CRANFORD, NJ — Elie Wiesel’s quote, “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all,” reflects the theme of the sixth annual Cranford Community Holocaust Day of Remembrance held at Orange Avenue School on April 26.
The event commemorated Wiesel, author of the famous autobiographical novel, “Night,” by the Romanian-born American Jew based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. Wiesel, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, died July 2, 2016, at the age of 87.
At the event, Holocaust survivor Mollie Sperling read aloud Wiesel’s “A Prayer for the Days of Awe,” which asks the question, “Where are you, God, to let this happen?” Sperling, 91, is the sole survivor in her family, and said she struggles to understand and accept her fate.
“This unknown destiny is one I cannot understand,” Sperling said. “It haunts me every day of my life.”
Rabbi David Klatzker of Temple Beth El Mekor Chayim shared what he has learned from Weisel with the audience.
“He taught us the only way to redeem pain is through literature, art and music,” Klaztker said. “He also taught us we have a right to ask angry questions. Finally, he taught us never again, and that we ourselves face grave moral dilemmas. We owe him enormous gratitude.”
A candlelighting ceremony with six candles paid tribute to the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust; a seventh candle was lit to represent hope for the future. With musical accompaniment by Catherine Hoffman, community representatives, including Orange Avenue School Principal Marc Edery, Rev. Cameron Overbey of the Cranford Clergy Council and Paula Figman of the Interfaith Human Relations Committee, took turns lighting the candles.
“It was a humbling experience that I will always remember,” Cranford Township Administrator Terence Wall said of the event in an email to LocalSource on April 27. “The words of Elie Wiesel will resonate with me always. He said ‘the opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference.’ Still today, when we look toward Syria where over 500,000 lives have been lost and other atrocities that continue elsewhere, you struggle to comprehend how countries can stand idly by and allow this to happen.
“It is the indifference in the world that Elie speaks to and we must learn from the Holocaust and never forget. All of the students and speakers captured the moment of remembrance in a significant and poignant way. They should be proud. I was most honored to sit next to a Cranford resident and Holocaust survivor Kurt Steiner. His spirit, vitality and kind human nature reflect the values to which we should all aspire. Happy 105th birthday, Mr. Steiner!”
Steiner also lit a candle during the ceremony, followed by daughter Gail Solomon. Cranford High School student Erica Moreno lit the candle representing hope for the future.
Katherine Romanchik, a Cranford High School social studies teacher, discussed her visit to Nazi death camps and reflected on that experience for those gathered at the event.
“I vividly remember walking into the gas chamber at Auschwitz,” Romanchik said. “We have an obligation to be an upstander, not a bystander, and to realize the preciousness of a human life.”
The event also featured the Cranford High School Academy Dancers, who performed a piece choreographed by teacher Emily Donahue, and St. Michael School students Siobhan Kelly and Emily Scott recited some original poetry.
The OAS Middle School Chorus performed “Ani Ma’ amin” under the direction of Constance Thomas in a performance that featured Lee Rosenthal on cello, Pamela Aslin on piano, Amanda Holedek on clarinet and Caitlin Shroyer on violin.
“I am always moved by the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony. Man’s capacity to inflict so much pain and death on one another is astounding and extremely sad,” Cranford Mayor Tom Hannen told LocalSource in an email on April 27. “Wiesel’s reminder that we need to be always vigilant to confront the evil in this world is a reminder of the further atrocities that still go on today.
“The clergy council, interfaith committee, Cranford public schools and St. Michael School are all to be commended for the work that they put into this program and teaching about the Holocaust during the year. What happens, though, when we no longer have the living reminders of the victims as we were graced with last evening? Hopefully we will redouble our efforts, because at that point, it will truly be up to us.”
Members of the audience agreed with the mayor.
“It was very emotional,” Letty Potash of Cranford told LocalSource after the event. “I remember reading newspaper articles about Elie Wiesel around the time of his death. I learned a lot and I liked that it (the event) involved young people.”
“I came to see my granddaughter sing in the chorus,” Theresa Dyer of Clark told LocalSource after the event. “I thought it was beautiful. They did a great job. It was very emotional to see Mr. Steiner.”
“It was fabulous to be around people of all different faiths,” Dorothy Steinbach of Cranford told LocalSource after the event. “I read many books by Elie Wiesel, but the most memorable has to be his autobiography, ‘Night.’”