More than 500 members of the Pittsburgh community traveled to Heinz Hall for the annual Yom HaShoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day program. As in years past, the event included a traditional candle lighting ceremony, brief remarks and musical performances.
Central to the program was the notion of liberation, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camps. Samantha Chilton of the Holocaust Center explained that during the candle-lighting ceremony an eighth candle was lit in honor of the liberators; the eighth candle is in addition to six candles (one for each of the million Jews lost during the Holocaust) and a seventh candle for those Righteous Among the Nations (a term used by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims, for non-Jews who showed extraordinary courage to uphold human values during the Holocaust). Chilton said the eighth candle for liberators was lit once before, 10 years prior, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation.
By again recognizing the role of the liberators, Chilton hoped to broaden the program’s scope.
“Our goal is always to be inclusive.”
An additional feature of this year’s program was an interfaith invocation by Rabbi Paul Tuchman and the Rev. Linda Theophilus.
Subcommittee members of the program had discussed how best to diversify the program, said Chilton.
The goal became to “make it a communitywide program, not just a Jewish or Christian program.”
Broadening the program’s reach appealed to Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“It’s special to not only remember this as a Jewish community, but as an entire community, to come together and never forget,” he said.
Notions of “never forgetting” or “not again” echoed throughout the evening’s program.
Dan Shapira, Holocaust Center campaign chair, invoked the concept when discussing Iran’s commitment to eradicating Israel.
“The message of never again has never been as important as it is today.”
Woody Ostrow, chair of Federation’s board, called Yom HaShoah “one of the most important dates in the Jewish calendar, because we can never forget.”
And yet while citing the Holocaust maxim of never forgetting, grappling between loss and forgetting remained at the forefront of many minds.
“It’s sad, we’re losing and losing the survivors,” said Ostrow.
“I worry about my children not having that link to those people,” said Lorien Benet Hart, a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
“[The survivors] are the last link to those horrible events.”
Attendees observed four survivors participate in the formal program. Sara Reichman and Cantor Moshe Taube both lit candles and shared vignettes from earlier days. Rabbi Mordecai Glatstein recited the mourner’s Kaddish, and Abe Salem sang the “Partisan Song.” Taube also sang “Ani Ma’amin” and “K’eyl Maley Rachamim.” A fifth survivor, Herman Snyder, was scheduled to light a candle; however, he was unable to attend due to health reasons. Snyder’s daughter, Thelma, lit the candle after reciting his prepared words.
As in previous programs, music was integrated throughout. Apart from Taube and Salem’s solos, musicians from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performed selections from Beethoven and Mordechai Gebirtig.
Hart relished the opportunity.
“I thought it was amazing to be a part of this, to have the chance to be here and be on stage with the survivors.”
“[They] add a human element to what we’re playing.”
Immediately following Salem’s rendition of the “Partisan Song,” a group of 30 girls from the Via & Harmonia Choir melodiously repeated the Yiddish words.
Kathryn Barnard, who directed the choir, called the performances “wonderful, so moving.”
“[Salem] sang it from experience, and knowing in a few years that there won’t be survivors left gives the impression of passing on to the next generation.”
A virtual passing of the torch was what Chilton hoped would be achieved.
“We always end with the ‘Partisan Song.’”
But by having Salem followed by the all-girls choir, Chilton wanted attendees to recognize a “passing of the torch from old to new and from dark to light.”
Tucked away within the evening’s performances was a song perhaps unrecognized by many. While Glatstein recited the mourner’s Kaddish, he employed a particular melody usually reserved for the High Holidays. When asked why he chose such a distinctive tune for the somber occasion, Glatstein replied, “The time is very special. We remember the 6 million Jews. It’s very special. It’s kedushah.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.