At 95, Werner V. Cohen doesn’t drive anymore. So the retired chemist, who lives alone in Cheswolde, made arrangements to be transported by Uber to Pikesville’s Beth El Congregation for this year’s community Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) commemoration on Apr. 23.
“It’s necessary to keep the memory fresh and alive,” said the German-born Cohen, a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp. “We need to fight the ignorance out there, and to see all these young people here is wonderful. A lot of energy and thought goes into something like this, and I’m grateful.”
More than 600 people attended the gathering, which paid tribute to writer, activist, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who died last July. The program was presented by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
“I’m honored to be here for this important community commemoration,” said Linda A. Hurwitz, the Associated’s chair of the board. “We come together to remember our collective past as a community to guide our future.”
Hurwitz noted that acts of intolerance and hatred have skyrocketed over the past year throughout the United States and around the world.
“It is our responsibility as Jews to stand up for what’s right and for civility,” she said. “I’m proud that together we will ensure that the people we lost will be remembered from generation to generation and community to community. It’s our collective obligation to live, learn and love one another.”
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford offered greetings to the audience from Gov. Larry Hogan. He noted that Annapolis lawmakers recently allocated $350,000 in assistance to local Holocaust survivors with health care and economic needs.
“We must do everything we can to protect those who survived,” said Rutherford. “It’s incredibly humbling to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. It’s hard to fathom such an atrocity, but it’s important to remember this chapter in history so it’s never repeated.”
Alluding to Hogan’s participation in a trade mission to Israel last September, Rutherford described the governor’s visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum and memorial, as “an experience he will remember for the rest of his life.”
In his keynote remarks, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) described Wiesel as an exemplary role model for speaking out against injustice and bigotry.
“He was a witness to incredible brutal treatment and came out with a story to tell,” he said. “He was determined for his story to be told, and he never lost his faith that we can do better.”
Cardin noted that he is sponsoring a bipartisan bill in Wiesel’s memory to combat genocide and intolerance.
“We need to be leaders and make sure that never again means never again,” he said. “Elie Wiesel made a difference in his life, becoming a messenger of mankind. Each of us needs to be messengers of mankind.”
Other political dignitaries in attendance included Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st), Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th), Baltimore City Council Vice-President Sharon Green Middeleton (D-6th), City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-5th) and Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki L. Almond (D-2nd).
The program’s candle-lighting ceremony featured local Holocaust survivors Isak Danon, Tikva Jeral, Vera Kestenberg, Henry Reches, Roman Ryterman and Rita Silver, accompanied by their family members.
The central portion of the commemoration was a tribute to Wiesel, with readings of book and speech passages by Stan Levin, Noah Mitchel, Stan Weiman and Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff. In addition, the HaZamir Baltimore youth choir, led by conductor Erika Pardes Schon, performed such beloved Yiddish and Hebrew songs as “Oifen Pripitchik,” “Yesh Kochavim,” “Nachamu Ami,” and “Ani Ma’amin,” all of them Wiesel favorites.
Also performing was flautist Dr. David Madoff, whose rendition of the traditional Yiddish lullaby “Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen” compelled survivors in the audience to sing and chant along.
“Having experienced and survived unimaginable evil, Elie Wiesel took on the role of being the greatest moral witness of all time,” Zunikoff said. “He gave voice to the six million who had no voice and for the survivors who had to find their voice to regain the world of the living. For Wiesel, the world was the classroom and he was the teacher. He turned his pain into action by working for humankind, not against it.
“In two months, we will observe his first yahrzeit [anniversary of death],” she said. “We look for his voice of empathy to guide us through turbulent times. Let us continue to hear his voice.”
At the program’s conclusion, Beth El Cantor Thom King chanted the El Malei Rachamim prayer for the departed and the synagogue’s Rabbi Steven Schwartz recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for the victims of the Holocaust.
Eva Stoller, a member of the HaZamir choir, said she was honored to participate. “It means so much to be here,” said Eva, 17, who attends Pikesville High School. “The music is so meaningful to me. This was particularly special.”
Local Holocaust survivor Morris Rosen agreed. “I suffered so much, but I’m thankful I’m here to meet and see all of these people who came here,” he said. “I’m proud that they all remembered the Holocaust and didn’t forget about it.”
Top photo of Holocaust survivor Roman Ryterman and his family lighting a candle at the Yom HaShoah observance by Steve Ruark
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