Temple Sholom Reads Holocaust Victims’ Names in Promise to Never Forget

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Reading the names of those who perished during the Holocaust is a symbolic yet intimate promise to never forget.

Temple Sholom in Broomall will observe Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, by reading victims’ names for 24 hours starting on May 1. The congregation, along with many community members, are increasingly concerned over growing prejudice and anti-Semitism in the U.S., even as Days of Remembrance memorials take place across the country. Yom Hashoah marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and will be observed on May 2.

Temple Sholom Rabbi Peter Rigler
Temple Sholom Rabbi Peter Rigler hopes the ritual will help people consider ways to make a better world. (Courtesy of Temple Sholom in Broomall)

“Our hope is that the experience of hearing from a survivor of the SS St. Louis, reading the names of thousands of victims, seeing the memorial candles and sharing prayers will not just be about sacred memory, but will on its own ask us to consider how we can build a better world,” Temple Sholom Rabbi Peter Rigler said. “Less young people in the community have heard a survivor share their story, fewer have visited the Holocaust Museum and what used to be a larger moment of memory is fading.”

Community members who have signed up for 15-minute and half-hour slots will begin reading names on May 1 at 9 p.m. and continue reading until 7:30 p.m. the next day. Only a couple slots remain open and can be reserved here.

Six yahrzeit candles will be placed on the bimah during the service, each representing 1 million dead.

“The memorial gives our community, and those who died, a voice and a way to honor their legacy,” said Marissa Kimmel, communications associate at Temple Sholom.

Organizers anticipate reading more than 100 pages of victims’ names. The names were provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. Some lists run chronologically, while others include the name of the camp, location and date of death.

About 75 people have signed up to read, said Kimmel, including couples, seniors and teenagers.

“It’s very meaningful to be alone, reading in the sanctuary; it brings the experience to life,” Temple Sholom board member Melissa Fine said. She and her husband, Robert, have reserved the 7:30 a.m. slot.

Name readings will be live-streamed for the full 24 hours on the shul’s website.

Holocaust survivor Ronnie Breslow, who escaped from Germany as a child, will share her story as part of the memorial. Breslow boarded the cruise liner St. Louis in May 1939 en route to Cuba, but when the estimated 938 Jewish refugees, including 200 children, reached Havana, they were turned away. The ship’s telegrams to various countries, including the United States, were ignored and they eventually returned to Europe.

Breslow was one of 181 passengers sent to a detention center in Holland. She and her mother gained safe passage to the U.S. and reunited with her father in Philadelphia in November 1939.

“I am concerned by ever-increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, in universities across the U.S. and now in our U.S. Legislature,” Breslow said. “Freedom is our most importance asset as Americans.”

Breslow lectures students about her experience and combating prejudice by voting and knowing our government representatives.

Meantime, Temple Sholom is responding to concerns about increasing anti-Semitism close to home. A community forum on hate and anti-Semitism in Delaware County was held April 23 at the shul, including ADL Regional Director Nancy Baron-Baer, Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozer, state Rep. Jennifer O’Mara and Rigler.

The forum was prompted by a recent meeting of a white nationalist group known as Identity Evropa at a bowling alley near the shul, Rigler said. In March, the group was rebranded as the American Identity Movement by the group’s president, Patrick Casey. Casey has tried to distance the group from Identity Evropa, which created the “You will not replace us” chants featured at the protests in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The American Identity Movement calls for “an end to mass immigration and destructive trade policies” according to the group’s website, and claims millions of Americans of European heritage face “demographic replacement and derision” due to lax immigration policies.

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