First Person

Yom HaShoah service sparks tears — and hope

Tucsonan Wolfgang Hellpap, a Holocaust survivor from Berlin, Germany, lights the sixth candle at the Yom Ha- Shoah Commemoration held Sunday, May 1 at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Jasmin Rendon, a student at Pima Community College, served as his escort. (Courtesy Christians United for Israel-Arizona)

They killed us — just because we were Jews. It didn’t matter if we were babies, or children, mothers or fathers; it didn’t matter if we were secular or religious, observant or not; they killed us — in camps, in forced labor, in resistance. They killed us because we were Jews. We wore stars and triangles, we lived in ghettos and camps and there, we died. But on Sunday, May 1, at our community’s Yom HaShoah commemoration, we lived again; we are resurrected in memory, by those who will never forget.

We remember the Holocaust every day.  Every day brings new reports of violence, religious extremism, murders and execution from places around the world. As a people, we mourn those losses — we say prayers for peace, we say prayers for an end to human destruction and while we are raising our voices in prayer, we also raise our voices to governments and leaders around the world and ask that they, too, demand an end to conflict and bring about peace and stability for all.

On Sunday, May 1, Tucson gathered as a united voice for Yom HaShoah. This annual event is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Jewish History Museum/Holocaust History Center. Cosponsored this year by the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, it brought together hundreds of people for a community vigil at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. This year, we joined in prayer to honor the memory of the children who didn’t survive the genocide of World War II. As their faces filled the screen and their stories filled our hearts, we listened in complete silence. These precious children lived again, as members of the Tucson community who were their relatives shared the narratives of their births, their too short lives, and finally, their deaths. No longer forgotten, no longer nameless, their faces were the faces of all children, all our cousins, all our babies. “They were children, just the same.”

After the video interviews, Rosie Eilat Kahn and Hedy Feuer, both children of Holocaust survivors, led the mourner’s kaddish. A procession of survivors, escorted by Holocaust studies students from Pima Community College, lit candles; six for the six million murdered, one for those victims who remain unnamed, and one for the Righteous Among the Nations. Our pain was given voice by Rabbi Israel Becker, our pain was given song by Cantor Avraham Alpert, our loss was given hope by all who came.

There are times when people ask if I lost any family in the Holocaust — I say “yes, six million of them.” We, they, all are family.

The Gatekeepers from Ironwood Hills Church filled the auditorium at the J with hauntingly beautiful music and song. John Winchester, one of the group’s leaders and the Arizona state director for Christians United for Israel, was a contemporary reminder of the goodness of the righteous and the liberators, and of those who provide unwavering support for our people and the state of Israel.

On May 1, we were surrounded by friends who wept; who held each other in the present and shared the memories of the past.  Not all in the audience were Jews, but they are members of our tribe, nonetheless, who will hold steadfast to ensure that those who were killed will always be remembered. By their support, we know that there are those who are righteous, those who will liberate us, those who will ensure “never again.”

We shed tears together that day — we wrapped ourselves in the arms of solidarity — we grieved, we prayed and we sang songs of hope and deliverance, and we did it together.

Patty Vallance is a Tucson community volunteer and author of the children’s book “Born to Wear Blue.”