This past Sunday evening, April 27, coinciding with the 27th of Nissan, the community of Long Beach honored the memory of the six million kedoshim. The overflowing assemblage gathered in the main sanctuary of the Young Israel of Long Beach.
The evening commenced with the recitation of Tehillim by Rabbi Chaim Axelrod, assistant rabbi of Young Israel of Long Beach, and Rabbi Rappeport, rabbi of the Lido Beach Synagogue. Simcha Weber sang a heartfelt rendition of Machnisei Rachamim.
Rabbi Dr. Chaim Wakslak, mara d’asra of YILB, delivered introductory remarks. Noting the close proximity of Yom HaShoah to the yom tov of Pesach, he articulated a message from the Haggadah. The Haggadah speaks about the four sons, which the rabbi related to the different attitudes we find in today’s society regarding the Holocaust. There is the She’eino Yodei’ah Lish’ol, who is simply too young and, because of the chronological/generational divide, has no familiarity with the events of the Holocaust. Then there is the Tam, who has an awareness, but chooses to be oblivious and totally disinterested in this horrific period of our history. The Rasha is the classic Holocaust denier who, within only the relatively short period of time since the Shoah, has the audacity to negate the most egregious crimes against humanity known to mankind. Finally, Rabbi Wakslak told the assemblage, those in attendance are the Chachamim, who are charged with telling the story from beginning to end so that it will never happen again and so that the inspiration of those who gave their lives al Kiddush Hashem will be ever-present for all future generations.
David Samuels, a classical flutist, played Ani Ma’amin prior to the introduction of Rabbi Joseph Polak, the featured speaker for the evening.
Rabbi Polak is a child survivor of the Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps; he lost his father and thirty members of his immediate family in the Holocaust. His writings have appeared in such distinguished magazines and newspapers as Commentary, Midstream, Tradition, and the Boston Globe, as well as in many books and scholarly journals, both in Hebrew and English. He is the Av Beit Din of the Beit Din of Massachusetts. A memoir of the first ten years of his life, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, is forthcoming from Urim Publishers this summer.
Rabbi Polak presented his memoir as a fascinating portrait of mother and child who miraculously survive two concentration camps and then, after the war, battle demons of the past, societal rejection, disbelief, and invalidation as they struggle to reenter the world of the living. It is the tale of how one newly takes on the world, having lived in the midst of corpses strewn about in the scores of thousands, and how one can possibly resume life in the aftermath of such experiences. It is his story of a child who decides, upon growing up, that the only career that makes sense for him in light of these years of horror is to become someone sensitive to the deepest flaws of humanity, a teacher of G-d’s role in history amidst the traditions that attempt to understand it—to become a rabbi. All those in attendance were deeply affected by this searing presentation.
The program concluded with the lighting of the six memorial candles by Holocaust survivors and second-generation children of survivors, as well as one candle in memory of the 1.5 million children who perished.
The program concluded with Kel Malei Rachamim and the singing of Ani Ma’amin, followed by Ma’ariv and Sefirah. v