South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service to be May 1

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange will host the 39th annual South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service beginning at 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 1.

On the 71st anniversary of liberation from the concentration camps, the service will turn its focus to understanding the postwar lives of the more than 250,000 Jewish displaced persons, who lived in camps and urban centers in Germany, Austria and Italy. The mother of South Orange resident Sheryl Hoffman, Ilona Medwied, a hidden child survivor and one of those displaced persons, will share her remarkable story of survival and adjustment.

Medwied was born in Czestochowa, Poland, in 1936 and was 3-years-old when the Germans invaded her hometown. Shortly thereafter all of the town’s Jews were moved into the city’s ghetto. In 1942, most of the Jewish population of Czestochowa, including Medwied’s father and extended family, were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. Shortly after the deportation order, Medwied’s mother heard of a gentile woman who was willing to sneak a child out of the ghetto to safety — Medwied became that lucky child and her mother was then sent to Hasag, a local labor camp. Four years later, in 1945 when the war ended, mother and daughter were finally reunited. After the war ended, both Medwied and her mother went back to their hometown to search for relatives or friends who might have survived the war. As soon as they were strong enough to travel, they began their journey to America. After an arduous journey through Poland and Czechoslovakia, they wound up in the Stuttgart displaced persons camp in Germany, waiting for three years to be called for passage to America.

Prior to the service, the community is invited to assemble at 3 p.m. for a March of Remembrance. Local government officials, members of the clergy and a local scout troop will be joining the march. At 2 p.m., in preparation for the march, teens and adults are invited to meet at Kol Rina, rear entrance of 60 Valley St. in South Orange, in the back of the 7-Eleven, to design placards to carry during the march. The placards can be in memory of a particular person, a community or a cause for which you wish to march. Marchers will walk as a group from Spiotta Park to Oheb Shalom Congregation, 170 Scotland Road in South Orange.

Every year the remembrance committee honors an individual with the Sister Rose Thering Award to recognize commitment to the educational ideals of Sister Rose. This year, Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council at The Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest New Jersey, is the selected recipient for her years of contributing to creating tolerance through education.

The service will feature candle lighting by local survivors, liberators and rescuers to honor the memory of the 11 million Jews and non-Jews killed during World War II, and readings by local clergy reflecting this historical event and the theme of personal accountability. 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.

The annual Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service is dedicated to the memories of Sister Rose Thering of Seton Hall University who spent her later years as an activist against anti-Semitism and a professor of Catholic-Jewish dialog at Seton Hall; Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein of Congregation Beth El; and Max Randall, a member of South Mountain B’nai Brith. These three were the founders of this service, the first interfaith Holocaust memorial in the state of New Jersey. Each year the service falls near the holiday of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A reception will follow the ceremony. This event is free and open to the public. Teens and their families are encouraged to attend.