August 19, 2019

San Diego Victims Mourned at L.A. Yom HaShoah Ceremony

Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler shares her story at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ 2019 Yom HaShoah ceremony. Photo by Ryan Torok

Gathering April 28 to commemorate the Holocaust, elected officials, rabbis and community leaders spoke of how the anti-Semitism of the Shoah reared its head at Chabad of Poway last Shabbat on the final day of Passover. During the attack, a 19-year-old allegedly gunned down 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounded 57-year-old Senior Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, 8-year-old Noya Dahan and her 34-year-old uncle, Almog Peretz.

“We know this is a heavy day to gather,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said inside a tent erected at Pan Pacific Park. “There have been too many heavy days recently … as we remember Lori Gilbert-Kaye, an Eshet Chayil (woman of valor) as one of her friends called her, a woman who literally took a bullet for her rabbi, as hatred we just don’t remember in the past but live with in the present surrounds us.”

Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President and CEO Jay Sanderson lead the estimated 1,000 attendees in a moment of silence for Gilbert-Kaye. He spoke about the impact of the shooting and urged people to show strength in the face of adversity. “The hatred that caused the Shoah is a hatred that still flickers in certain corners of the world,” Sanderson said. “We have to stand strong on days like today.”

Stephen Wise Temple Senior Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback said people could not undo the hatred of the distant past, “nor the past of yesterday just a few hours drive from this spot.”

State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, recalled visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau two decades ago as a college student. The “hallowed, ghost-filled grounds” of the concentration camp continues to haunt communities, from Charlottesville to Poway, he said. “I can’t quite believe the dark fire that led our people down those train tracks into those chambers still has a flicker in some of our most beautiful cities.”

From right: L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Beth Kean, executive director of L.A. Museum of the Holocaust and Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance, attended the ceremony. Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

Holocaust survivor Eva Brettler, 82, spoke of her childhood in Romania and the numerous challenges she experienced during the Shoah, including having her grandmother taken away, hiding in the woods as a child, and her own imprisonment in the Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.

“I make a point of sharing my story for multiple reasons,” Brettler said. “I put tremendous emphasis on education. That’s one thing no one can take away from you.”

After the April 27 shooting, Adeena Bleich, deputy chief of staff for L.A. city councilmember David Ryu, said she was concerned about congregating with other Jews for Yom HaShoah. Ultimately, her commitment to Jewish community won out, she said.

“It was the first time in my life that I was afraid to attend a Jewish community event,” Bleich said in an email. “But then I thought about my two young children and the work we do in the city council office every day to make Los Angeles safe for all, and I realized that that fear I felt was exactly the reason I needed to show up to a commemoration of the Shoah — so that those trying to harm us and scare us with hate and discrimination don’t ever gain power.”