The Almanac – Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass,” is notoriously remembered as the date Nazi Germany launched what would become the Holocaust in full force.
“It could have been equally named the Night of Fire, because books filled with sacred teachings of the Jewish people went up in flames,” Rabbi Ron Symons said. “It was a night when over 100 Jews were killed simply because they were Jews. And it was the beginning of the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to death camps.”
Symons, senior director of Jewish life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, was among the speakers at South Hills Interfaith Movement’s 40th annual Holocaust observance, held April 14 at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park.
“When you look at photos of that night, you see there were people who were standing silently on the side,’ he said of the events of Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. “Sometimes they were gathered together in order to bear witness to what the government can do to a minority population. And they were voiceless, many of them.”
On a Saturday morning nearly eight decades later, Symons was on his way to his office in Squirrel Hill when he pulled his vehicle over for a police car, then another, and then more emergency vehicles. When he arrived at the JCC, he received information about the mass shooting a gunman perpetrated at the nearby Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.
“Unlike on that night 80 years earlier, I can tell you that our community did not remain silent. It only took minutes – not hours, not days – but minutes for our federal, state, county and city officials to join us,” he said. “Make no mistake, what was silence and complicity and provocation 80 years earlier was the exact opposite on Oct. 27. The offices of our democracy were present for our community.”
Robert Gregory Bowers has been charged with killing 11 worshippers at the synagogue that day in what Symons unequivocally called an act of anti-Semitism.
“And it was a symptom of a greater hatred, of which the only way we are going to fight against it – the only way we are going to prevent any group that might be marginalized from being oppressed, whether in word or in deed – is by all of us working together against that marginalization,” he said.
He referenced a passage in Leviticus that is represented similarly in texts of other religions.
“The mandate ‘Do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds’ is one which is not only at the core of who we are as good people, but it is the driving factor of how it is that we will protect one another to ensure that the lessons that we commemorate today in this sanctuary need not be repeated because of other massacres that happen,” he said. “It all depends on one person: each one of us.”
The Holocaust observance also featured prayers, special music and the lighting of memorial candles, along with readings from “Remember for Life: Holocaust Survivors’ Stories of Faith and Hope,” a book edited by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Along with serving as a remembrance, the event has a mission of education.
“Here, education is moral as well as historical. By knowing about the Holocaust, we hope to avoid its repetition,” the program distributed at the observance states. “The courage and resilience of both those in danger and those who stepped forward to save them are constant reminders of the difference one person can make.”
By Harry Funk