Jewish Post

Lighting up the Sky Yellow to Remember the 11 Million Lost for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

By Henry Levy

Rabbi Joe Potasnik leading International Remembrance Day Ceremony at Sutton Place Synagogue. Rabbi Joe Potasnik leading International Remembrance Day Ceremony at Sutton Place Synagogue. Photo: By Henry Levy

Rabbi Joe Potasnik leading International Remembrance Day Ceremony at Sutton Place Synagogue. Partner organizers and special participants for America Lights up in Yellow project. Includes (from left): Henry Levy, Bill Tinglin, Pastor Bill Devlin, Gary Glick, Eric Post, Angel Cepeda, David Aronov, Aviva Miller, Michael Mantell, Scott Richman, Rabbi Moshe Davis, Cheryl Fishbein, Rabbi Rachel Ain, Andrea Bolender, Rabbi Joe Potasnik, Jack Britvan, Alex Boras, Sami Steigmann, Michael Cohen and Martin Bloch. Photo: By Glen J. Landow

The Empire State Building was lit up yellow on January 27, 2024 for people to see from miles around. So were Niagara Falls, the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago, Philadelphia Airport in Pennsylvania, the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale in Connecticut, the Trenton Makes Bridge in New Jersey, the Skydance Bridge in Oklahoma, the State Supreme Court in Arkansas, City Hall in Richmond, Virginia and dozens of other locations throughout eight states.

Every January 27 th since 2006, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, the United Nations set aside a day dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews and five million other victims of Nazi Germany.

This year the UN held its annual ceremony on Friday, January 26 th (due to the 27th falling on the Sabbath). There were the usual addresses by the Secretary General, Holocaust survivors, Ambassadors including a stirring speech by Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan lambasting the biased treatment of the United Nations against only the State of Israel and no others. This year there was a decidedly negative attitude on the part of United Nations personnel checking in attendees and providing security at the General Assembly event.

Hats with the words “Never Again” and armbands with the Jewish Yellow Star and dates of the Holocaust were confiscated as “being inappropriate.” Security for the first time in memory blocked invited guests from mingling with Holocaust survivors, Israeli representatives and even their own Congressional participants. They even attempted to stop accredited Jewish media from performing their job by attempting to deny access.

Hatred of Israel and double standard treatment did not stop the commemoration and speeches and the General Assembly for at least one day was pro Jewish and pro Israel.

Following the UN event was a warm and welcoming ceremony at the Sutton Place Synagogue where Rabbi Rachel Ain greeted guests for another International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. This one was celebrating the efforts of Jewish organizations that collaborated in a successful effort to light up landmarks yellow across a number of states to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

As a number of speakers noted, lighting major landmarks up yellow is more than just acknowledging the memory of those murdered by the Nazis. It’s important that people talk about the Holocaust and understand why it was humanity’s greatest disaster. It is only through education and discussion that the American people can overcome the propaganda, hate and bigotry of those that wish to use the Jewish population as scapegoats and as a target for their deep-rooted hate and ignorance.

The lighting project was launched three years ago with Madison Square Garden lighting the outside of its building and then Governor Hochul lighting up a dozen locations including One World Trade Center,

Niagara Falls, bridges and other landmarks and Mayor Adams lit up City Hall and municipal buildings.

Last year the Empire State Building was added as well as locations in Connecticut. This year it expanded to 8 States and the goal is all 50 states plus the US Capitol.

A group of dedicated partner organizations include NY Board of Rabbis, JCRC, AJC, StandWithUs, ADL, SWC, 3rd Generation of Holocaust Survivors, UJA-Federation, Voices for Truth and Humanity, JBS, the Jewish Post and more.

Rabbi Ain acknowledged that being here decades after the Shoah, there are still many people who need to learn what happened in the past and is happening now to the Jewish people here, in Israel and around the world.

Rabbi Potasnik, Executive Vice President of the NYBR conducted the ceremony and said, “We are going to hold up the light to the horrors of yesterday. We have a responsibility to hold up the light at college campuses. We have to remind college leaders that education can make you smart but it doesn’t make you moral. Educated people ran death camps and educated people enacted the Nuremburg Laws so education without morality is not a complete education.” He concluded by citing Elie Wiesel who said when you are born you begin life. Sometimes we have to learn how to begin again. So, we come here today to talk about those who began life and also to remind people that we are able to begin again.

Dr. Shay Pilnik, Director, Yeshiva University Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies said that although we commemorate Yom Hashohah in the spring, the 9 th of Av and now International Holocaust Remembrance Day January 27 th , the war waged against the Jewish people is not over and October 7th , with its indiscriminate killing is a challenging reminder of that. Although he represents Orthodox Jews Pilnik said this moment we transcend differences and are all Jews and all united to say Never Again, to say Am Yisroel Chai, to celebrate the fact that we are here and to Never Forget.

Cheryl Fishbein, Chair, JCRC NY spoke as a Jewish leader and a child of Holocaust survivors. She said, “One of the themes today is Holocaust education. How do you get the next generation to move forward and to understand about Jewish survival? And how important it is to fight antisemitism every day is to develop curriculum and get that curriculum into our schools everywhere. We’re counting on you that when these initiatives come up please show support for that. Show support for teaching our children, for teaching our grandchildren that they are in a position to fight hate and continue Jewish survival.”

Scott Richman, NY/NJ Director, ADL said the theme of America Lights up in Yellow is really about Never Again and unfortunately we are seeing that Never Again is happening again. The number of antisemetic incidents a year ago for 3 months from October 7 th to January 7th was high at 500. This year it was over 1800. At ADL Never Again is Now. As part of the solution ADL deals with anti-bias, anti-bullying and anti-hate education in the schools and they have been pressing schools in NYS and across the country to adopt this curriculum as it is critical. Schools must stop reacting only after there is an incident.

Eric Post, Long Island Director of AJC was accompanied by Josh Kramer, Director, NY and Myra Clark-Siegel, Director Westchester/Fairfield. He said the ADL was involved in six commemorations this year but next year he hopes all 50 states will be lighting buildings yellow and they will play a big part in that. It is simple, effective and quite meaningful since “we are spreading light where there is darkness.”

In a survey released a day ago AJC reported that 85% of Americans think it is important for public schools to invest more resources in teaching about the Holocaust. He added, “we must fight back against any efforts of distortion or revisionism.”

Michael Cohen, Eastern Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center said that the SWC in L.A. and their Museum of Tolerance were also conducting similar ceremonies today. He said that he just met with the Chancellor for NYC and there was pride that 30,000 students were taught to fight hate. Then he added, but there are 1 million kids in those schools. He lauded the lighting partnersip we created and said, “The partnership we have here is how to fight.”

Angel Cepeda, a founding board member of Voices for Truth and Humanity recalled that 5 years ago when he was representing Christians United for Israel (CUFI) he met Irving Roth a Holocaust survivor, founder of Adopt-a-Survivor and one of the founders of the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, who had an impact on him and motivated him to find a way to make a difference. That led to addressing the need for Holocaust education in the schools.

Jack Britvan is the founder of Voices for Truth and Humanity. He recognized Martin Bloch the husband of Board Member Tatiani Bloch and said he is the oldest surviving member of the Bielski Partisans who at age 3 ½ was living in the forests and hiding from the Nazis. Jack said, “Jew hatred spread because of propaganda, lies, and lack of education. Approximately 26 states mandate Holocaust education and for some the mandate means “We think it’s a good idea.” In 1994 New Jersey and New York mandated Holocaust education. NJ established a K-12 curriculum that no other state compares to. NY has a paragraph. 30 years after mandating Holocaust education NY has a paragraph.

It’s time for NYS Governor Hochul to announce she is establishing a Commission on Holocaust Education which bypasses the Department of Education and is controlled by the Governor, has a curriculum and confirmation that it is being taught. A mandate means absolutely nothing unless there is a curriculum and unless it is checked. We see what is happening in universities where professors are downplaying the Holocaust and saying it doesn’t exist and I’m sure that is in our public schools across our country. We need to reach Governor Hochul and we need a Commission on Holocaust Education and we need it now.”

After the speeches a candle lighting ceremony was held with six candles, one for each of the six million Jewish lives lost, one candle representing the five million others who were murdered and a final candle this year praying for the safe return of the hostages. Rabbi Ain remarked, “When we think about a 3-year old in the woods there is an unimaginable moment we visualize a one year old hostage and all the other children, men and women who are hoping to survive.”

Lighting the candles were: Aviva Miller, US Director, Auschwitz Jewish Center foundation David Aronov, Community and Exterior Relations, UJA-Federation Andrea and Ledan Bolendar, David Regev & Michael Mantell 2G and 3G (2nd and 3rd generation of Holocaust survivors) Bill Tinglin, Tour for Tolerance Marin Bloch and Sami Steigmann Holocaust survivors Pastor Bill Devlin Gary Glick, NY Commander, Jewish War Veterans Assemblyman Alex Boras Assemblyman Boras commented, “When you stand up and fight for the Jewish people you are also helping to fight for everyone who is targeted. This is a spiritual moment memorializing everyone who was targeted and hate anywhere needs to be flushed out.”

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