“In remembrance, lies the secret of redemption.” These words, attributed to Baal Shem Tov, were spoken last evening at Temple Emanu-El by its Senior Rabbi, Joshua M. Davidson. Hundreds packed the massive synagogue on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 65th for A Concert Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. Leaders of several Jewish organizations, along with celebrity guest artists gathered for two poignant reasons: To remember the l.3 million lives that were lost at the Polish concentration camp and to honor the survivors, their families, and members of the Russian army who came to the rescue.
Ambassador Danu Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York spoke of the four mitvahs (commandments) that we should apply on this day of commemoration: To mourn, To know, To feel, and To draw lessons.
After Shana Grossman led the audience in gorgeous renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Hatikvah” (The National Anthem of Israel which means “The Hope”), Jack Kliger approached the podium. Kliger is the President & CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, one of the evening’s presenters. Kliger, a child of Holocaust survivors said, “We have a global responsibility to never forget,” and went on to praise the talent that would later take to the stage. “Music has the power to inspire and uplift.”
He was followed by actor Tovah Feldshuh, who read a stirring excerpt from The Choice: Escaping the Past and Embracing the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger.
Next, Chief Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot of the Park East Synagogue sang the remembrance prayer, “El Mole Rachamim” (God full of Compassion).
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik delivered the keynote address, stating that the true sin of the Holocaust was that those who remained silent, should have shouted. He encouraged fellow Jews to embrace their heritage, recalling the advice of his father. “I don’t care what kind of Jew you are, but be proud of the Jew You are.” The Rabbi also implored that Holocaust education be taught in every school.
HaZamir, The International Jewish Teen Choir filed onto the stage under the direction of Matthew Lazar with three selections: “Katoni” (I am Unworthy), “Essa Einai” (I Will Lift Up My Eyes), and “Pitchu Li” (Psalm 118).
Actor Joel Grey was met with thunderous applause as he approached the podium. Grey talked about the ability that the arts have to change minds and hearts. “It’s a different world now than it was 75 years ago,” he said. “The Jewish people have in fact regained their full spirit and love of life. Our culture and identity have flowered in every corner of the world and our role in human history is once again honored. Who could have imagined, 75 years after the murder of millions of Yiddish speaking Jews and the destruction of their homes that we would see today a massive renaissance of Yiddish culture around the world? ” Grey stated that he was honored to be awarded the title of director for the first production of Fiddler On the Roof in Yiddish. The Off-Broadway production was both a critical and audience hit and although it closed earlier this month, it will soon tour across the United States and in Sydney and Melbourne Australia.
The original Off Broadway cast, led by music conductor Zalmen Mlotek, flooded the stage. As soon as classical legend Itzhak Perlman began to play the show’s iconic opening strain, the audience erupted with cheers. They performed “Tradition”, “If I Were a Rich Man”, and “Sunrise Sunset”–each of them, of course, in Yiddish.
As the two hour event wound down, UJA Federation CEO Eric Goldstein spoke. “We are all obliged to fulfill the promise to never forget and never abandon,” he said.
Perlman, along with the Klezmer Conservatory Band sent the crowd out on a celebratory high with “The Bulgars”, “Lorin’s Nigun” (Lorin’s Tune) , “Tati Mama Tants” (Mom and Dad’s Dance) , “Sholom Aleichem” (Peace Be With You) & “Ale Brider” (We Are All Brothers).
It was, indeed, a night to remember for a date to never forget.