Portsmouth, NH, April 8 - Standing arm in arm, Rachel Sacks and Elizabeth Fineberg-Lombardi, both 14, considered a tragic period of time four and a half decades before they were even born: the Holocaust."If we stop talking about it, we'll forget," said Fineberg-Lombardi.
"I think that learning as much as you can (about the Holocaust) is important," Sacks chipped in. The two are currently taking a class about the time period, before and during World War II, that saw the systematic destruction of more than 6 million European Jews by the Nazis.
The two teens were among many Seacoast residents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who gathered in Temple Israel Sunday afternoon to attend the Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony in observance of Yom Hashoah, the International Day of Remembrance that takes place on April 9.
"And so we remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered. ... We remember the failure to act ... but above all on this day we remember the bravery," said Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who attended the ceremony.
The governor declared the week April 7 through 14 Holocaust Remembrance Week in the state; similarly, Mayor Evelyn Sirrell signed a proclamation declaring the same in the city of Portsmouth.
Perhaps the most haunting, and encouraging, sight at the afternoon ceremony was the presence of children, of history being passed from generation to generation: grandmothers, mothers and daughters bringing to life the history of Jews through songs and stories.
At the front of the sanctuary an 11-year-old Portsmouth resident, whose name is withheld at the request of her father, read excerpts from the writings of children who lived in the Terezin concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic.
"I am a grown-up now ...," the young girl read as part of a dramatic reading presented by a local group of volunteers, including the singing group Kol Dodi.
And as the presentation of "If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem," wrapped up, the audience was left with a strong message: It will take generations before change can occur, and while many are involved in shaping this new world, lessons must be taken from the past. And that past should never be forgotten.
"There's a real continuum from the Holocaust and the way the world is now," said Vicki Rourke-Rooney of Kittery, Maine, citing Bosnia as an example.
"We don't remember things we need to remember," she said.
Rourke-Rooney's father, Victor, was an Irish Jew who was part of the 10th Mountain Infantry that liberated some of the concentration camps in the aftermath of World War II.
Members of the Baha'i faith also attended Sunday's ceremony.
Calvin Wels, a member of the Baha'i community, said the horror of the Holocaust must be "continually emphasized."
"(The Holocaust) was a substantial episode in world history and something that shouldn't be forgotten," he said.
As the ceremony progressed, talk turned to current violence that envelop members of the Jewish faith: namely, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Before reading the mayor's proclamation, Portsmouth City Councilor John Hynes, in discussing the current Jewish struggle, spoke in reference to Israel's "incursion into an area of rebels and terrorists."
"What the Israeli army is doing today is totally American," he said, adding that Israelis are merely trying to restore peace in their own homes.
For this touchy subject, Rabbi David Mark referred to an analogy he uses when talking with youths.
He described a young boy sitting on a sofa eating cookies and milk and having a good time.
Suddenly, another boy comes in and says, "That's my sofa."
He laid out the options: the two could fight over the sofa; they could cut the sofa in half; the first boy could build the other a sofa that is just as comfortable; or the two could share the sofa.
Once, he said, after using this analogy with a group of young children, one little girl whispered in his ear, "I would share the sofa."
Said Mark, "We look forward to that age of peace."
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