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On night to remember history, synagogue discusses more recent horror

11/07/2018 5:59 AM |

Last Friday evening at North Fork Reform Synagogue in Cutchogue was set aside as both a Sabbath service and a memorial to Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, an anti-Jewish pogrom that occurred 80 years ago this week. 

On the nights of Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, Nazi supporters backed by the government beat and killed Jews, set nearly 300 synagogues ablaze and destroyed or damaged thousands of Jewish-owned businesses in Germany and Austria. Some historians of the era estimate that as many as 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to newly established concentration camps.

Broken glass littered streets in small towns and big cities across both countries. Synagogues lay in smoldering ruins. Historians said these two nights in Germany were a major step toward what would later be called the Holocaust, the extermination of the Jews in countries controlled or overrun by the Germans during World War II.

Student Rabbi Danielle Weisbrot said the Friday night Sabbath service was set aside to honor the victims of Kristallnacht and its historic importance as an opening act to the industrialized mass murders that were to follow.

Then, events closer to home got in the way: the murder of 11 men and women inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh during a Sabbath service Oct. 27.

“This was always going to be about those nights in Germany 80 years ago,” Ms. Weisbrot said. “That’s how this started. Unfortunately, we had to make an addition to the program.”

North Fork Reform Synagogue holds its services inside Cutchogue Presbyterian Church, which was established in the early 1700s as the settlement of Southold spread west from its beginnings in the area around what is today the First Presbyterian Church in Southold. Many of its founding families have descendants who are still church members.

For the Presbyterian and Jewish congregations, this is now home, a shared space that feels historic to both groups. On Friday night, in response to events in Pittsburgh, a Southold Town police officer stood by the entrance.

The 8 p.m. service began with a welcome from Ms. Weisbrot, after which the congregation of about 60 people read a prayer that began, “We stand in grief with the devastated families in Pittsburgh, in our nation and throughout the Jewish community. We weep over the incomprehensible loss of life.”

Part-time Mattituck resident Margo Lowry, who was born in Poland and is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, read a brief history of Kristallnacht.

“I came to talk about history — and look what we are remembering now,” she said.

After Ms. Lowry’s talk, soloist Ilana Davidson, accompanied by pianist Lorraine Zito, performed “Annelies,” a choral presentation based on the diary of Anne Frank. Then the Ark was opened, the curtain drawn back and the Torah scrolls carefully removed and brought to the front. With great respect, they were rolled open and Ms. Weisbrot read a passage in Hebrew.

“This is all very emotional and important,” Ms. Lowry said after the ceremony, as everyone was filing to the church basement for Oneg Shabbat — refreshments. The mood was relaxed — a small congregation enjoying each other’s company.

Paul Gilman, the temple’s president, said the congregation was formed about 25 years ago and moved into the Presbyterian church after that. He said the relationship between a very old Christian church and a new Reform temple works well for both groups.

“The relationship helps us work with our community and do the things we want to do,” he said. “We began the week wanting to remember Kristallnacht, which we do every year. We ended the week in a far different place.”

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