In addition to the survivors and their families, the ceremony was attended by Gov. Bruce Rauner, Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen and other dignitaries.
“We come here to cry, we come here to remember,” said Rene Birnberg Silberman, a member of the Holocaust Memorial Service Committee.
Sponsored by Sheérit HaPleitah of Metropolitan Chicago, an umbrella organization of the area’s Holocaust survivor groups, the service came on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the 72nd anniversary of the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Still, this wasn’t a ceremony confined to history. More than one speaker maintained anti-Semitism is on the rise and that, seven decades after the Holocaust ended, it is still a dangerous time for the Jewish people.
Rauner called the times in which we live “uncertain” and mentioned the four people killed in a kosher supermarket by terrorists in France and a Jewish man killed in a synagogue in Denmark.
“Great Britain has reported a huge spike in anti-Semitic acts in the past year,” Rauner said. A recent poll, he added, indicated that over half of British Jews no longer believe that Jews have a long-term future in Europe.
According to the governor, anti-Semitism is often disguised under the banner of anti-Zionism.
“‘Never again’ must have meaning. ‘Never again’ must give call to action now,” he said.
Featured speaker Shlomo Resnikoff, a professor at DePaul University’s College of Law, gave an impassioned plea to stand behind Israel.
He cited a report calling some areas of the world “a hunting ground for Jews.” “Legitimate, constructive criticism of Israeli policies is certainly fair,” he said, but he opined that there is an anti-Israeli propaganda campaign being waged that doesn’t fit that description.
Resnikoff said there is “a rise of pernicious anti-Semitism” that must be addressed.
“Seventy years after the liberation of the concentration camps, we face a world of hatred and injustice against the Jewish people,” said Charles Lipshitz, president of Sheérit HaPleitah of Metropolitan Chicago, in a news release announcing the memorial. “Less than two generations after the Holocaust, we see a rapid escalation of anti-Semitism around the globe and, of particular note, throughout much of Europe.”
Van Dusen read a proclamation from the village declaring April 19 as a Day of Remembrance. It states that the day has been set aside “for the people of the village of Skokie to remember the inhumanity of those who perpetrated the Holocaust as well as to reflect upon our own humanity and the need for respect of all peoples.”
There were a lot of people in Skokie Sunday remembering and reflecting.
The annual event traditionally is known as the largest gathering of Holocaust survivors in the Midwest and one of the largest in the United States, although organizers admit there are fewer survivors as time marches on.
Still, dozens of rows in the large synagogue were filled with people of diverse ages, the first several rows reserved for survivors and their families.
Speeches were often stirring and emotionally resonant, as they always are, but the heart of the ceremony seemed to belong to the lighting of six candles to remember the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Survivors, descendents and their families were named as they slowly made their way to the large candelabra at the front.
They lit the candles without saying a word.
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