Burbank Religious and Community Leaders Gather for Holocaust Remembrance

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Holocaust survivor Judy Mines, flanked by Liam and Micah Dvir with event chair Leeron Tal at the podium, prepares to light the first memorial candle at Day of Remembrance event.

In a sign of turbulent times, heightened security measures were in place at Thursday night’s interfaith community gathering at Burbank Temple Emanu-El. The event, held on May 16th, aimed to commemorate the Holocaust and honor the memories of those lost to historical atrocities.

Despite the need for security, more than 100 attendees joined Days of Remembrance, an event sponsored by the Burbank Human Relations Council. The gathering emphasized hope, unity and the crucial role of historical memory in preventing future atrocities.

Rabbi Tsafi Lev of Temple Emanu-El underscored the gathering’s theme. “Let us be united by the simple truth that every life is precious,” he declared, calling on attendees to resist divisive forces and recognize the inherent value in all human beings.

Suzanne Weerts, BHRC Board Vice President, warmly welcomed attendees on behalf of BHRC, setting the stage for a richly diverse program that included prayers in English and Hebrew, musical interludes, memorial candle lighting, and a keynote presentation. The evening was expertly orchestrated by Burbank Temple Emanu-El Kohenet Miki Raver, who not only opened and closed the program but also played a pivotal role in shaping the event in collaboration with the organizational committee. The committee, chaired by Leeron Tal and comprising Susan Grodsky, Joanne Kapetansky, Beth Marcus, and Orit Yefet, contributed significantly to the evening’s success. A standout moment was the powerful Holocaust storytelling initiative, “If You Heard What I Heard,” presented by Dena Grimshaw and Melissa Wasserman.

Grimshaw, Title I Coordinator at Dolores Huerta Middle School, shared the harrowing survival stories of her four grandparents, all Holocaust survivors. Particularly moving was the tale of her grandmother, Miriam Bell, a founder of the Holocaust Museum L.A., who survived a near-fatal encounter with Nazi soldiers thanks to a compassionate soldier who knew her father.

The program also featured deeply moving musical performances by pianist Rhonda Kess, cantorial soloist Rena Strober, and temple member Ilene Dickman. The memorial candle lighting ceremony was a poignant moment, with seven candles lit—one for each of the six million Jews and a seventh for non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and other ethnic cleansings.

The discussion was emotionally charged and tackled difficult topics, yet it concluded with an uplifting sense of hope for the future. Leaders from Westminster Presbyterian Church, St. Finbar Catholic Church, First Christian Church of Burbank, Temple Beth Emet, and the North Hollywood Church of Latter Day Saints, among others, came together in a powerful moment of unity. They joined voices in the Jewish Prayer for the World, which starts with a call for renewal: “Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds, held and nurtured over generations.” This shared invocation encapsulated a collective aspiration for healing and peace.

Diana Abasta, a BHRC board member and retired English teacher from Burbank High School, captured the solemnity of the occasion. “Many people want to avoid what is sad, but we need to hear these stories and share these experiences with our young people.”

The event also resonated with Reverend Paul Clairville of Westminster Presbyterian Church, who revealed a personal connection to the historical events through his uncle, an anti-Nazi spy during World War II. He emphasized the value of unity and regular, informal interactions in fostering understanding, “Whether over coffee or a beer, these moments can clear away so much misunderstanding,” he observed.

Security at Temple Emanu-El has been heightened for over a year due to rising antisemitism, as temple officials noted. The urgency of these measures was highlighted in November 2023 when the temple was defaced with a swastika and an Iron Cross. The vandalism, believed to have been perpetrated by a transient, underscored the ongoing challenges faced by the Jewish community. For more details on the incident, visit MyBurbank.com and read the article “Burbank Police Department Seeks Suspect in Antisemitic Vandalism.”

In attendance were local leaders including Burbank Vice Mayor Nikki Perez, Senator Anthony Portantino, and representatives from the offices of Senator Caroline Menjivar and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman. Also present were retired Burbank Assistant City Manager Judie Wilkie and Burbank Planning Commissioner Christopher Rizzotti, both of whom have announced their candidacies for Burbank City Council in the upcoming November election.

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