Marinites gather to remember, dedicate scroll of names

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They came to honor the dead so no one would ever forget. But they spoke of a brighter future.

Marin County Jews, many of them imbued with renewed purpose from a group trip to Israel two years ago, gathered last week at the Marin Jewish Community Center complex to observe Yom HaShoah, the annual Holocaust remembrance.

From the reception at San Rafael's Congregation Rodef Sholom to the service at the adjoining MJCC, a feeling that life continues, good champions over evil, and Marin's Jewish community is stronger than ever prevailed throughout the evening.

Unlike many Yom HaShoah services, no one recited vividly detailed testimony of the atrocities visited upon the 6 million Jews or the survivors.

But the event did not gloss over those memories either. The event concluded with rededication of a community Holocaust scroll, which now has a permanent home at the MJCC. And it honored those who survived.

In the congregation's brick and wood-paneled reception hall, Regina Heitner balanced a cup of tea and recalled working 10 hours a day in a linen factory at the Oberalstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

"There wasn't enough food," said Heitner, 75, of San Rafael. "If we were given meat, we were given horsemeat and we all came back sick."

Alice Boddy of Greenbrae was luckier. She escaped the Nazis via the Kindertransport, an underground chain of people who smuggled young Jews from Europe.

Boddy, 71, remembered the day Hitler invaded Vienna. She was attending the opera with her schoolmates. "I came out [of the theater] and grew up in a hurry," she said.

Ida Gelbart's most profound memory of the Holocaust was that of her sister leaving a death camp and joining Gelbart at a labor camp in Parschnitz, Czechoslovakia. "I never thought it would happen," said Gelbart, 70. "This is how she survived."

After the reception, the small gathering repaired to the MJCC's Hoytt Auditorium, where they joined about 200 people for the service. A mournful solo violin playing shtetl music greeted guests in the auditorium's spartan surroundings as lights dimmed slightly.

The 35-minute service, delivered by young and old, combined poems, speeches, songs and prayer.

Rabbi Lavey Derby of Tiburon's Congregation Kol Shofar talked of "the hope which flickered in the dark catastrophe" while Kol Shofar Cantor David Margules sang (from "Ani Maamin"), "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining."

The choir of San Rafael's Brandeis Hillel Day School sang "Dona, Dona" and Ron Mogel, MJCC executive director, led the candlelighting ceremony. Rabbis Michael Barenbaum and Stacey Laveson of Rodef Sholom led the Kaddish.

The group then filed out row by row to a corner outside the auditorium's entrance. Jeanette Kadesh, a clinical social worker with JFCS' Marin office, carried a scroll with the names of Holocaust victims to the corner, where the crowd gathered to rededicate it.

It was the scroll and its names, gathered at the behest of Marin residents, that lent focus to this year's service.

The idea originated when a coalition of representatives from Marin Jewish organizations visited a kibbutz in Israel two years ago.

The group met with kibbutz resident Aryeh Ben-Gurion, nephew of David Ben-Gurion. He showed them a similar scroll and monument to Holocaust victims.

"We all felt moved and stirred by his passion, which he shared — the need to record the life events of the community and loved ones who perished in the community," said Kadesh.

The group returned from Israel intent on creating a similar scroll. Wendy Henerlau of Petaluma collected the names on a database.

"It's one thing to read about people's stories in a book," said Henerlau, who works for JFCS. "It's another thing when it's in their own handwriting. It puts honors to the memory, and it gives honor and life to the memories of people we don't have."

The coalition agreed to store the scroll, finished a year ago, at Rodef Sholom in a covered ark, but the group recently decided to give it a more public home.

The coalition, which sponsored the service, includes Kol Shofar, Rodef Sholom, the MJCC, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Jewish Community Relations Council, JFCS and Brandeis Hillel.

At the service, Kadesh handed the scroll to Barenbaum, who placed it in a glass-doored case, lined with teal velvet.

The group joined arms and spontaneously sang Israel's national anthem, "Hatikva," slowly rocking back and forth. Just as spontaneously, it broke out into a joyous rendition of "Am Yisrael Chai."

"It's wonderful to have the scroll," the MJCC's Mogel said. "It's important to remember and have hope for the future. This is a strong vibrant community that lives here."