Rabbi Joshua Kullock, the executive director of the Union of Jewish Congregations of Latin America and the Caribbean, continues his guest series from Panama with coverage of the opening night of the organization’s convention. If you’re a Spanish-speaker, the plenaries are being broadcast live as we speak at the convention blog, as well as tweeted with the hashtag #ujcl2010.
The voices of the past were heard at a very emotive opening of the 12th UJCL convention. Commemorating a new anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945, this first event — co-organized by the UJCL, the U.N. in Panama, and Friends of Yad Vashem — recalled those who had perished under Nazism and Fascism.
Some 200 men and women gathered at a theater in the center of Panama City for the homage. The U.N. representative read a message from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Yoed Magen, Israel’s ambassador to Panama, also spoke. Then candles were lit and a documentary film, "A Bissele Mazl" ("A bit of luck"), was screened, showing the stories of five Holocaust survivors that had come to Panama to start over.
Far from Europe, this solemn commemoration brought back the words that Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome. said less than two weeks ago when Benedict XIV first visited the Italian synagogue: "The silence of G-d about the evils of the world or our inability to hear His voice, is an inscrutable mystery, but the silence of man is a different matter. It confronts us, it challenges us, and it does not escape judgment."
Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that the UJCL convention began by looking backwards to the deep waters of the past. Knowing from where we come lets us acknowledge where we stand today, and gives us the chance to focus on what we want in our future.
Tomorrow [Thursday] morning the plenaries and workshops will finally start, and they promise to address both the present situation of small congregations on the margins of Jewish life and the availability of a sustainable future in all these latitudes. In the meantime, if you read some Spanish and want to check the program of the event, just go to ujcl2010.blogspot.com.