Meaningful Month of May Brings Community Together: Shalom Austin Offers Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut Programming

Meaningful Month of May Brings Community Together: Shalom Austin Offers Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut Programming

Adults and children gather on the dance floor for Israeli dancing during Yom HaAtzmaut. Credit: Wendy Goodman

In Judaism, it’s all about community and gathering to remember history, mourn losses and celebrate culture. This was highlighted during Shalom Austin’s spring events hosted by the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Jewish Culture and Education for Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.

Intergenerational Yom HaShoah Community Observance Features Education, Memorial Service and Stories of Survival
By Wendy Goodman

On May 1, hundreds of Austin community members convened at Congregation Agudas Achim to pay their respects to the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust for Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Just days after the Chabad of Poway shooting, the program stressed the importance of “never again” and coming together in the face of anti-Semitism and hateful acts against the Jewish community and beyond.

The evening began with a series of five educational electives led by local clergy and community leaders – including Rabbi Amy Cohen, Lucy Katz, Mike O'Krent and representatives from Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission and Anti-Defamation League – on topics like children of the Holocaust, the adaptation of the Holocaust in modern film, and how to interview loved ones about their Holocaust survival stories.

The memorial service included candle lighting, a powerful recitation of El Maleh Rahamim, the Mourner's Kaddish, Hatikvah, and a student presentation of original poetry.

Holocaust survivor and featured guest, Steffi Bierig, and her daughter, Debbie Rudy, shared stories of family, hardship and survival in a moderated talk with Mike O’Krent. Bierig's family escaped Nazi-occupied Germany for the United States in 1939 when Bierig was 13 years old.

Bierig described the growing anti-Semitism during her childhood.

“In the building where we lived, there was a girl about the same age as me. We would play dolls together. Once, we were going to this place to play and we were not allowed to play anymore. She was not Jewish, and I was. She wasn’t allowed to play with Jewish kids and that’s how it was,” she said.

Bierig and her parents lived through Kristallnacht, a pogrom against Jews in November 1938, by hiding out at the houses of non-Jewish friends and patients of her father’s dental practice, after they received a warning.

“The ladies would be nice and let us stay, but my father didn’t want to overdo it because he didn’t want to get them into trouble. So, we stayed for a couple hours and then leave again and go on to another situation very similar. And that’s how we spent the night until Kristallnacht was over,” she said.

Hundreds Gather for Yom HaZikaron Community Ceremony
By Wendy Goodman

On May 7, the Austin community came together to commemorate Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terror for Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. The evening began with educational classes followed by a community ceremony in the JCC Community Hall.

The ceremony included a procession of flags by Austin Post 757 Jewish War Veterans, lowering of the flag by Shay Turjeman, memorial candle lighting, the sound of the siren, choral performance by students from the Austin Jewish Academy, a personal family story shared by Dana Koren Kovatch, prayer for the state of Israel by Rabbi Kelly Levy, and Kaddish recited by Rabbi Alan Freedman.

Community members attended classes on “Experiences of a Lone Soldier” by Cantor Yitzhak Ben-Moshe, “Commemoration Through Animation: Yom HaZikaron in Film” by the Israeli American Council, “Rav Shlomo Goren and the Modern State: Rabbi, Chaplain, Trailblazer” by Rabbi Dan Millner, and “Yom HaZikaron 101” by Rabbi Rebecca Reice.

Yom HaZikaron ceremony was organized by Natalie Miller, Monica Yaniv, Rabbi Dan Millner, Shalom Austin staff, and staff and volunteers of the Israeli American Council.

Austin Community Celebrates Yom HaAtzmaut with Israeli Festival, Jewish Learning and Wine Tasting
By Wendy Goodman

Rain did not stop the celebrations for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s 71st Independence Day on May 9. The family friendly festival brought hundreds of community members to the JCC Community Hall for an afternoon of arts and crafts, Israeli food and dancing, balloon animals and other children’s activities.

Following the festival, adults and children of all ages attended a series of educational classes led by local clergy and Jewish community partners including “The Beginning of Our Redemption: The Religious Significance of the Jewish State” by Rabbi Dan Millner, “One Month After: The Israeli Election Process” by Harvey Raben, and “Relating to Israel” by Rabbi Steven Folberg.

The festivities continued with an adults-only Israeli wine tasting and trivia event. ■

For more information about the Rapoport Center and for upcoming events and programs, visit www.shalomaustin.org/rapoport.

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