MAPLEWOOD AND SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The 41st Annual SOMA Interfaith Holocaust Service and March of Remembrance was held on Sunday, April 15. The march assembled in Spiotta Park on Maplewood Avenue in Maplewood, and was called to order with the blowing of the shofar.

Local elected officials who attended included Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, Maplewood Township Committee member Dean Dafis, and South Orange Village Trustees Deborah Davis Ford and Steve Schnall.

Sheryl Hoffman, one of the march leaders, spoke to the crowd, sharing that she is the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. Another speaker addressed that the Holocaust is fading from many people’s memories, asking that all do what they can to make sure that the younger generations are aware and care.

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DeLuca read a proclamation which concluded with naming the week of April 15 "The Days of Remembrance." The Benediction was delivered by Martha Gallahue, Humanist Clergy Leader.

The march, which included a local Boy Scout Troop, traveled to Congregation Beth El on Irvington Avenue in South Orange, where the interfaith service was held.

The service was called to order with the blowing of two shofars, followed by the processional and words of welcome from Rabbi Jesse Olitzky spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El.

The assembled clergy led a opening prayer reminding all to declare "Never Again." Then the Chai Candles were lit both to remember those who perished and those who survived, and to honor their descendants.

The Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Award was presented by David Bossman, to Heather Mecka, a sixth grade teacher in English Language Arts at Hackensack Middle School.

Mecka said she learned about Holocaust education as a student teacher and has been including it in her curriculum ever since. Mecka added that she continues to study as part of the Jewish-Christian Studies program at Seton Hall University.

Following a musical interlude, the keynote speaker was 94-year-old Robert Max, who is believed to be the last living American soldier to have escaped and survived Nazi slave labor in World War II. Max shared that he thinks that it was his extreme desire to live that maintained him and allowed him to lead a daring escape, before binge rescued by American liberators. 

A creative responsive Mourners’ Kaddish was led and the service concluded with a Benediction and the recessional to the tune of Let There be Peace.

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