we are still a community, separated by distance, but united by our shared vow to remember.”
“Whether 350 or 2,000, I think it speaks to the desire of people to come together as a community, even if it is a virtual one, to experience a sense of continuity during this tumultuous time.
Why Remembering Pain Matters
Stories from the Holocaust often share common threads — tales of perseverance, resilience of the human spirit and the will to survive, all combined with sharp memories of loss.
The ceremony is typically a collection of reflections, music, candle lighting, prayers, and even dancing. This year’s streamed included, that, too, cut together from inspiring moments and survivor testimonies shared at previous Yom HaShoah gatherings.
Messages from the present were shared, too. In his recorded opening remarks Rabbi Elie Spitz of Congregation B’nai Israel addressed it is important to remember pain because it works to unite people in the call to never again allow hate to overcome goodness.
“On this, an evening of Yom HaShoah, we gather as an extended family of humanity, aware of the possibilities of evil, but more, of the calling and reality of human goodness,” said Spitz.
Voices From the Past
Memories from evenings past included music and song from Chayim Frenkel, accompanied David Kamenir, and were followed by Rabbi Heidi Cohen leading as survivors and students lit the traditional six candles of remembrance. A poignant moment in the virtual event was the replaying of a recording of “El Malei Rachamim” and “Kaddish” prayers for the dead by cantors Leopold Szneer, now departed, and Chayim Frenkel.
Now is a time to especially treasure precious human connections, Harran said.
“No matter our age, our gender, or where we live, relationships are the core of our lives. Those perpetrated the Holocaust sought not only to destroy people, but the relationships that give life meaning. They did not succeed.
The centerpiece of the program was a past performance by Chapman students, who created “Metaphors of Memory,” a combination of dance, music and film, based on the stories of five members of The 1939 Society, an organization of Holocaust survivors, their descendants and friends.
Gail Stearns, Chapman’s dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel at the Fish Interfaith Center, reminded viewers to look for unity in humanity, saying, “Look for the signs of hope. We are all interconnected in ways never before revealed.”