‘Music for Hope’ to mark 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht
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‘Music for Hope’ to mark 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht

River Edge Commemoration to combine music, stories, and memory

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Dr. Joseph Toltz, left, and Cantor Ronit Josephson

One of the most poignant – and effective – ways to memorialize something is through music, says Dr. Joseph Toltz, associate researcher and lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney.

“We keep memories alive best through cultural activities,” he said, noting that both Jews and non-Jews use song and musical memory to commemorate past events, either good or bad.

On November 10, Toltz and Cantor Ronit Josephson of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge will harness the power of music to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Calling the concert “a dignified way to remember what happened during that time,” Toltz noted that Kristallnacht – the Nazi pogrom that took place in November 1938 – is now generally regarded as the beginning of the Holocaust.

The program, “Music for Hope,” will combine music, stories, and memories, Toltz said. Over the past 15 years, he has interviewed more than 100 survivors, recording songs they remembered from the concentration camps. Those songs will be featured throughout the evening.

“Memorial services help survivors build a community within the wider Jewish community,” he said, pointing out that many survivors felt isolated and abandoned in the wake of the Shoah. “They need to feel like a part of their own community.” In addition, with the number of survivors shrinking each year, “we’re in the 59th minute of the 11th hour. I think that young people want to know what happened to their grandparents, to keep the memory alive.”

Toltz is uniquely qualified to showcase the music of the Holocaust. After writing his doctoral dissertation on “Hidden Testimony: Musical Experience and Memory in Jewish Holocaust survivors,” he served as the Barbara and Richard Rosenberg Fellow in the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, researching musical testimony recordings from Dr. David Boder’s 1946 project in the postwar DP camps in Europe.

A professional singer, for 13 years Toltz was the cantor and director of pastoral care at Australia’s Emanuel Synagogue.

For the November 10 program, Toltz has compiled music from a variety of sources, while Josephson has put together both adult and children’s vocal ensembles. The evening also will include performances by flutist Annette Lieb and violinist Tamara Freeman.

“The music ranges across the whole period, from the rise of the Nazis in 1933 to the liberation of camps and survivor songs commemorating communities and history,” Toltz said. One of the works, written in occupied Prague as a musical protest against the German invasion, integrates Czech folk melodies. Much of the music to be featured comes from Terezin.

“Terezin had a dynamic and engaged cultural program, run by the Jewish inmates for their fellows,” Toltz said. “We will see some actual footage from ghetto performances as well as survivor testimony about musical experiences.”

The musician also will introduce four Yiddish songs compiled by Yehuda Eisman in the songbook “Mima’amakim” (Out of the Depths), printed in Bucharest in June 1945.

“It’s the first-ever Holocaust songbook,” he said. “The songs don’t appear in other anthologies of Holocaust material. They are very poignant and moving, and this may be the first time they have been sung in public since publication.”

Josephson said she “can’t wait” to work with Toltz. “I expect to learn a lot,” she said, pointing out that Toltz selected the music. “While the melodic line of many of the songs is familiar, the arrangements are very different. It brings another aspect to it – very haunting.”

In addition to the synagogue’s adult and children’s choirs, Josephson may have her seventh-grade Hebrew school students sing as well.

“This year, I’m teaching them about the Holocaust,” she said. “We’re covering Kristallnacht now. It’s a good way to engage them and make them understand a bit better.”

Josephson said that while past Yom HaShoah programs attracted mostly older congregants, “This time we’re trying to make it more inclusive, to get people of all ages. The number of older people – witnesses, survivors – is dwindling. There won’t be anyone to tell the tale.” That, she said, is why it is so important to integrate the testimony of survivors into the program.

“We want people to understand that the world has not learned [from the past] and that atrocities are happening as we speak,” she said.

“When people start to forget or deny the Holocaust, that is scary. Every Jew needs to see this – and to be affected by the music and testimony.”

The program, free and open to the public, will begin at 3 p.m. For more information, call the synagogue, (201) 489-2463.

Information
Who: Dr. Joseph Toltz and Cantor Ronit Josephson

What: Presenting “Music for Hope” – Commemorating the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht

Where: Temple Avodath Shalom, 385 Howland Ave., River Edge

When: November 10 at 3 p.m.

Why: The music was written or arranged by inmates and survivors of ghettos, from 1933 to 1945.

How: For more information on the free commemoration, call the shul at 201-489-2463.

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