Instead of the typical line of students waiting to swipe meal cards Friday, April 13 at Harris Dining Hall, a crowd of students, staff and community members gathered in the front lobby for Yom HaShoah – a special Holocaust Remembrance Shabbat Service and dinner held by Hillel.
The event was one of several ceremonies and speeches planned as part Miami University’s Holocaust Awareness and Remembrance Programs, organized and sponsored by members of the Association of Jewish Students, Hillel and other campus organizations.
Jenny Jacob, a junior at Miami and Holocaust Awareness and Remembrance Committee chair, created the program after realizing that many of her peers had little knowledge about the Holocaust.
“We specifically paired up with campus organizations like Spectrum, the Interfaith Circle and the Comparative Religion Student Association in order to stress unity and diversity, (as well as) to involve more people and get more participation,” Jacob said.
Jacob said that besides remembering the lives of the millions killed during the Holocaust, the program also aimed to spread awareness about what happened to non-Jews, such as homosexuals and “righteous gentiles,” those who risked their lives in opposition again Nazis.
The Shabbat service invited several Holocaust survivors, including Conrad Weiner, who was three years old when the Nazis took him and his family from their home in Romania to a concentration camp.
Though Weiner’s testimony of the horrors he witnessed during the war, he said that the extraordinary examples of camaraderie and kindness shown by Jews in the camp taught him valuable lessons about the power of humanity.
He said that he is often asked about his feelings toward Germans, and his response was that carrying anger and scorn for others only perpetuates hatred throughout the world.
“If I were to hate, the Nazis would have won,” Weiner said.
He also expressed gratitude for having had the opportunity to receive an education, find a successful job, and raise a family in the United States.
Upon entering, guests were asked to color paper butterflies. The artwork will be included in an exhibit at the HoustonHolocaust Memorial Museum, commemorating the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the war. Portraits of victims, as well as their stories of hunger, fear and death were displayed on tables throughout the room as well.
The evening’s service, led by different students and members of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee, combined traditional Jewish Sabbath worship prayers with readings of poems and testimonies from Holocaust victims and survivors.
Amy Greenbaum, executive director of Hillel, welcomed and thanked the audience for coming to the service, reminding them that support and participation in memorial activities demonstrates a commitment toward lessening hate and decreasing future genocide.
“By attending events like this … we can take steps to eradicate genocide in our own generation,” Greenbaum said.
President David Hodge and his wife, Valerie, attended the service, as well as Oxford Mayor Jerome Conley who declared that the week of April 15 would now be designated as Oxford’s official days of Holocaust remembrance.
“I come to you with a heavy heart tonight, but I come to you with peace in my heart as well,” Conley said.
Conley stressed that members of the Oxford community must not only remember the six million murdered Jews, but remain vigilant against hatred.
Immediately following the service, guests were invited to a free Shabbat dinner that included traditional religious customs and prayers.
Eloiza Domingo-Snyder, director of the Office of Diverse Student Development and adviser to the Diversity Affairs Council, said she felt the night was a success, praising the event’s organizers for their ability to link the lessons of the Holocaust with current international conflicts.
“I think it went fabulously,” Domingo-Snyder said. “It takes a lot of bravery to remember this and to remind people not to let it happen again. There are things going on right now that really mimic the Holocaust. I really applaud their bravery.”