The winds of change were in the air at the annual Gathering of Remembrance marking Yom HaShoah Sunday.
The ceremony, at Temple Emanu-El on Manhattan’s East Side, marked the first year that the Museum of Jewish Heritage-Living Memorial to the Holocaust organized the event, sponsored for over 40 years by the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors.
“The time has come for a younger generation to carry on the tradition,” said Benjamin Meed, chairman of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, who has presided over the event since its inception.
The American Gathering will continue to cosponsor the event, along with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israeli Consulate.
As always, the ceremony included candle-lighting by survivors and cantorial and choir renditions of memorial dirges. But world events, including the Sept. 11 attack on America, the spiraling violence in Israel and attacks on Jews in Western Europe gave the event an added urgency, speakers and participants agreed.
“Unfortunately, the forces that precipitated the Holocaust are still alive today,” Gov. George Pataki told the audience, likening the ongoing terrorist attacks in Israel to the Nazi war on Jews.
He denounced the practice of “moral equivalence,” which compares the actions of Israel’s army in the Palestinian territories to the violence of the suicide bombers.
“The terrorists in the Middle East are not engaged in a struggle for freedom but for the destruction of the rightful homeland of the Jewish people,” said the governor. “There is no moral equivalence between blowing up citizens in a pizza parlor or at a seder dinner and [Israel] taking steps to defend itself.”
Sen. Charles Schumer blamed European governments for inaction as sympathy for the Palestinians form the pretext of a new wave of anti-Semitism.
“It is utterly appalling that there should be such a stark disconnect in Europe, the place where the Holocaust occurred,” said New York’s senior senator. “When Jewish blood is spilled by a suicide bomber, we don’t hear a peep. [Instead] we see people carry pictures of Yasir Arafat, who we now know beyond the shadow of a doubt sends suicide bombers to blow up children and grandchildren of those who died in the Holocaust.
“I say to the European leadership, with very few exceptions: Shame on you!”
New York’s junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, paid tribute to Meed and the other resistance fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto who, “under the worst of circumstances, managed to organize and communicate and gather intelligence.
“Your esprit d’corps shocked the enemy and created an army of hope,” she said.
In some of her strongest comments, Clinton contrasted what she called the Jewish people’s love of life and the culture of Palestinian suicide bombers.
“What kind of people place death over life?” Clinton asked. “What kind of people use children to destroy the lives of other children?”
The former first lady added: “Make no mistake. The attacks that happened here in New York on Sept. 11 came from the same well of hate and evil that stalk Israel today.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg recalled visiting victims of terrorism in Israel last year, comparing the “twisted ideological hatred” of the Nazis to extremist Islam today. He described suicide bombers as “cowards who eagerly take their own lives in the name of a holy war founded on ignorance or nihilism.”
Bloomberg, who noted that Emanu-el is his home congregation, inserted some Hebrew phrases into his speech. He recalled that in the years following the Holocaust, world Jewry asked “Ma yihiye,” or What will be? Citing the words of Israel’s chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, he suggested that today’s question should be “Ma na’aseh,” or ‘What will we do?’
“The fight against terrorism is the fight against evil,” said the mayor. “We must stand up, speak out for freedom, Israel and the legacy of the six million ancestors so tragically taken from us.”
Representing the Israeli government, Transporation Minister Ephraim Sneh said a strong and secure Israel is vital to the survival Jewish people. “We were victims of the worst brutality in history not just because we are different, but because we were a scattered, defenseless people without a military force of our own. This will never happen again.”
Sneh said the mastermind of the Passover massacre in Netanya, which killed 27 people as of Monday, had himself been killed by Israeli forces.
“That’s why our soldiers are working tirelessly, to find murderers like him,” said Sneh.
As they left the ceremony, several audience members said this year’s event had an added resonance.
“The focus was more on the fact that we have to fight for the survival of Israel, and can’t let history repeat itself,” said Hannah Feffer of Manhattan as she left with her mother, Rosa Plawner, a survivor of Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
Joshua Greenspan of Riverdale agreed. “Because of what’s going on in Israel, its more important than ever that we stand together and be cohesive.”
But Ben Weiner, 82, of Manalapan, N.J., noted that the audience was predominantly elderly.
“There are not enough young people here,” said Weiner. “We’ve got to do something to get them involved. The younger generation is our future.”