BAYONNE, NJ - Mayor Jimmy Davis led a cadre of elected officials, local clergy, students, and members of Bayonne’s Jewish community in a moving Holocaust Remembrance Day Observance on Thursday.
The event, according to co-chair Dr. Joseph Ryan, dates back more than three decades and is the only remaining one in Hudson County.
A common theme emerged immediately with a diverse array of liturgical leaders each speaking about the necessity for individuals of all faiths to band together to drive away hate and build communities of tolerance and love.
“Hatred and bigotry are prevalent and the source of violence and killing,” Brother Waheed Akbar of the Bayonne Muslim Community lamented, adding that the violence of evil people continues to be perpetrated because of the silence of good people.
Davis struck an unusually emotional tone with a plea for everyone gathered, as well as those in a much wider audience, to “go into the neighborhoods and teach our children there is no place for hatred.” Reflecting on recent violence in schools, churches, synagogues, and mosques the city’s top elected official offered his regret that each day we “expect to see another shooting.”
“We all want to leave the world a better place,” he suggested, “let’s start by working together, that’s what Holocaust Remembrance Day is about.”
It is indeed the need to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II, to prevent them from happening again that underscores the need for events like Thursday’s both Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Hudson County Executive Thomas Degise said.
Chiaravalloti would go on to recount a recent conversation about the atrocity with his nine-year-old son which revolved around considering the “how and the why” as opposed to the “what” of the blackmark in world history while DeGise offerer hope that by “working together” Hudson, as the most diverse county in the nation, can continue to lead by example when it comes to tolerance.
The featured part of the program was a video interview with and live comments by Albert Hepner, who, as a Jewish child was forced to hide from the Nazis in several locations in Belgium during World War II. Hepner would tell parts of his harrowing tail of moving between safe houses which included, among others, a convent and a farm, separated from his mother and brother, until his life was no longer in danger.
Hepner eventually emigrated to America with his mother and become a successful business owner, college professor, and author of "Avrumele", a memoir of his experiences as a hidden child.
Several traditional prayers and songs were offered and memorial candles were lit, including one by Ruth Graff, Bayonne’s last living Holocaust survivor, in honor of Holocaust victims, and an original poem reflecting on the brutality inflicted on children by Nazi Germany was delivered by Bayonne High School student Elizabeth Hanna.
Rabbi Cathy Felix of Temple Beth-Am would conclude the event by saying that despite the reason for it the gathering provided “a sense of unity, a sense of optimism, a sense of hope.”