Miami Beach

A Holocaust survivor’s message: ‘Please, I beg you to be good to each other’

Holocaust survivors Joe Birnbaum, left, and Bessie Beszow, center, light candles with some help during an interfaith community gathering in response to the rise anti-semitism and hate inside Temple Beth Sholom on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Holocaust survivors Joe Birnbaum, left, and Bessie Beszow, center, light candles with some help during an interfaith community gathering in response to the rise anti-semitism and hate inside Temple Beth Sholom on Holocaust Remembrance Day. cjuste@miamiherald.com

As a Holocaust survivor, Alex Gross knows from experience what happens when people hate each other.

Gross, who lost his parents, 40 first cousins, six aunts and six uncles in the Holocaust, shared his story Sunday as part of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) ceremony.

“What is so important for you to remember is it can happen again,” said Gross, 88. “Please, I beg you to be good to each other.”

Sunday’s nearly two-hour-long ceremony — which was held in Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach instead of the Holocaust Memorial because of bad weather — brought together rabbis, priests, imams, politicians, survivors and other community members to take a stand against anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.

While the focus of the solemn ceremony was to remember the six million Jews that perished during the Nazi regime, organizers dubbed this year’s gathering “An Interfaith Community Gathering in Response to the Rise in Anti-Antisemitism and Hate.”

Jacob Solomon, president of the greater Miami Jewish Federation, said Yom HaShoah was a good day to send the message of unity.

“We often say ‘never again’ in relation to the Holocaust. It’s a kind of rallying cry,” he said. “When you see hate crimes, when you hear hate speech, when you witness intolerance, if you don’t do something about it, ‘never again’ is a meaningless phrase.”

In recent months, there has been an increased number of threats directed at Jewish community centers and schools and anti-Semitic vandalism. A recent poll by the Anti-Defamation League showed anti-Semitic attitudes in the United States are up.

“The interfaith piece of this is very important because we are living in a time of hyper-polarization,” Solomon said. “If people can come together on this critical issue, calling for tolerance can be as attractive as calling for extremism.”

Norman Braman, a founder of the Holocaust Memorial, said Yom HaShoa — which is celebrated Monday — is a “sacred day that’s observed throughout the world.”

“With everything happening in the world the way it is we need to come together and speak out,” Braman said.

During the ceremony six candles were lit by survivors to remember the six million Jews lost during the Holocaust.

“We know that while we cannot bring the dead back to life, we can ensure their memories live on and that their deaths were not in vain,” said Miriam Klein Kassenoff. “And so, on this Yom HaShoa, we commit ourselves to one simple act; Yizkor, remember. May the souls of the victims be bound in the bond of everlasting life.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who spoke during the ceremony, said being a part of it was very important.

“If we listen to the past it will tell us the path to go on and the path to avoid,” Wenski said.

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