Liana Rokh, Pell University Fellow, Reflects on the JFCS Holocaust Center’s First Virtual Yom HaShoah Commemoration
Yom Hashoah 2020 was a commemoration like no other. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, our original plans of traditional in-person programming were altered. With only a week of turn-around time, the JFCS Holocaust Center was able to conduct the commemoration ceremony using a fully virtual platform, in partnership with American Jewish Committee, Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, The Contemporary Jewish Museum, HAMAQOM, Israeli American Council, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, San Francisco Interfaith Council in cooperation with San Francisco synagogues and schools.
This year’s celebration was beautiful in that it allowed people of all ages and from all over the world to tune in and remember. The community came together to view, learn, and appreciate a variety of engaging and educational events honoring the lives lost during the Shoah. We began the celebration on Monday, April 20th with Reading of the Names followed by a Memorial Commemoration, which included poetry, music, a message from Consul General of Israel Shlomi Kofman, and Yizkor Service. On Tuesday, April 21st, the program continued with the following presentations:
- Anita, Holocaust Survivor part of JFCS Holocaust Center William J. Lowenberg Speakers Bureau
- “From Darkness to Light: The World of the Survivors, Marking the 75th Anniversary of Liberation” by Fred Rosenbaum, HaMaqom | The Place)
- “Visions of Truth, Smuggled Out of Hell: The Secret Resistance of the Artists of Terezin” by Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, HaMaqom | The Place
- Ezra, Third Generation Holocaust Survivor, part of JFCS Holocaust Center William J. Lowenberg Speakers Bureau
- “Unsolved Mysteries of the Holocaust” by Jason Harris, HaMaqom | The Place
As a Pell University Fellow, I had the humbling opportunity to be part of the name reading ceremony of this year’s commemoration. I was not fortunate to grow up with Holocaust survivors in my own family, but I have gotten the chance to interact with and learn from a number of survivors throughout my years at JFCS. However, that number is a miniscule percentage of the all of lives affected by the Holocaust. It is truly an honor to have been able to read some names of people who perished during that treacherous period of history. Although my role may seem to be a tiny part of such a large event, I feel that its value carries a long lasting impact. By vocalizing the names via a digital platform, the legacy of these people will last forever and remain present and accessible to all; the sound of the name reading is forever embedded in the web.
Additionally, I had the privilege of attending another virtual event: “Visions of Truth, Smuggled Out of Hell: The Secret Resistance of the Artists of Terezin.” This was a commemoration unlike any I had attended before. Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, who led this event, seamlessly connected the present to the past by displaying some of the art created in Terezin during the war. Terezin, commonly known as the “camp-ghetto” Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic, served as a transit and labor camp for 3 and half years. This ghetto was commonly misconstrued in German propaganda, which the mass of artists used to their advantage. The cultural life at this camp was unlike any other; artists created drawings and paintings, some of them depicting the reality of the camp.
The variety of ways in which we as a community can uphold the memory of those who have perished is truly great. With this year’s virtual commemoration, it was almost impossible to miss out on the opportunity to learn about the complex layers of the history of the Holocaust. I am so honored to have gotten to be a part of the ceremony as well as the learning. If you would like to rewatch the name reading of the memorial commemoration, both are still available on Facebook and YouTube.
For more information about the University Fellowship, please contact Yedida Kanfer, Director of Community Education, at YedidaK@jfcs.org or 415-449-3748.