Two towns to remember Holocaust in April 15 service

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The 41st annual South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service will take place on Sunday, April 15, at 3 p.m. at Congregation Beth El, 222 Irvington Ave. in South Orange. The service is preceded by a March of Remembrance at 2 p.m., which will assemble at Spiotta Park, corner of South Orange Avenue and Village Plaza in South Orange. An hour earlier, at 1 p.m., participants in the March of Remembrance are invited to make signs at the Kol Rina offices, corner of Valley and 1st streets, above the 7-Eleven in South Orange. Teens and adults are welcome.

The SOMA annual interfaith observance began in 1977, the first of its kind in New Jersey, dedicated to the memory of the millions of victims of the unprecedented murders which took place during the darkest period of 20th-century history, the Holocaust. Every year, the service gives a platform to individuals who were witnesses and survivors. These individuals share their stories and messages of personal experiences with the community. Most of the surviving witnesses to the Holocaust were children during World War II; their experience reflects the most dire consequences of prejudice and hate along with the power of individuals to step up and save lives.

This year’s service features a keynote address by Robert Max, who may be the last living American soldier who escaped and survived Nazi slave labor in WWII. Max was captured behind enemy lines by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, then forced to march hundreds of miles in bitter winter cold. He remained alive thanks to an English-speaking German sergeant who assigned him to slave labor. Despite being starved and brutalized, severely ill and emaciated, Max led a daring escape and was rescued by American liberators. Max has been awarded the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, three bronze Campaign Battle Stars and the New Jersey distinguished Service Medal.

The Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Education Award will be given to Heather Mecka, a Hackensack Middle School history teacher who made great strides in developing the Holocaust education unit at her school. The award was established in memory of late Seton Hall University professor Rose Thering. Sister Rose dedicated her life to fighting prejudice through awareness, education, and cooperation. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on anti-Semitic text in Catholic school textbooks. This work was taken to Vatican II and profoundly influenced the drafting of Nostra Aetate.

Voices in Harmony, an interfaith choral ensemble in Essex County directed by Cantors Erica Lippitz of Oheb Shalom and Perry Fine of Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, will perform once again as part of this program. A reception will follow the service.