Nancy Rounsefell tries to attend the Yom HaShoah Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in Baton Rouge every year.
Rounsefell, a member of Congregation B’nai Israel, said her reasons for participating in the annual event extend beyond remembering the 6 million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust.
“This is a world tragedy,” she said. “It’s not just the Jewish people who feel the tragedy. There were other people who were not Jewish who were killed also. We include them in our remembrance.”
Rounsefell and about 60 other people gathered Sunday at Congregation B’nai Israel for a Yom HaShoah ceremony co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge and The Advocate’s Educational Services Department.
“It’s important to remember the people who passed away, who were killed, and how much they contributed to their community, to the world,” Rounsefell said.
Jonathan Kaplan, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, said the service teaches messages of tolerance of all people so a Holocaust won’t happen again.
Originally, only the Jewish community would participate in Yom HaShoah, Kaplan said.
However, Kaplan said, the Jewish community later realized that the lessons learned from the Holocaust are “pervasive throughout the entire community.”
“That’s why we started incorporating the non-Jewish community to come and be part of it as well, so that they can learn from the importance of diversity and tolerance so that the Holocaust or a similar type of thing doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Congregation B’nai Israel and Beth Shalom Synagogue rotate hosting duties each year for the Baton Rouge ceremony, Kaplan said.
The commemoration began Sunday with a speech about bullying from Donald Hoppe, a clinical and forensic psychologist who studies bullying culture.
The theme of the Jewish Federation’s Yom HaShoah student essay and art contest was bullying as it relates to the Holocaust.
Hoppe spoke at length about recognizing bullying and ways to prevent it.
Hoppe said bullying isn’t limited to schools. It can extend to families, corporations, societies and countries.
“We find that kids that come from families that are non-traditional or have different values or different religions or cultural backgrounds — those kids are more likely to be bullied, because somehow they appear to be different,” he said.
After Hoppe’s speech, members of the congregation lit six yellow candles in honor of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
“As we light these candles, try to imagine 6 million candles, each one with the name of another Jew,” one of the candle lighters, Michelle Levy, read aloud from a prayer.
Rabbi Jordan Goldson, of Congregation B’nai Israel, and Rabbi Tom Gardner, of Beth Shalom, then led the crowd in a series of prayers and chants about the Jews’ struggles during the Holocaust.
“Let a new light shine on our people,” Goldson said. “May the survivors of the Shoah find peace, no longer plagued by nightmares.”
At the end of the event, Advocate Educational Services manager Steve Fitzgerald announced the Jewish Federation of Greater Baton Rouge’s Holocaust essay and art contest winners.
Local elementary, middle and high school students wrote essays and created pieces of art about the dangers of bullying.
The essay winners were Annabelle Poissot, a third-grade student at Oak Grove Primary School, and Rachel Yura, an eight-grader at Runnels School.
Georgia Neka White, a Westdale Middle School student, won the art competition.