Annual Memorial Program Suddenly Has Current Relevance

November 13, 2023

For the past generation, First Parish in Bedford, Unitarian Universalist, and the Bedford Jewish Community have partnered to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht with a solemn ceremony in front of the church on the Common.

Last Thursday’s ceremony was also about current events. As Rabbi Susan Abramson of Bedford said, it was “not only a memorial but a horrible recurring nightmare. Our hearts have been broken once again.”

Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) took place in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9, 1938. Nazis and their sympathizers torched hundreds of synagogues, vandalized numerous Jewish homes, schools and businesses, and murdered 100 Jews. The pogrom is regarded by historians as the first state-sponsored terrorism of what became known as the Holocaust.

Fast-forward 85 years and Jews in Israel and worldwide are still stunned by the Oct. 7 murder and mutilation of more than 1,200 Israeli Jews and the abduction of more than 200 others.

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The organizers of the Bedford ceremony, Rabbi Abramson, who leads Congregation Shalom Emeth in Burlington, and the Rev. Jamie Hinson-Rieger of First Parish, delivered a clear message: even while mourning the loss of all innocent lives, hatred, bigotry and terrorism are unacceptable.

The event reflected an interfaith effort, with participation by several local faith leaders: the Rev. John Castricum of the First Church of Christ, Congregational; the Rev. Chris Wendell of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; the Rev. Alexx Wood of Carleton-Willard Village; and the Rev. Scott Robertson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Billerica. Dr. Phyllis Landman represented the Bedford Jewish Community group.

This was Hinson-Rieger’s first Kristallnacht commemoration in Bedford, and he cited the relevance to recent happening in his opening comments. 

Abramson expanded on the reference. What was “a sad and distant reminder” has been thrust into the horror of current events, as “the scab of unremitting hatred has reopened.” 

The rabbi declared that “Jews need your support, not political debate. We need the unquestioned support of our friends and allies in the face of terrorism and antisemitism, of bigotry, hatred, and evil.” And she lamented the “deaths of innocents,” which daily “makes our hearts even heavier.”

State Rep. Kenneth Gordon, who has spoken at the commemoration for most of his years in the State House, also addressed the theme of unity in confronting hate. 

Staff Photo Wayne Braverman

The post-Holocaust promise of “never again” can be reflected today with support and compassion, he said: “Never again will our friends and neighbors desert us.”

“In the face of evil, it is the lives of the victims that we want to reach, without conditions,” he continued. “Let’s hope that ‘never again’ will our friends and neighbors turn their backs on any group because of the actions of a few,” he stated.

Resident Todd Bressler, who helped mobilize fellow Bedford Jews to turn out for the commemoration, also was a speaker on the agenda.

“As reasonable people, I’m sure most of us agree on four things. Oct. 7 was a terrorist attack, unjustifiable and indefensible. Israel has a right to exist. Palestine also has a right to exist. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a tragedy,” Bressler enumerated. Then he said, “Focusing on the last two, without loudly and clearly and just as passionately affirming the first two, is implicitly antisemitic.”

“We are here tonight to stand against antisemitism, hatred, and terror,” he continued. “We must stand up for each other. We must stand together. We must lift each other up.”

Woven into the program were appropriate musical selections. Ben Silver, cantorial soloist at Shalom Emeth, opened with “I Still Believe,” adapted from Anne Frank’s Diary, and closed with “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” a message of peace in both Hebrew and Arabic. And between two of the speakers, Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang’s violin solo was the theme from the film “Schindler’s List” by John Williams.

Following a group recitation of the traditional Hebrew prayer said by mourners, several people lit memorial candles and, led by Silver, sang Israel’s national anthem, which in English is titled “The Hope.”

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November 14, 2023 12:54 am

Kristallnacht and the Holocaust – and Oct 7th – should never have happened and we must all be diligent to ensure they never happen again. I just have a hard time believing some of the things said here are heartfelt beliefs.

Specifically, one of the people quoted here told me razing Gaza to the ground and making it into a seaside resort was the most peaceful path forward. I really wish I was making that up, but I’m not.

Even if it was said in jest (I don’t think it was), it was such a stunningly heartless thing to say that it’s made me wonder how many more of my neighbors feel similarly but don’t say so out loud, or who say something publicly that’s more broadly acceptable while feeling this way privately.

I hope someday it will be universally unthinkable that Kristallnacht could happen again. I hope those who lost loved ones on 10/7 will find peace and the hostages will come home safely. And I hope those justifiably horrified and enraged by what Hamas did can still find real compassion for the innocent Palestinians in all this.

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