Community Events, Artists Honor Survivors

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Last year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration was held at Rodeph Shalom. | Lafayette Hill Studios

If you’ve been by 16th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway lately, you’ll have noticed the Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs is encased and the grounds around it are being dug up.

Construction for the Holocaust Memorial Plaza is underway, which means some plans had to be altered for this year’s Yom Hashoah remembrance ceremony, typically held there. But there will still be many ways to mark the occasion around the area.

Synagogues are coming together for special services to honor Yom Hashoah, such as Har Zion Temple, which will hold a commemoration at 6 p.m. on April 11 featuring speaker and Holocaust survivor David Tuck. Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El on April 15 at 7 p.m. will host a commemorative program featuring high school and youth choirs.

Members of Adath Israel, Beth Am Israel, Beth David Reform Congregation, Narberth Havurah, Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El and Main Line Reform Temple will gather at the latter synagogue 7 p.m. on April 11 for the Annual Commemoration of the Holocaust. The observance will feature guest scholar, Thomas Childers, author of The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, who comes to the synagogue through the Jewish Book Council Network.

The evening will also invite Holocaust survivors, their families and descendants to join for the lighting of the Menorah for the Six Million and include performances from the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts Alumni Quartet and combined synagogue choirs.

“We join with congregations of the Kehillah of Lower Merion in our annual remembrance of the Shoah,” said Melissa Greenwald, membership and communications manager for Main Line Reform Temple. “Given the near passing of the generation of survivors and witnesses, every member of our community, both Jewish and non-Jewish and particularly school-aged children, is encouraged to attend this solemn ceremony, which emphasizes the importance of community and the creation of rituals of memory.”

For the 54th year, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Jewish Community Relations Council will hold its annual ceremony, but this time in a new location. Typically held by the Six Million Martyrs statue, this year’s ceremony will take place at Congregation Rodeph Shalom at 1 p.m. on April 15. (It was there last year, too, due to weather.)

There will be a candle lighting and service honoring survivors as well as performances of Yiddish and Hebrew songs by Nashirah, The Jewish Chorale of Philadelphia and The ChaiLights A Cappella group. This year’s theme is “Rescuers Among Us,” and the ceremony will highlight stories of Jews who rescued other Jews during the Holocaust.

One element of this year’s commemoration that stuck out to Beth Razin is how many younger people and groups have reached out about participating.

Students from Germantown Friends School will participate as readers, and a Boy Scouts troop from Temple Sinai in Dresher also will be involved.

“We want to make sure that there’s younger generations becoming involved in the ceremony and in remembering the Holocaust,” said Razin, Jewish Federation senior manager of community engagement, who organized the event.

Prior to the program, about 250 high school students and their parents will gather at Moore College for the Dorothy Freedman Conversation with a Survivor Program to meet and hear from survivors. Stefanie Seltzer, founder and president of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants, will serve as the keynote speaker.

For Razin, this event continues to hold deep importance, especially as genocides endure around the world.

“As less of the survivors are able to be with us and be eyewitnesses to this tragedy,” she said, “it’s important for their children and for those of us who may not have had relatives perish to keep the memory of this alive and to remember.”

Philadelphia-area artist Debra Kapnek honors Holocaust survivors in a different way. She has been painting portraits of survivors for the past 25 years.

She recently completed her third series of portraits, a 13-by-8-foot project called 18 Enduring Voices, in which she traveled across the country and to Israel to interview and photograph survivors she met, which were turned into portraits.

Her previous two projects — Miracle of Survival, which is now part of the permanent collection of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., and CHAI: 18 Portraits of Women Holocaust Survivors, which now is installed at The Harvey and Barbara Brodsky Enrichment Center of JFCS — were portraits of mostly all local survivors.

18 Enduring Voices took about a year and a half to complete. For her, the focus of this piece is in the eyes.

“The things that everyone comments on is the eyes, because each pair of eyes says something entirely different and they’re very engaging. When you look at them, you feel like they’re looking back at you,” said Kapnek, who belongs to Beth Sholom Congregation.

Debra Kapnek painted 18 portraits of Holocaust survivors for her third series of survivors portraits, 18 Enduring Voices. | Photo provided

 

If the eyes are a window to the soul, she continued, and each survivor’s soul carries the souls of all those lost, “then the survivors’ eyes are the last direct link to the people who perished during the Holocaust.”

The portraits are made to look as though they are set in Jerusalem stone, she said, with the idea that setting them in stone is “something that’s enduring through time as hopefully their voices will endure through time and their stories will so we never forget.”

While the first two series were focused on specific areas, this painting was more focused on the “here and now,” Kapnek said.

“Who they are, how they feel and what message they want to leave behind,” she said.  

While she continues to look for a home for the painting, she hopes viewers will be able to see that survivors are just like everyone else in that they have their own stories and messages.

“Just to remind us that ‘Never again’ has to be our mantra and not to let go of it, despite of what’s happening around the world right now and however much people want to try to forget it and how much easier it is to forget it than to remember it,” she said.  

“This is my way of honoring survivors,” she added, “and we all owe it to them to do something to honor them.”

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