Bayonne’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Service is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17, at 6:00 p.m., in the City Council Chambers at 630 Avenue C. The event is sponsored by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation of Bayonne and the Bayonne Interfaith Clergy, and is hosted by the City of Bayonne. Mayor Mark A. Smith is the honorary chairman of the event.
The featured speaker this year is Fanya Heller. She is a Holocaust survivor, author, and educator whose life story offers hope to all who have suffered through discrimination or the horrors of war. Born into a traditional Jewish family in a small Ukrainian village in 1924, Fanya and her family hid from the Nazi death squads with the help of two Christian rescuers. Beset by hunger, marked for death by her neighbors, and faced with the constant threat of discovery and execution, she survived miraculously to share her message of life and hope.
Fanya reissued her book, Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs (Devora Publishing), in 2005. The new edition features an updated preface and epilogue which describe Fanya’s emotional reunion with the daughter of one of her rescuers, as well as some of the thousands of responses she has received from people touched by her story.
The book, a candid portrait of her family’s struggle for survival and her relationship with her Christian rescuers, is part of the curriculum of courses at Princeton University, Yale University, the University of Connecticut, and Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Fanya’s writings have also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The Jewish Week, and Jewish newspapers nationwide.
Since the original publication of her book, Fanya has dedicated her life to sharing her message of tolerance and hope with audiences, particularly inner-city teenagers. In 1998, the New York State Board of Regents awarded Fanya the Louis E. Yavner Citizen Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to teaching about the Holocaust and other assaults on humanity.
To provide educators with the tools to teach the lessons of the Holocaust effectively, Fanya also commissions an annual conference on Holocaust education, now in its eleventh year, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. The Museum’s Education Department published a Teacher’s Guide for Fanya’s book in 2007.
Based on her book, the documentary film, Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story, narrated by Richard Gere and produced by On Screen Entertainment, was released in 2010. In the film, Fanya shares her unique story with inner city teenagers. They can relate to the choices she was forced to make in the midst of horror and chaos, and find inspiration and hope in her story of survival. The film follows Fanya as she wrestles with the past and focuses on the importance of her work today. The film’s television premiere aired on THIRTEEN, the flagship public television station of the New York City tri-state area. It was broadcast nationally on PBS affiliated stations in April and May 2011. The film has been accepted into numerous film festivals, including the Staten Island Film Festival and the Miami Jewish Film Festival, and is a winner of the Silver Telly Award.
Fanya obtained a B.A. and an M.A. in Psychology from the New School for Social Research, and honorary degrees from both Yeshiva University and Bar-Ilan University. She has also studied Art History at Columbia University, Philosophy and Literature at the New School for Social Research, and Family Therapy at the Ackerman Institute for the Family.
In 1998, she established The Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Center for the Study of Women in Judaism at Bar-Ilan University, a unique academic initiative that employs an interdisciplinary approach to an examination of the female Jewish identity within the context of the social, cultural, and religious history of the Jewish people.
At the service, prayers and reflections will be offered by Jewish and Christian clergymen. Rabbi Gordon Gladstone of Temple Beth Am and Rabbi Clifford Miller of Temple Emanu-El will take part, as will Father Gregory Perez of Trinity Episcopal Parish in Bergen Point, Father George Greiss of Sts. Anthony and Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church, and Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Donato, the Pastor of St. Henry Roman Catholic Church.
Mayor Mark A. Smith and other elected officials will present proclamations and offer brief remarks. Members of Bayonne’s veterans’ groups will carry the colors and the banners of their posts. Bayonne students will also participate in the processional.
Hara Benjamin-Garritano will sing Hatikvah. Caryl vanBaaren will sing the Star-Spangled Banner and will present an additional song for the program. Joyce Nestle will serve as accompanist.
The event will include a candle-lighting ceremony in which Holocaust survivors and Jewish community leaders will take part.
The winner of the Holocaust essay contest at Bayonne High School will read from the essay and will receive an award sponsored by the Preminger and Epstein families.
For more than three decades, this memorial program has taken place in the City Council Chambers at 630 Avenue C, Bayonne. The public is invited to attend.