UR Hillel is sponsoring the Holocaust Awareness Week in order to preserve the bitter memory of World War II atrocities committed against the Jews. The week is an extension of Jewish Awareness Month that occurs from late March to late April.

Tuesday marked the Yom Hashoah, the Jewish day of remembrance of the Holocaust. A six and a half hour name reading ceremony, in which the names of those who died in the Holocaust were read out loud, took place on Tuesday in the Hirst Lounge of Wilson Commons.

“This is one of our more traditional Holocaust [remembrance] ceremonies that people practice around the world,” said name reading organizer and junior Josh Blumenfeld. The reading was followed by a memorial ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

UR Hillel president and sophomore Jennifer Gertman attended the name reading. “People took 15-minute shifts reading first and last names [of victims], their age, and the place where they died ? if it was in a ghetto, a concentration camp, or elsewhere,” Gertman said.

The participants only had time to go through about 8000-9000 names, a small fraction of the entire list. “If you think about it, with the 6 million people who died, the amount of names that we could get through in a day doesn’t even compare to the amount of people who were killed,” said Gertman.

“It gives people names, birth dates, faces. It creates a face for this intangible number,” said Blumenfeld of the vigil. He stated, however, that spreading awareness was not the primary reason for holding the ceremony. “The name reading vigil in itself is not for awareness, it’s a memorial,” he said.

After the reading, the movie “Life is Beautiful” was also scheduled for Tuesday evening, but was cancelled due to scheduling complications.

Wednesday evening, a quartet of Eastman School of Music students performed “Different Trains” at the Interfaith Chapel. A musical piece composed by Steve Reich, “Different Trains” used voice samples from various interviews, three of which were conducted with Holocaust survivors.

Holocaust survivor Rosemarie Molser gave an opening speech before the quartet’s performance, speaking about her experiences, and took questions from the audience.

The quartet’s violin player and junior Mike Jorgensen thought the speaker provided a needed background story for the musical piece. “The piece is all about a story being told from these people’s perspective and their memories,” said Jorgensen. “I wanted a connection to be made with someone who’s live.”

The week will end with a “Trip of Understanding” to Washington, D.C. Forty-nine students from UR Hillel, the Newman Community and the Muslim Student Association will spend a weekend in D.C. learning how the cycle of hate and fear that was the cause of the Holocaust and similar bloodshed might be ended.

“It’s going to be a diverse group in more ways than one,” said sophomore Allison Groden, one of the organizers of the trip.

The group will listen to Holocaust survivors speak, visit the Holocaust Museum and work with the community service organization Hands On D.C. to clean up D.C.-area school facilities. These and other activities were devised to foster understanding of others by working with them closely.

“The purpose [of the trip] is basically to get an understanding of one another,” said organizer Ron Von Pearlstein, community service and special project coordinator for Hillel of Rochester Area Colleges. “It’s about getting a better understanding of one’s self, getting understanding of somebody else and how we could break down the walls and the barriers between us.”

Pearlstein noted that the main goal is to end the kind of fear and hatred that could lead to a potential holocaust. “There was more than just Jewish people involved in the Holocaust. It was persecution against anyone who didn’t fit in. If we act upon hatred and fear, we can wind up with something like the Holocaust.”

“The important thing here is to commemorate the past,” said Rabbi Ari Israel of UR Hillel of the Holocaust Awareness Week, “and to focus on issues that are relevant today. To remember how we got here, what happened, and where we’re going.”

Uzilov can be reached at auzilov@campustimes.org.

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