By Paul Haist
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Oregon Attorney General Hardy Meyers and Special Agent In Charge of the Portland FBI office Robert Jordan were among more than 40 people who read the names of Holocaust victims at Pioneer Courthouse Square April 15, in observance of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The reading of names, sponsored each year by the Oregon Chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, was one of three events that day held to commemorate the annihilation by the Nazis of 6 million Jews and countless millions of other innocent victims.
Survivors, the children of survivors and others also gathered at the Oregon Holocaust Memorial in Washington Park.
On the evening of April 15, a public commemorative service was hosted by the Oregon Board of Rabbis in the main sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel.
Several hundred people attended, including several survivors and children of survivors.
The reading of victim names at Pioneer Courthouse Square ran from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More than 40 people volunteered to read names. Each reading lasted about 10 minutes.
Readers this year included several well-known figures, besides Meyers and Jordan. Among them were Chancellor Mary Jo Tully of the Archdiocese of Portland; Assistant Chief Lynnae Berg of the Portland Police Bureau; Salma Ahmad, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Portland; State Senators Richard Devlin and Ginny Burdick; State Representatives Brad Witt, Suzanne Bonamici, Tobias Reed and Ben Cannon; Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler; as well as several rabbis and pastors, students and private individuals.
David Fuks, the chief executive officer of Cedar Sinai Park, the Jewish adult living campus in Southwest Portland, delivered keynote remarks in which he recalled his experience growing up as the son of Holocaust survivors.
He said he asked his mother, who lives now at Cedar Sinai Park, whether she wanted to attend the Yom HaShoah service to reminisce or an orchestra rehearsal at CSP. He said that she replied, "About what shall I reminisce?"
"In one moment sweeping away the last 62 years," he said, realizing in that moment that "it is sometimes better to look forward than back.
"My parents looked directly into the eyes of evil," he said, "as their child had learned to look into the eyes of those who had done so."
He said, "My youthful identity was shaped by the aftershock of my parents' experience."
He added, however, "I have worked hard to ensure that my identity as a Jew is not only defined by Auschwitz, but also by Sinai."
He noted that the Holocaust is not the center of his Jewish identity, but there are important lessons to be taken.
"The Shoah teaches us what happens if people have too much power and no ethics. And it shows us what can happen to a people who have ethics but no power," said Fuks.
But there was an even more important lesson, he said.
"The most important lesson came to me from a simple conversation I had with my father in his later years and that has informed my work."
He said he had asked his father what had made it possible for him to survive, to start again, to create a family, to live again.
"He said one word: love."
Six Holocaust survivors came forward during the service at Beth Israel to light candles in the memory of all who perished. They were Gunther Hill, Ester Kahn, Miriam Gerber, Rosa Wigmore, Szymon Palma and Eva Aigner.
Each of the survivors was introduced by a rabbi. The rabbis were Aviva Bass of Congregation Kol Ami, Annette Koch of South Metro Jewish Congregation, David Kominsky, Kim Rosen of Beit Midrash Eitz Chaim, Michael Z. Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel and Daniel Isaak of Congregation Neveh Shalom.
Then, first-generation children of survivors lit candles in memory of their loss. Finally, the several hundred present in the main sanctuary also lit candles and placed them on the stairs to the bimah.
Composer David Schiff performed at the piano.
A choir of 14 girls from Portland Jewish Academy sang "Acheinu", "Bilvavi" and "When I Am Silent," under the direction of Dr. Erica Goldman.
CBI Cantor Judith B. Schiff was joined by Cantor Ida Rae Cahana performed "Sachki, Sachki" and "Eli, Eli."
CBI Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana welcomed all present. Oregon Board of Rabbis President Rabbi Danile Isaak delivered the invocation.
Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Executive Vice President Charles R. Schiffman introduced Fuks as the keynote speaker. He said of Fuks, "David teaches us that we can defy the evil intentions of our tormentors by what we do with our lives today."