For the third year, the East Meadow Jewish Center commemorated Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, with a quartet featuring string instruments that were salvaged and restored from the Holocaust.
On May 2, the melodies resonated even stronger with Rabbi Ronald Androphy and his congregation. “This year it is particularly important for us to remember and commemorate,” he said, referencing the April 27 shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California, the Oct. 27 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and every other act of violence committed out of “ethnic and religious hatred.”
Androphy then invited Holocaust survivors and children of survivors to light a candle in remembrance. Next, he introduced Alyson Katz, a longtime member of the East Meadow Jewish Center who visited Poland in January during “one of the heaviest and most difficult weeks of my life,” she said during a speech to the congregation.
With a group of students from SUNY Buffalo, where she studied art, Katz saw parts of Poland that were devastated by the Holocaust, including a graveyard where over 80,000 children were told to dig pits and shot dead into their own graves. “I sat there, unable to feel anything, but numb,” she said.
Following the trip, she came home to celebrate a very meaningful family Bar Mitzvah that reminded her of the persistence of the Jewish people.
After the speech, congregants listened to songs like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” played on two violins, a viola and a cello. The instruments belonged to Jewish musicians during the Holocaust and lay silent until two years ago when David Herman restored them.
One of the violins belonged to George Arthur Schneck, a Jewish man who was raised in Belgium and registered to attend the Chemical Institute of Toulouse in 1942. Three weeks into his education, however, he was expelled for not declaring that he was Jewish. He became a leader of Zionist youth organization, with whom he created false certificates of identification for other Jewish people. He was given a violin by fellow resistors as a 20th birthday gift.
In addition to the instruments, another artifact rests inside the Jewish Center. Each year Rabbi Ronald Androphy reads from a torah that once belonged to the people of Rychnov-nad-kneznou, a town in the Czech Republic.
According to Rabbi Androphy, all the Jews living in Rychnov-nad-kneznou during the holocaust had been killed. The community living there now had restored their synagogue and, 26 years ago, the Jewish Center acquired a torah from it.
On leaving the ceremony, congregants placed stones on a mock graveyard to remember the children who died during the Holocaust and had no official gravesite for friends or family to visit.
“It becomes more and more moving for me every year,” Androphy said of the night’s commemorations, explaining that, in the Jewish faith, when an act is performed three times it becomes a hazakah, or a tradition.