By Rabbi Craig H. Ezring
Spiritual Leader of Temple Beth Israel of Deerfield Beach, FL
I was invited to a genocide commemoration last week. But this was not a commemoration of the Shoah, this was a commemoration (the very first in the United States) of the 100th Year of Remembrance of the Armenian Genocide.
Most of you who read my column know that I have a passion for dance. So when I heard that the program would include a performance by the Sayat Nova Dance Company …well, how could I stay away? But there was another reason that I needed to be there.
On Shabbat, just before the event, I sang a song during my sermon. The lyrics go something like this:
I am bound for the Promised Land …
Oh Lord, I am bound for the Promised Land …
Oh who will come and go with me …
I am bound for the Promised Land …
Who will come and go with me?
Which is it, are we coming or going? The same question was asked by the Sages in regard to what G-d tells Moses about a trip to pharaoh. You see, the Hebrew word, Bo, can mean, “go” or it can mean, “come.” So was G-d telling Moses to “go” to Pharaoh or was He telling him “come to Pharaoh?” If I asked you to go to the store, I would be asking you to go in my stead. But, if I asked you to come … that is what G-d was saying to Moses, “Come with me … I will be with you every step of the way.”
And that is why I felt I had to come to the Armenian Genocide Commemoration. As a Jew, I have a duty to remember the Holocaust and to see to it that it never happens again. The problem is that, before the Holocaust, there was a genocide perpetrated against the Armenians and there have been others since then in places like Darfur and Rwanda. So how could I not be there to remember the horror that happened to my Armenian brothers and sisters?
The dance program took us all on “A Journey Through Time.” The performers weaved the story of the Armenians from ancient days to the Genocide, to their rebirth. With each step the dancers took on stage, I could feel the connection between the Armenian Culture and the Jewish Community. We each went through an amazing religious transformation; each of us had and have those who would like to see us annihilated; and each of us not only miraculously survived an attempt at extermination, but both cultures have found a way to go on. No, each has found a way to do more than that; each has found a way to live, to laugh and to dance.
As I looked around the audience and saw so many children with parents and grandparents, I realized that the Armenians have the same aspirations that we have … to make our progeny knowledgeable of our past, of our traditions, of our culture and to be proud of being who we are. And, with the help of people like Arsine Kaloustian and the AGC (The Armenian Genocide Commemoration), may we be vigilant to speak out against any and all attempts at the Genocide of any people.
To Arsine and to all my Armenian brothers and sisters, we will not forget!
Shalom my friends.
This article originally appeared in the Observer Newspaper on February 5, 2015, and is reposted with the expressed written consent of the author.
By Gillian Stoney
Alligator Contributing Writer
The opening ceremony of the “From One Witness to Another: Genocide Awareness Series” began Sunday on Bo Diddley Community Plaza at the University of Florida (UF).
The series will continue through Wednesday as UF Hillel recognizes Genocide Awareness Month.
Genocide is traditionally defined as the deliberate killing of a large group of people, particularly those of a particular ethnic group or nation.
During the opening ceremony, UF students Sarah Pila, a 22-year-old psychology senior; Kimmie Klaiman, a 20-year-old economics and family, youth and community sciences senior; and Stefani Pila, a 22-year-old history major; read testimonies of survivors from the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and the Cambodian genocide. UF Hillel Rabbi Daniel Wolnerman spoke about being the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
The series is an effort to inform the community of the acts of hatred that have occurred in 43 countries, Sarah Pila said.
“I think it’s very special that here at the University of Florida, we’re able to not only acknowledge the Holocaust, which affected predominantly the Jewish population, but also able to incorporate that into the larger scheme of genocide awareness,” Wolnerman said.
Five candles were lit to commemorate the billions of deaths. White ribbons were handed out to represent people lost to genocide.
“It’s important because we always say, ‘Never again,’ and it’s still happening,” said Katie Gillen, a 21-year-old UF telecommunication senior.
This story originally appeared in the Alligator and is reprinted with the permission of the author.