West Orange resident Oscar Lax will be recognized with the Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Education Award  on April 14 at the 36th annual South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service.  The Service, to be held at Seton Hall University, will begin at 4PM on the South Orange campus in Jubilee Hall.

The public is invited to participate in the annual March of Remembrance that precedes the interfaith service, gathering at Grove Park, South Orange at 3:15 PM, and ending at Seton Hall.

Local resident Larry Pantirer, son of the late Murray Pantirer, a Schindler’s List survivor of the Holocaust, will deliver a keynote speech about how the actions of one man during the darkest days of World War II changed the course of his family’s history.

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Oscar Lax was selected for the Sister Rose Thering Award for his commitment to the late Dominican nun’s belief that education will make the world a more tolerant place.  Lax commented, “I am overwhelmed to receive this year’s Award at Seton Hall.  It is very significant that this 36th interfaith observance takes place there. It was a privilege to know Sister Rose, who in her lifetime dominated this field of World War II history within the Catholic community.  Sister Rose was responsible for creating a Holocaust education curriculum, approved by the Pope, which was adapted by thirteen Catholic colleges throughout the United States.” 

Lax recalls that this 36-year old event actually had its start two years earlier under the leadership of Max Randall, president of South Mountain B’nai B’rith.  Randall created the program to assure the ongoing remembrance of Kristallnacht in Germany, which marked the onset of the terrible events of the Holocaust.  He said, “It was Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein who presented the concept of expanding the observance to members of all faiths in the community and Sister Rose who joined the effort and involved other clergy members in the initiative.”  Lax has always had a passion for this period in history as he witnessed it in a most personal way.  He was a college student when Hitler’s aggression terrorized Europe.  “We were absolutely aware of the bombings, invasions and prevalent atrocities,” he said.

Having served as an officer in the U.S. Navy in the invasion for the Bisha Gaur River at Okinawa, the West Orange resident reminds us that “the U.S. developed the power that stopped the whole situation—ammunition, aircraft and battle ships, built at the rate of one per day.”   He believes that Oskar Schindler demonstrated the same resolve, as an individual, to put an end to Hitler’s insanity and to prevent the murders of thousands of people.  Commenting on the recent celebration of Passover, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the demise of slavery in ancient Egypt, Lax said, “Thousands of years later, there was slavery under the Nazi regimes, and there are still pockets of slavery in today’s world. People have a right to live in freedom.”

Jim Ferruggiaro, who has co-chaired the organizing committee for this event since 2009, commented, “It is especially significant that Seton Hall is hosting this year’s service for the first time in our 36th year.  Our program was founded by the late Sister Rose Thering of Seton Hall University along with Rabbi Emeritus Jehiel Orenstein of Congregation Beth El and the late Max Randall, a Holocaust survivor and member of South Mountain B’nai Brith, It was the first interfaith Holocaust remembrance event established in our state.” Co-chairs of the committee include Beth Randall Branigan, daughter of Max Randall and Eve Morawski, whose father, a Polish Catholic Holocaust survivor, was a leader of the citywide Warsaw Uprising of 1944.     

Members of the clergy from nearly 20 Jewish, Catholic and Protestant houses of worship in the South Orange/Maplewood community will offer prayers and hymns at the service.  Local resident Margie Freeman will open the service by sounding the ram’s horn or shofar, a centuries old tradition of the Jewish people.  Seminarians from Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary of Kearny will offer Psalm 133, an expression of unity, in song.  Cantor Perry Fine of Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston and cofounder of Voices in Harmony, an interfaith choral ensemble in Essex County, will direct an interfaith choir in an original performance created for this event. 

Area survivors of the Holocaust, most of whom were children or adolescents during the second World War, will be lighting 11 candles to represent the 11 million men, women and children who were brutally murdered during the Holocaust.   The 11 million who perished included six million Jews, Polish Catholics, Slavs, Roma Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled individuals, and political dissidents.  Children and grandchildren of survivors Norbert and Greta Bikales will light 18 candles signifying “Chai” or Life according to Hebrew mystical tradition. 

At this year’s event, middle school students from the local school district will display interpretative artwork inspired by conversations with Holocaust survivors.  Art will be displayed on site at Jubilee Hall.

Seton Hall students Lauren McCaskill, Daniel Langford and Efa Akutekha will participate in the service. It serves as part of Seton Hall’s yearlong Building Bridges:  Sixty Years of Jewish-Christian Dialogue. 

The event is free and open to the public.  Entrance to the event is through the front gate of SHU on South Orange Avenue.  Parking is available.  The community is encouraged to bring cans and boxes of non-perishable food donations to the event for later distribution by the Food Bank of New Jersey.  For more details and background visit www.rememberandtell.org or email rememberandtell@gmail.com