Unable to gather in person this year due to the new coronavirus, the Baltimore Jewish community created innovative ways to commemorate Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins the evening of April 20 this year.
The Baltimore Jewish Council is hosting a Yom Hashoah virtual experience that will premiere April 19, focusing on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camps. It will include a Yad Vashem video about liberation, a video made by Goucher College with oral histories from local survivors, a video performance by the HaZamir Baltimore choir, and a tribute to late Buchenwald liberator Sol Goldstein.
“The uniqueness of the virtual, prerecorded 2020 Yom Hashoah commemoration ‘Remembering Liberation: the 75th Anniversary,’ is a testament to the dedication of the Baltimore Jewish Council and The Associated to keep our promise to never forget,” said Jeanette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs for the BJC. “Even in the midst of a pandemic, the Baltimore Jewish community continues to remember the Shoah.”
One of the BJC’s usual partners for its Yom Hashoah commemoration is the Jewish Museum of Maryland. This year, JMM staff is creating a digital gallery of its Holocaust Memory Reconstruction Project from 2017.
The gallery consists of collages made by community Holocaust survivors and their families using archival documents, photographs, and personal stories.
“The online exhibit itself is sort of the main hook, but we’re also going to be sharing some of the resources that we’ve created in the past for Holocaust education,” said Rachel Kassman, development and marketing manager of the JMM.
The Jewish Federation of Howard County originally intended to host an event at Temple Isaiah in Fulton. Now, they are having a virtual Yom Hashoah commemoration with two components. The first part is the launch of a website with community participation, testimonies, and a scroll of remembrance.
“All of those components will be a part of this online destination that we’re creating with the intention that, on the evening of April 20, when our commemoration was supposed to bring the community together, that the committee members and the leadership of the Jewish community in Howard County will all simultaneously share this site out across their own social media networks, and encourage people to really visit this space where they can participate from their own homes … and to really be able to honor and to engage in that mitzvah of memory,” said Rabbi Craig Axler of Temple Isaiah.
The second component is a live Zoom gathering April 21, featuring would-be keynote speaker, Sol Goldstein’s son, Don Goldstein, who travels telling his father’s story.
“It is certainly a tremendous disappointment to not be able to gather in one space. But I think there was real resolve to not let that be any reason not to engage in this commemoration, that we would gather and remember as best as we can in the current situation,” Axler said.
The Baltimore Zionist District is hosting the Yellow Candle Project. Caren Leven, BZD executive director, said they ordered 1,000 candles from the U.K. where the project originated, with the intention of distributing the candles to schools, synagogues, and community centers.
Every candle comes with a card that carries the name and information of someone who died in the Holocaust, as well as a link to the Yad Vashem archive where more information can be found.
“I know that we have about 100,000 Jews in the community,” Leven said. “So, 100,000 Jews, 1,000 candles, and to commemorate 6 million Jews who were murdered. It’s a big initiative, but I think that we can do it.”
Members of the community have been coming to Leven’s house in Pikesville to pick up a candle from her porch and leave a donation.
“The words ‘never forget’ really need to hit us hard and we can’t forget what happened to our ancestors, to our families, not that long ago. … For one night on April 20, if we could all just take a moment to light a candle to remember those people as a community, I think that would just be beautiful,” Leven said.
Anyone interested in participating in the Yellow Candle Project can contact Leven at firstname.lastname@example.org to pick up a candle.