The words "never forget" rang throughout Illinois this past week as the Jewish community held observances honoring Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
At the 36th annual statewide Yom HaShoah observance and memorial service, which took place April 27 at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Jewish Community Relations Council Chair David T. Brown voiced a rededication to this yearly proclamation.
"From generation to generation, we bear this responsibility," he said. "We hope and pray that anti-Semitism, bigotry and terrorism will one day be things of the past and that we will soon usher in an era of peace and prosperity for all."
The statewide observance, co-sponsored by the Office of the Governor and the Jewish Federations of Illinois, marked the official "Day of Remembrance" designated by Congress to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.
In his remarks, Gov. Bruce Rauner emphasized his commitment to a safe and flourishing Jewish community in Illinois.
"We stand with survivors, with the Jewish community, and with people of all backgrounds who believe in fundamental human rights, justice, dignity and freedom," he said. "It is our moral duty to speak out against hate, bigotry and intolerance."
As in years past, the governor issued a proclamation declaring the week of April 23-30, 2017 as Illinois Holocaust Remembrance Days. The proclamation urges all Illinoisans to continue to remember the victims of the Holocaust and to honor survivors.
Illinois State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, whose district includes West Rogers Park, said that the words "never again" have never been more relevant than today.
"We must declare that 'never again' applies to immigrants, to Muslims, to refugees, to LGBTQ people," she said. "We can and should refuse to go back to a time of darkness and fear for anyone. We as Jews can and should lead that charge."
Dr. Eva C. Muller, a child of Holocaust survivors from Hungary, also highlighted the contemporary meaning of "never again." She spoke to 43 seventh and eighth grade students from Chicago Jewish Day School, who traveled to Springfield with the JCRC delegation to attend the memorial service and lead a responsive reading.
"When we don't see each other as interconnected, as brothers and sisters, we allow evil to flourish," Muller said.
The program also included an invocation by Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington, Ill., a benediction from Dr. Maryam Mostoufi, Muslim community chaplain and president of the Greater Springfield Interfaith Association, and a recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish prayer led by Rabbi Michael Datz of Temple B'rith Sholom of Springfield. Datz led the lighting of six memorial candles, each representing one million Jews put to death by the Nazis during World War II as well as 600,000 "righteous gentiles" who helped save Jews, even at great danger to themselves.
Earlier in the week, on April 23, Sheerit Hapleitah of Metropolitan Chicago hosted the 72nd annual Chicago-area Holocaust memorial service. Four generations of survivors' families lit a six-armed candelabrum to memorialize the six million Jewish men, women and children who perished in the Holocaust. Sheerit Hapleitah is a coordinating committee of Chicago-area Holocaust survivors' groups.
JUF President Dr. Steven B. Nasatir spoke at the service about the individual and communal responsibility to never forget those who were lost.
"Though not all of their names are known, and though not all of them are remembered personally, we remember them all as members of our family, our people," he said.
Nasatir said that survivors remain a priority for the Federation and its network of agencies. The "Defiant Requiem" benefit held by the Jewish Federation on March 23 raised more than $4.6 million to continue to provide vital social services to address survivors' special needs. That sum will combine with the $4.1 million allocation the Federation already provides for these services annually.
Also speaking at the service were Rauner and Illinois First Lady Diana Rauner, Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, Consul General from Israel to the Midwest Aviv Ezra and author Jeffrey Gingold.