Last Friday the Hillel student organization centered a Community Reflection around the Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom HaShoah. Hillel brings together members of the Jewish Community every year to share stories and thoughts in remembrance of those lost in the Holocaust.
Danielle Riffer-Reinert, K’13, is a Hillel member who participated in organizing and speaking at the event. “The wounds that the Holocaust left are still very much felt in the collective memory of the Jewish people. By honoring this day and by remembering the victims of the Holocaust, we give voices to all those who suffered,” Riffer-Reinert said.
Other members of the Kalamazoo community were also invited to attend the event.
“Friday was also a chance for those who are not Jewish to listen to stories and to understand some of the impacts that the Holocaust had and how it is still strongly felt in the Jewish community,” Riffer-Reinert continued.
Members of the Jewish community shared their memories at the event.
Riffer-Reinert reflection upon her family and their Holocaust experience. “I think making stories heard is extremely important. It is in this way we think of the millions of victims of the Holocaust less as statistics and we remember the gravity of just how many lives were lost,” she said.
Abby Calef, K’15, shared a written piece about her grandfather who was a Holocaust survivor. “He was an incredible person, who knew more about living life than anyone else…He and my great uncle taught our family the value of love,” she said.
“It’s easy to distance ourselves from the pain, but we need to learn how to take action and not forget, especially with what is going on in the world today,” Calef continued. “There is a certain power in narrative that we are not given through text books.”
After talking about their memories, each speaker lit a Yahrzeit candle. Usually these candles are lit in memory of a loved one’s death. “However, on Yom HaShoah, we light six candles to remember and mourn the losses of all of the Jews in the Holocaust. We mourn for each other and mourn with each other,” Calef explained.
Each attendee received a handout with the lyrics to the Mourner’s Kaddish and the Hatikvah on it. The Mourner’s Kaddish “is a nearly 2,000-year-old traditional prayer in Judaism which is recited in mourning to commemorate and to honor family members and other loved ones who have passed…” Riffer-Reinhert continued. “[Hatikvah is a song that] was a symbol of hope in bleak times for Jews during the Holocaust. We now sing it to commemorate the resilience of the Jewish people.”
Both Riffer-Reinhert and Calef emphasized the existence of anti-Semitism as a problem in today’s modern world. “[This day] is a reminder of the destructive power that hatred can hold in this world, and it gives us a chance on how we can learn from history… [It] also serves as a reminder of the resilience of the Jewish people through thousands of years of this persecution and hatred and how strong our community is,” Riffer-Reinhert said.