Great Neck synagogues mark Yom Hashoah at Village Green Park

Great Neck synagogues mark Yom Hashoah at Village Green Park
Mike Delafraz, a member of the Sephardic Heritage Alliance Inc., served as master of ceremonies for Sunday's Yam Hashoah event in Great Neck. (Photo by Samuel Glasser)

By Samuel Glasser

The observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Great Neck is usually held in synagogues, but on Sunday the community started what is intended to be a new tradition — an outdoor public ceremony at Village Green Park.

Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as Yom Hashoah in Hebrew, commemorates the  six million Jews murdered during the Nazi occupation of Europe and the Soviet Union during World War II.

Iranian-born Mike Delafraz, a member of the Sephardic Heritage Alliance Inc. who served as master of ceremonies, said it was felt that marking the day with a public ceremony would bring the entire community together.

Delafraz said the idea sprouted about two months ago during a meeting of the Men’s Club at the Sephardic congregation Ahavat Shalom. Ultimately, 17 other Great Neck congregations and Jewish organizations signed on as sponsors and received support from other groups, including the Great Neck Chinese Association, the Great Neck Fire Department and the Nassau County Police Department.

While the Holocaust was largely centered in Europe, the participation of the Sephardic Jews, who come from the Middle East, North Africa, Spain and Italy, in the event should not be seen as unusual, Delafraz said.

“Many Jews from Arab countries were also persecuted during the war,” he said. “Bottom line: We are all brothers and what affects one, affects all.”

Hooshang Nematzadeh, the former president of the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce, said that when he was growing up in Iran, the Holocaust was commemorated in every synagogue.

Nematzadeh said that it seems today as if history is repeating itself — the world is indifferent to the atrocities of the Islamic State group in the Middle East, just as it was indifferent to the persecution of the Jews in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Great Neck Village Mayor Pedram Bral said, “after the world said ‘never again,’ anti-Semitism has returned. Why is it back 70 years later? Like any virus it mutates and takes different names,” such as with the vilification of the state of Israel.

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) told the crowd that as a student at Chaminade High School, a Catholic boys school, he read Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” which described Frankl’s ordeal in the concentration camps.

“I asked how was it possible that people could be so cruel and inhumane and, now as an older man, I see how it is possible,” Suozzi said.

He pledged to support Israel and said he was one of approximately 160 members of Congress of both parties who recently urged President Donald Trump to fill the State Department’s now-vacant office of the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.

Another speaker, Andrew Gross, an adviser to the consul general of Israel, said the safety of the Jewish people is strong when the state of Israel is strong.

“The state of Israel will not tolerate anti-Semitism,” Gross said.

Yom Hashoah is a national holiday in Israel. When air raid sirens sound, the entire country comes to a halt and everyone stands for two minutes of silence. In Great Neck on Sunday, at the appointed hour, Fire Department sirens wailed for two minutes as people stood silently.

Six candles were lit, each memorializing a million souls. Lighting one candle were Nathan Fong and Ke Wei, co-presidents of the Great Neck Chinese Association, along with Great Neck school board candidate Jeff Shi.

“It is important to remember we come from different groups, we live in the same community and it is important to realize that we support each other,” Fong said.

Other speakers included Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, whose parents survived the Holocaust, and Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck).

They said that legislation was enacted at the town and county levels to push back against the boycott and divestment movement against Israel.

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