by Sharon Levy (Chair of Dundee Synagogue) and Bill Shackman
This year, Burns Night in Dundee was extra special. Not only were we able to come together as a community, but we were also able to welcome guests from Denmark, Canada, and Japan to a dinner at Dundee Synagogue on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, the national commemoration of which this year takes place in Dundee.
Warmed by lovely food organised in our newly refurbished kitchen, we were treated to an insightful reflection by Rabbi Bent Melchior, the former Chief Rabbi of Denmark, who, despite his advanced age, stood up in front of our community and guests, and elaborated on the theme of the 2012 memorial event: "Speak Up – Speak out". His powerful speech, laced with optimism, humour, and profound wisdom, touched us all, and provided an opportunity to reflect on our role as a small Jewish community at the heart of Dundee, the City of Discovery.
Next we were invited to share some intimate memories of George Brady, a Holocaust survivor living in Canada, who gave us a personal account of his life as a young boy under Nazi occupation, and his memories of his sister Hana, heroine of the acclaimed film Inside Hana's Suitcase.
The story of Hana, a 13 year old girl who was brutally murdered in Auschwitz, and the path to discovering her past, was beautifully told by Fumiko Ishioka, who is at the heart of the quest to bring lessons from the Holocaust to Japanese school children. This was followed by an invigorating conclusion from George's daughter Lara, who reminded us that the passage of time dims the memory of the Holocaust, and asserted the role of education in gathering the personal stories of survivors, and of sharing the lessons with young people across the globe.
It was a profoundly moving yet joyful evening, spent amongst old and new friends of Dundee Hebrew Congregation, and we would like to thank SCoJeC for their support and help, and also key staff at Faith in Community Scotland and the Scottish Interfaith Council, who worked with us to make it such a success.
The following day, Dundee Synagogue opened its doors again, this time to the wider community, to share not only memories of the Holocaust, but also information about Judaism in Scotland today.
More than fifty people joined a tour of the synagogue led by Paul Spicker (former Chair of both Dundee Synagogue and of SCoJeC) who explained the different features of the building, and showed them a Torah scroll from the Ark. Most of those present had never been to a synagogue before, and were excited to learn more about the experience of being Jewish. One participant remarked "I've walked past this building so many times and have always wondered what goes on inside".
After the tour, visitors heard a presentation from Sharon Levy and his teenage daughter Tamara, who shared their family's experience of the Holocaust. Growing up in Israel he had been surrounded by memories of Holocaust survivors although his mother was, until recently, reluctant to talk about her own experiences. Tamara spoke emotionally about her recent trip to Poland, organised by UJIA to teach teenagers about the Holocaust, and showed pictures of the concentration camps, now thronging with young people eager to learn the lessons of history, and emphasised that we must learn to face the horrors that intolerance and indifference can lead to, in order to prevent them from happening again.