A crowd of East Bay Jews gathered in front Oakland’s Home of Eternity Jewish Cemetery on Saturday in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. (Photo/Courtesy Nicki Gilbert)
A crowd of East Bay Jews gathered in front Oakland’s Home of Eternity Jewish Cemetery on Saturday in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. (Photo/Courtesy Nicki Gilbert)

‘Never Again’ walk in East Bay honors Holocaust survivors, protests antisemitism

A crowd of East Bay Jews gathered outside the gates of Oakland’s Home of Eternity Jewish Cemetery in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day Saturday, some of them holding yellow balloons — symbols of hope that the 136 hostages still being held captive by Hamas in Gaza will return home safely.

The evening event, titled “Never Again Is Now,” honored and remembered the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and also called attention to the atrocities of Oct. 7 in Israel and the recent spike in antisemitism in the Bay Area and around the world.

“International Holocaust Remembrance Day is our day not only to remember — it is our day to remind the whole world how fast things can go tragically wrong. It is time to act and bring our community together,” Aliza Grayevsky Somekh, an Israeli catering business owner and the lead organizer of the event, told the crowd.

Sage Gilbert, a 12th-grader at Piedmont High School and president of the school’s Jewish Student Union, recited the poem “Our Town Is Burning” by Mordechai Gebirtig, a Yiddish folk poet and songwriter who was killed by Nazis in Krakow in 1942.

Holding candles and Israeli flags, the group of about 100 walked from the cemetery down Piedmont Avenue, ending at Pomella, an Israeli-owned restaurant that has become an impromptu meeting place for Jewish community members in the wake of Oct. 7, and has also been targeted with anti-Israel phone calls, emails and online reviews, resulting in a drop in business, chef and owner Mica Talmor told J. The crowd grew to nearly 200 by the end of the roughly mile-long walk for peace.

At Pomella, Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham, a Conservative synagogue in Oakland, led a Havdalah service with Rabbi Gershon Albert from Beth Jacob Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Oakland. NCSY youth director Tani Polansky accompanied them.

Bloom described the emotion of the evening to J. as having “a lot of camaraderie and understanding and sympathy and togetherness.”

During the walk toward Pomella, he said, there was one detractor, a driver who yelled out his window “‘F– Israel’ at us multiple times,” Bloom said, noting that it was otherwise a quiet and peaceful walk.

A crowd of East Bay Jews gathered in front Oakland’s Home of Eternity Jewish Cemetery on Saturday in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. (Photo/Julie Reichle for Piedmont Exedra)
A crowd of East Bay Jews gathered in front Oakland’s Home of Eternity Jewish Cemetery on Saturday in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27. (Photo/Julie Reichle for Piedmont Exedra)

Two Holocaust survivors, Sanne DeWitt, 89, and Magda Silberman, 95, came to share their memories of enduring the Holocaust as young girls.

DeWitt, a member of Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, was 4 years old when she was smuggled from Germany to Holland, and then traveled by ferry to England, eventually ending up in the south of Wales.

“Courage is in the DNA of the Jewish people,” DeWitt said. “Just as we rose after the Holocaust, we will rise again.”

Silberman, 95, was a teenager from Pavlovo, Czechoslovakia, when she was taken to Auschwitz in April 1944. She told the crowd how she was forced to sort through the belongings of murdered Jews. Silberman survived a death march in January 1945, according to her oral history interview housed in a collection at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum.

“Never give up hope, value family and good friends, and keep the story of the survivors alive,” Silberman told the crowd. “The second and third generation must continue the work of telling the stories of survivors.”

Bloom echoed that call, telling J. that there were about 20 Holocaust survivors in his congregation when he first took the pulpit at Temple Beth Abraham in 2001. Today there are only two.

The event was financially supported by Eileen Ruby, board chair of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and organized by members of the Piedmont Jewish community.

“‘Never Again Is Now’ means that in this moment we must stand together, we must show up for each other in whatever ways we can,” Donna Friedman Meir, a Piedmont resident who helped organize the event, told the crowd. “Support local Jewish and Israeli businesses, show up when advocacy is needed, be good neighbors, check in with one another, and educate the next generation.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.