‘Remember and Tell,’ SOMA commemorates the Holocaust

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The 40th annual South Orange-Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service will take place Sunday, April 23, at the Morrow Memorial Methodist Church, 600 Ridgewood Road in Maplewood. The event at the church begins at 3 p.m., though it is preceded by a March of Remembrance at 2 p.m., which assembles at Ricalton Square across from the Maplewood Theatre in Maplewood Village. At 1 p.m., participants in the March of Remembrance are invited to the Burgdorff Cultural Center at 10 Durand Road, to make signs. 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. In 2017, 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 to saving lives.

This year’s Service features a keynote address by Edward Bindel, a child survivor of the Holocaust. Bindel’s life was saved by his Polish nanny, Jozia Remus, who at great personal risk kept him in hiding from 1941 to 1944, a period when hundreds of thousands of European Jewish children were murdered.

Beth Randall Branigan, daughter of Max Randall, who orchestrated the first Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service 40 years ago, recalls, “In 1976, I was working for the Anti-Defamation League and invited my parents, Max and Pearl Randall, to attend an Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Little did I know that this experience would be the spark that has fueled our service for the past 40 years. My father was the president of South Mountain Lodge of B’nai Brith at the time and decided to make a local interfaith service a major initiative for the organization.” The rest is history.

Max Randall consulted the late Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein of Congregation Beth El in South Orange who suggested he reach out to local clergy to get support. Sister Rose Thering, an outspoken advocate for Judeo-Christian dialogue and an educator at Seton Hall University was at the top of his list. Thering, Orenstein and Max Randall formed the team that made the first service a reality.

“While certain elements of the service have been added over the years, two key pieces that have been in place since the beginning are a keynote presentation, generally by a firsthand witness, a survivor, liberator or righteous Christian, and a candle-lighting ceremony,” Branigan said. “Max Randall started his professional life as a welder and engineer, so he designed and built an 11-arm menorah to memorialize the 11 million people murdered in the Holocaust. Six million Jews and five million Poles, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, the disabled, Roma, Slavs and political dissidents, who were systematically dehumanized and slaughtered.”

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 in Fellowship Hall at Morrow Church will follow the service.