As part of this year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday, Jan. 27, approximately 200 San Francisco East Bay Jewish community members came together to honor and remember victims of the Shoah and spread the urgent message: “Never Again Is Now” — linking the responsibility to never forget with the urgent need to remain vigilant against the current rising tide of antisemitism.
With a generous sponsorship from Eileen Ruby, president of the Jewish Community Federation of the Bay Area, organizers from the Jewish Community of Piedmont, including Donna Friedman Meir, Nicki Gilbert, Sari Kaplan, Melanie Marcus, Lili Naveh, and Sharon Sagiv, developed a moving program with local Jewish community leaders, bringing a focus on Holocaust survivors, the atrocities of October 7th in Israel and recent local antisemitic attacks.
The event began at the gates of the Home of Eternity Jewish Cemetery in Oakland, California, where many survivors are laid to rest (may their memories be a blessing). Aliza Grayevsky Somekh, the visionary behind this event and owner of Israeli-owned catering company Bishulum San Francisco, opened the ceremony and Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham led the attendees in prayers. “International Holocaust Remembrance Day is our day not only to remember – it is our day to remind the whole world how fast things can go tragically wrong. It is time to act and bring our community together,” said Grayevsky Somekh.
Participants shared stories with each other as they walked in a candlelight vigil along Piedmont Avenue to Pomella, an Israeli-owned and operated restaurant. “It is our privilege to provide respite and comfort to our community,” said Mica Talmor, chef and owner of Pomella, which has become an impromptu meeting place for Jewish community members since October 7th, and has also endured antisemitic attacks and a loss of business.
Rabbi Bloom, NCSY Youth Director Tani Polansky, and Beth Jacob Congregation’s Rabbi Gershon Albert of Oakland led a musical havdalah service, after which Holocaust survivors, Sanne DeWitt, 89, and Magda Silberman, 95, shared their experiences as young people during the Holocaust. At the age of four, Ms. DeWitt was smuggled from Germany to Holland, and then traveled by ferry to England, eventually ending up in the south of Wales. “Courage is in the DNA of the Jewish people,” she said. “Just as we rose after the Holocaust, we will rise again.”
Dorit Dorenz (front row, left) and Holocaust survivor Sanne DeWitt (front row, right) listen as event coordinator Melanie Marcus speaks to the crowd Mica Talmor (l), the owner of Pomella Restaurant where the event took place, joins the singing Piedmont resident and daughter of Holocaust survivors Judy Bloomfield joins other families of victims and survivors to light candles in remembrance Event organizer Donna Friedman Meir lights Dorit Dorenz’ candle Holocaust survivor Magda Silberman, 95, and event organizer Donna Friedman Meir Holocaust survivor and book author Sanne DeWitt, 89, speaks about her experience New and old friends embrace and sing NCSY youth director Tani Polansky, Rabbi Gershon Albert of Beth Jacob Congregation, Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham
Ms. Silberman survived the Auschwitz and Ravensbrook concentration camps, workcamps and munition factories in Germany. As a young and able person, she was forced to sort through the belongings of murdered Jews, and so had access to shoes, clothes and food, which kept her alive through death marches, starvation and horrendous conditions. Ms. Silberman reminded attendees to “never give up hope, value family and good friends, and keep the story of the survivors alive. The second and third generation must continue the work of telling the stories of survivors.”
Additional speakers included Yoav Harlev, the organizer of the group of volunteers who stand in daily vigil on the Highway 24 overpass in Lafayette with posters demanding the release of the hostages and Dorit Dorenz, a victim of a recent anti-semitic attack in nearby El Cerrito. “In unity there is strength,” said Dorenz as she courageously encouraged the crowd to work together to stand up against antisemitism. Harlev, who grew up on Kibbutz Kissufim along the border with Gaza and Israel, is connected to at least 105 of 136 hostages still in captivity. “I’m shattered and hurting inside,” he said. “It is my calling to make sure that we don’t lose sight of these innocent hostages that are there, suffering every day.”
Event organizer Donna Friedman Meir reminded all those present that, “Never Again is Now means that in this moment we must stand together, we must show up for each other in whatever ways we can: support local Jewish and Israeli businesses, show up when advocacy is needed, be good neighbors, check in with one another, and educate the next generation.”
The event ended on a note of hope with a heartfelt rendition of “One Day” by Matisyahu, and Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah – literally The Hope.