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Alexandria Observes Holocaust Remembrance Day with Cautionary Eyes Toward Nationwide Antisemitic Resurgence

“To survivors of the Holocaust, the vicious attack of Hamas on October 7th brought back memories that they had spent a lifetime putting behind them.” Keynote speaker Dr. Alfred Münzer, Holocaust survivor 

ALEXANDRIA, VA – They came to gather at Market Square, 200 strong, under a gray listless sky at noon on Monday, May 6. The day was Yom HaShoah, Hebrew for Day of the Holocaust, a day to remember and mourn the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.  

People seated in an audience
Front row left to right: Bunny Chapman, Joan and Lester Edelman. Behind them, man in orange shirt is Michael Menchel, to his right Jo Ellen Frost. Behind them author Claudia Calb. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

Against a backdrop of an explosion of antisemitism that has rocked this country, Holocaust survivors (what few remain), children of Holocaust survivors, grandchildren, and community leaders and members came together for this solemn ceremony, now in its 35th year.   “This is a year like no other,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson remarked. It is his final year addressing this annual commemoration, and as he sat down days before to compose his words, the mayor looked back over all the years he has delivered this address.

 “Treating this like any normal year, I’d be ignoring what we’re all living through and what we’re experiencing as a community. I felt that would be a mistake.”  –Justin Wilson

The mayor called attention to the disturbing uptick in antisemitic acts over the past year.   

“At a time where we are experiencing an unprecedented increase in antisemitism and an unprecedented state of fear that exists among the Jewish community in our country and certainly in our community, I felt I would be remiss if I treated this like any other year for us as an observance.” 

Rabbi David Spinrad of Beth El Hebrew Congregation captured the fear and anxiety Jewish people have been experiencing since October 7.  

Ceremony of Commemmoratin of the Holocaust program
Program for the Holocaust Remembrance in Alexandria’s Market Square (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

Yom HaShoah once was and still might yet be a day to remember the six million Jews who were annihilated simply because of their existence. But as we assemble today, we must also remember our own safety and our own security from those who resent Jewish resilience and would deny Jewish self-determination.”  

Rabbi Spinrad spoke of age-old antisemitic tropes resurfacing and how hatred of Jews “assumes the shape of whatever society deems the greatest evil.”  

Man at podium speaking
Rabbi David Spinrad of Beth El Hebrew Congregation in Alexandria. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

“Sadly, hatred of Jews is a pillar of Western civilization,” the rabbi intoned. “It contends that Jews are the locus and the epitome of evil in the world. That we lurk conspiratorially in the shadows, that we are bloodthirsty and power-hungry. Of course, none of this is true.”   

Rabbi Spinrad explained how Jew-hatred shifts over the centuries. “Christianity’s deicidal accusation. Communism’s assertion that Jews are capitalism. Nazi pseudo-scientific biological racism. All of these alienated, isolated, and endangered the Jewish people.”  

Man walking away from podium into crowd
Rabbi Steven Rein of Agudas Achim Congregation speaks with participants before the ceremony begins. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

Which brings us to today. “There is a small but loud voice accusing Israel, and by proxy, the Jewish people, of today’s unpardonable sins. This loud voice has hijacked Zionism, distorting it, and misrepresenting it as racist White European settler colonialism.”   

Rabbi Spinrad continued, “It ignores the truth of Jewish indigeneity to the land and to the factual 2000-year longing to return. This loud voice has no curiosity about the way in which Zionism expresses the reality that without self-determination and without self-defense, the Jews of the world would be neither safe nor free. This includes the non white-presenting 850,000 Jews from Muslim lands who were expelled, literally overnight, from their homes in the 1950s.”  

Black and white photo of a lady looking upward standing in front of large menorah
Alexandria Living Legend (’09) Charlene Schiff was an integral part of Alexandria’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. The late Alexandria resident and Holocaust survivor donated the large brass electric candelabra that is part of the city’s annual commemoration. Schiff inspired then-Representative James Moran (D-Va.) to establish the United States’ first civic commemoration of the Days of Remembrance of the Shoah, or Holocaust. Photo: Tisara Photography

Rabbi Spinrad also addressed the Israel-Palestinian conflict. “The Palestinian people have a story too. It, too, must be heard. It, too, must be respected. The Palestinian people have a right to self-determination and to freedom. But Palestinian freedom must include Israeli security, just as Israeli security must include Palestinian freedom.”  

Man at podium with menorah
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson opens the observance. Behind him, left to right: Beth El Hebrew Congregation Cantor Jason Kaufman, Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, Keynote Speaker Dr. Alfred Münzer, Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Congressman Don Beyer. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

In 1988, Holocaust survivor and Alexandria resident Charlene Schiff convinced then-Mayor James Moran to create an annual Days of Remembrance ceremony. Our city became the first jurisdiction in the Greater Washington area to conduct a formal observance of the Holocaust.   

Woman looking solemnly at menorah
Virginia State Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker lights one of the six candles. Each candle represents one million. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

The alarm went off at 5:00 am,” Rabbi Rein of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria began. “And as usual I jumped on my bicycle towards the firehouse. I had a strange feeling when I got there. And saw many people standing in front of it.”  

Rabbi Rein was quoting the words of a German firefighter who witnessed a synagogue being burned to the ground during Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass on November 9, 1938. The fireman was forbidden to extinguish the flames.  “The night of a shattered humanity,” Rabbi Rein continued.   

“In the space of a few hours, thousands of synagogues, Jewish businesses, and homes were damaged or destroyed. Stormtroopers killed at least 91 Jews and injured many others. For the first time, Jews were arrested on a massive scale, some 30,000 transported to concentration camps. This fateful night marked an escalation of violence against Jews, not only in Germany, but also in Austria, for many civilians enthusiastically joined the Nazis terrorizing Jews.”  

Men on stage near menorah
Beth El Hebrew Congregation Cantor Jason Kaufman chants the El Maleh Rachamim, the special memorial prayer for the victims of the Holocaust. Behind him, left to right stand Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, keynote speaker Dr. Alfred Münzer, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, behind him City Councilman R. Kirk McPike, Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

Among the destroyed shops and stores was a furrier business in Vienna belonging to Rabbi Rein’s great-grandfather, Joseph. His grandmother, four years old during Kristallnacht, remembers the SS knocking on her apartment door, looking for her father. The family knew it was time to leave.  

Woman standing in a seated group
Former Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg. Photo: Judith Fogel

The family was able to escape and make the long voyage to America. Rabbi Rein’s great-grandfather was unable to escape, however, and went into hiding for eleven months until he was finally reunited with his family in New York. To this day, Rabbi Rein wonders who risked their lives to save his great-grandfather and ponders those individuals who were not just bystanders.  

Sheriff and deputies stand for photo
Heightened security in the wake of rising antisemitism as officers guarded the perimeter of Market Square during the commemoration. Left to right: Interim Police Chief Raul Pedroso, Interim Fire Chief Jim Schwartz, Alexandria Sheriff Sean Casey, Sergeant Michael Nugent, Lieutenant John East, Officer Daniel Kim. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

“Most rescuers started as bystanders, but there was a point when they decided to act. We can only imagine how the course of history would have taken shape if more individuals had been willing to make a difference on that fateful night of November 9, 1938.”  

Members of the City Council and other elected officials then lit the giant candelabra—six lights, one for each of the six million.  

Man and woman
Rabbi Rein of Agudas Achim Congregation with congregant Amy Perlman Gura. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

Dr. Alfred Münzer, keynote speaker, next rose to address the assembled crowd. A retired physician, he was born in the Netherlands during World War II. His father and two sisters perished in the Holocaust. Dr. Münzer spent the first four years of his life hidden from the Nazi occupiers by a Dutch-Indonesian family. He was reunited with his mother after the war and the pair immigrated to the US in 1958. Dr. Münzer drew parallels between the October 7 attack in southern Israel and the Holocaust of his earliest years.  

“This Yom HaShoah, especially as we see a terrifying rise in antisemitism here and abroad, is also a day to remind the world of the terrible consequences of unbridled bigotry and hate, regardless of the target,” Dr. Münzer warned.  

WOman and man
Vice Mayor Amy Jackson with keynote speaker and Holocaust survivor Dr. Alfred Münzer. Behind them left to right: Remembrance Planning Committee Chair Nancy Siegal, Rabbi Steven Rein, Agudas Achim congregants Linda and Ken Lichtman. Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty

 “And now, survivors who look to America as a place of refuge, are thrust back to the darkest days of the Nazi era by the massive vocal and physical violence directed towards Jews that we have seen on college campuses. How did sympathy for the victims of war that followed October 7th translate into a campaign directed against the Jews?”   

The City of Alexandria hosts the annual ceremony as part of the weeklong commemoration of the National Days of Remembrance, which runs from Sunday, May 5, through Sunday, May 12.   

“We are not at the point of no return, but we are past the point of remaining silent,” Rabbi Spinrad concluded. 








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