These are the statistics, but they do not begin to come close to tell the story of what our community experienced on Saturday, January 26 and Sunday, January 27 at Pasadena City Hall.
In the last few months, you may have seen or heard about Every Person Has a Name, our community’s remembrance event that was held to commemorate UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was an opportunity for our community to remember the lives lost during the Holocaust on a day other than Yom HaShoah.
When my staff and I decided the Jewish Federation would be coordinating this program, I knew that I needed to be there for the entire 25 hours. People, including my staff, told me I was crazy or couldn’t believe I was going to do it, but, I felt in my core that it was something I had to do. I think this feeling was the same thing many of our volunteers felt about wanting and needing to be a part of this program.
As I sat, watching and listening to community members read the names of those who were murdered during the Holocaust, along with where and when they were born, where and when they were murdered, and how old they were, I was overwhelmed at how impactful this was for everyone involved. You could see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. It was as if each volunteer felt it was their personal responsibility to help keep the memory of each person alive. You could almost see the sheer weight of the moment on their shoulders.
I was also able to comprehend it when the volunteers were done reading, as I approached them to express my appreciation for their participation. On too many occasions to account, they thanked me and the Jewish Federation for allowing them to participate. As one person shared, “It was a wonderful way for me to connect with the past, to remember, to feel, to reflect. There is something different saying a name than just reading it. The sound gives it life.”
Survivors read the names of family members they lost. Parents read with their children by their side, the names of children, many the same age as their own, as they fought back tears. And so many others just wanted to make sure they pronounced the names correctly, because as one person shared, “because it is all we have.”
For many, this event allowed them to feel like they were doing something to help. “I felt as though each time I read a name I brought that person to life for just a few seconds; and in so doing, honored their precious time on this earth that was a blessing.”
These feelings were not isolated only to our volunteers, but also for the community members who came because it “felt like it was their duty to be there.” During the 24 hours names were shared, there was never a time that people were not reading to at least one person. Volunteers arrived early, or lingered after they read. Community members stopped by to sit, listen and reflect. Someone shared that it felt like we were “standing on holy ground.” It was as if by being there, people were helping all of us remember and keep the memory alive of everyone we lost.
Twenty-five hours. One hundred thirty-seven volunteers and 6,767 names.
May their memory be forever a blessing.
JASON MOSS is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the GREATER san gabriel and pomona valleys.