MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The uplifting ambience was augmented by the pleasant weather on Sunday, April 23, as the South Orange-Maplewood community marched to remember Holocaust victims, honor survivors, and disseminate messages of unity and acceptance. While marches are a frequent occurrence across the country amid the current political climate, the South Orange-Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Committee has been hosting the service — preceded by a march — for many years; this year the two towns celebrated the 40th iteration of the event at Morrow Memorial Methodist Church in Maplewood.
The march was preceded by an hour of sign-making at the Burgdorff Cultural Center in Maplewood. The signs included phrases such as “Tolerance,” “Peace,” “Acceptance,” “Remember,” “Hope” and “Kindness,” in vibrant colors and bold lettering to convey this year’s theme: “Love Your Neighbor.” Signs appeared in many languages, particularly English and Hebrew.
Last year was the first year that marchers met early to create signs and, following that success, the practice was repeated this year. The committee decided to create the signs with the rationale that, “as long as we’re marching, we should march with a message,” committee member Margie Freeman told the News-Record. Dedicated area residents, members of the committee and Boy Scout Troop 18 participated.
“When did we suddenly decide ‘I’m better than you’ or ‘you’re better than me?’ We are all literally the same species,” Boy Scout Troop 18 member Daniel Shapiro, 11, told the News-Record. “We have got to start being kind to people.” Daniel made two signs, which read, “We must remember,” and “Never again! We must be kind to our fellow humans.”
Following the sign-making, local politicians, religious leaders, committee members and marchers gathered at a welcoming ceremony at Maplewood’s Ricalton Square, beginning with a prayer from Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El in South Orange.
“We stand here to remember,” Olitzky said at the event, “and in doing so we make sure that we will never get to a point and place in our history where such acts will happen again. We have an obligation to tell (victims’ and survivors’) stories to make sure that not only do we never forget but (that) we live in a world of never again.”
Olitzky’s address was followed by the reading of an excerpt from Rabbi Joachim Prinz’s speech from the 1963 March on Washington, which urged America to “speak up and act” during times of hate “for the sake of the image, idea and the aspiration of America itself.” Prinz was a young rabbi who spoke against the rise of Adolf Hitler and convinced many to immigrate to the United States, where he became the spiritual leader at B’Nai Abraham in Newark and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. on civil rights issues.
Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca and South Orange Village President Sheena Collum wore “Love Your Neighbor” pins and welcomed all participants into the two towns, which they described to be a safe space for all, without any discrimination.
Once the ceremony concluded, the local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops led the march to the church with a banner letting passersby know why the community was marching; they were trailed by the local politicians, clergy and all other marchers, who carried signs and flags.
The service commenced with the sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn, signifying a call to action. Pastor Brad Motta of the Morrow Memorial Methodist Church welcomed all with an opening prayer recited by the SOMA clergy and the lighting of three chai candles — chai means life in Hebrew — by Sylvia Orenstein, Rev. David Bossman and Fred Randall for the three founders of the event: Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein, Sister Rose Thering and Max Randall, respectively.
In the spirit of remembrance and advancement, two significant values embodied by the event, Michael Rubell was recognized with the Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Education Award for his efforts in bringing students to the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., allowing students to learn about and from the important event in history for a kinder future.
The audience also enjoyed a performance of “Not In Our Town,” by Fred Small, which tells the story of a brave town in Montana that united against the Ku Klux Klan’s discrimination of Jews, similar to the united efforts of South Orange and Maplewood in the hosting of this event to exemplify acceptance.
A highlight of the day, survivors lit candles in honor of the many victims of the Holocaust. Traditionally, 11 candles are lit to represent the 11 million — Jews, Romani, LGBT, the disabled, political dissidents and others — killed in the Holocaust; however, new research shows that more than 15 million people died. Therefore, 18 survivors lit candles, including keynote speaker Ed Bindel.
Bindel was only 3 years old when Lwow, Poland, was captured by the Soviet Union and he was left with his Polish Catholic nanny Jozia Remus. His mother found refuge in a farm outside Lwow, which only sheltered women, and his father left to sell some of his possessions for money but never returned. Remus sheltered Bindel for three years, from 1941 to 1944, calling him her own son. She moved around the country many times during the war when suspicions arose about Bindel’s identity.
When the war ended, Bindel reunited with his mother but learned that his father had been murdered. Bindel’s mother remarried and they moved to various displaced persons camps along with Remus. When they moved to Germany, Remus refused to move as she wanted to stay in Poland and they parted ways but still kept in touch, even after Bindel and his family moved to the United States.
Bindel kept in contact with his protector up until her death two years ago. He aided her grandson with his computer company in Poland, which he claims is his feeble attempt to repay her, although he said, “I never repay what she gave me because she gave me my life.”
The audience joined the choir to conclude the event by singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” by Vince Gill. While singing the lyrics, “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me,” each person in attendance pledged to take action to prevent similar atrocities.
Photos by Kaanita Iyer and Eve Morawski