The great cathedral was dimly lit. Solemn organ music filled the chamber as scores of people slowly filed in and took their seats. They spoke in hushed whispers as they surveyed the bronze sculpture set before the altar steps, their faces grave and pained. The mood was one of expectancy mingled with apprehension.
These New Yorkers of all faiths were participants in a “Service of Remembrance” of the Holocaust, which took six million Jewish lives, held at the Cathedral Church of St. John The Divine on Tuesday evening. The service, and the kosher dinner which preceded it, were jointly sponsored by the Cathedral, the Diocesan Committee on Jewish Relations and the New York Regional Board of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Some 500 people attended the dinner and service, which featured the formal dedication of a memorial to the six million, a life-size sculpture by Elliot Offner of a skeletal death camp inmate reaching upward in agony. The sculpture is believed to be the first Holocaust memorial to be installed in a Christian house of worship in the United States.
Following the dinner provided for leaders and guests of the sponsoring groups at Synod House on the church grounds, a number of prominent individuals spoke on the significance of the Holocaust for Jews and Christians today. The Very Rev. James Parks Morton, Dean of the Cathedral, along with Avron Brog, chairman of the ADL’s New York Regional Board, introduced the evening’s keynote speakers.
NO ONE THEORY
Dr. Henry Feingold, professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Baruch College, observed that no one theory could adequately explain the horror of the Holocaust. He concluded that all Jews are, in a sense, survivors who have become aware of the “absolute necessity for Jews to choose life as we were commanded.” The Israeli rescue action at Entebbe in 1976 is dramatic evidence of the Jewish position in the world, he said. “We saved ourselves,” Feingold said. “That is what is new about the Jews since Auschwitz.”
Responding to his address was Dr. Cynthia Wedel, chairperson of the National Advisory Committee on Jewish Relations for the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopate, who directed her remarks to the Christians in the audience. She denounced the institutionalization of the church which absolved the average person from responsibility for evil in society. Referring to the Jews as “elder brothers from whom we (Christians) must learn,” Dr. Wedel expressed gratitude to her Jewish brethren for their perseverance in reminding Christians of the Holocaust. She noted that such a tragedy could recur at any time and urged Christians to continue fighting for “justice, truth and compassion” in the world.
Miriam Novich, curator of the Museum of Holocaust and Resistance Fighters located at a kibbutz near Haifa in Israel, who is herself a survivor of the concentration camps, collected the drawings poetry and diaries of fellow inmates that are now on permanent display at the museum. In eloquent terms which captivated her audience, Ms. Novich underscored the importance of Israel’s survival and future security. “You must understand that we in Israel want peace,” she said, “but we must also defend our children so that they will no longer have to be taken away in trains.”
The “Service of Remembrance,” held in the Cathedral itself, including passages in both Hebrew and English, followed the order of the traditional Jewish evening service and emphasized the need to learn from the Holocaust, the unity of God and the universal quest for peace. Opening the proceedings with the exhortation, “Zachor! Remember!” was the Rt. Rev. J. Stuart Wetmore, the Ecumenical Officer for the Diocese of New York, who presided over the service. Among the program’s highlights were the singing of “ani Ma’amin” (A Hebrew chant affirming the Jewish Messianic faith) and a Yiddish song of resistance, as well as the observance of an emotional moment of silence. Most poignant was the insertion of the names of cities in which Jews have been massacred in between the phrases of the “Kaddish” prayer. As Cantor Robert Spiro, of the East End Temple in Manhattan, chanted the Jewish prayer for the dead, six memorial candles were lit by Jewish and Christian representatives.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.