2018-10-10 / Voice at the Shore

Remembering survivors and their contributions is a 30-year-old local tradition

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER Voice shore editor


Roughly 60 survivors and family members gathered at the Holocaust Survivor Section of the Rodef Sholom Cemetery on September 16 for the annual Mitzvah Zecher Avot Cemetery Service. Roughly 60 survivors and family members gathered at the Holocaust Survivor Section of the Rodef Sholom Cemetery on September 16 for the annual Mitzvah Zecher Avot Cemetery Service. Growing up in Vineland, Barbara Cinger Roth never realized that most of her family had been murdered in the Holocaust.

“I didn’t realize I didn’t have family because I thought everyone in Vineland was our family. I could tell you about all of them!” said Roth, the daughter of Manya Cinger, z’l, an Auschwitz survivor, and Albert Cinger, z’l, a Dachau survivor.

Roth was one of roughly 60 survivors and family members to attend the annual Mitzvah Zecher Avot Cemetery Service at the Holocaust Survivor section of the Rodef Sholom Cemetery in Egg Harbor Township on Sept. 16. “Mitzvah Zecher Avot” means “the good deed of remembering family,” said Gail Rosenthal, executive director of the Holocaust Resource Center, which organizes the annual service.


The service is a long-standing tradition, begun 30 years ago by a handful of Holocaust survivor families, said Leo Schoffer, whose family was among those that started it. The service is a long-standing tradition, begun 30 years ago by a handful of Holocaust survivor families, said Leo Schoffer, whose family was among those that started it. The service is a long-standing tradition, begun 30 years ago by a handful of Holocaust survivor families, said Leo Schoffer, whose family was among those that started it. Traditionally held on the Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the service begins with a brief prayer service remembering those murdered in the Holocaust. After that, the names of the many local Holocaust survivors who have passed away are read by people at the service, usually by a relative or friend of the deceased, who may also share a remembrance about the person named.

Back when the service was started, the list of Holocaust survivor names to be read was short, said Schoffer. But about 15 years ago, with more and more survivors passing away, the list kept growing longer, and the Holocaust Resource Center was asked to organize the service and maintain the list of names. That list now includes the names of 268 local survivors who have passed away.

As people streamed into the Rodef Sholom Cemetery on September 16, Rosenthal and several Stockton students asked each person whose names they’d like to read during the service. While the many names were being divided and distributed, attendees—mostly the children of survivors—warmly greeted old friends and wished them “Shana Tova.”

“All these people were friends and relatives of the people who survived the murderers,” a middle-aged man quietly explained to his son, who was likely attending the service for the first time.

Just before the service started, Rosenthal recognized the three clergy members who “came forward to help us”— Rabbi Gordon Geller of Shirat Hayam in Ventnor; Rabbi Shmuel Rapoport of the Margate Chabad House, and Cantor Ralph Goren of Temple Beth El in Margate.

Rabbi Geller opened the service by remembering those who didn’t survive the Holocaust. “We remember our beloved martyrs” and “the callous slaughter of innocents cut off before their time,” said Geller. “Let a million candles glow amid the darkness of those unfinished lives. As we live, they too shall live because they are part of us.”

Then it was time to read the names. “If you’d like to comment [about the person you name], please do,” instructed Rosenthal.

As relatives and friends read the names of their loved ones, those who have passed on briefly came back to life. Fond memories flowed out as most every name was spoken.

“He always had chocolate bars in his pockets.”

“I miss her cooking and baking.”

“He was the nicest, kindest man.”

“He always came around with a lulav and Etrog and made sure everyone shook it.”

“She was the best seamstress.”

Not all thoughts were shared. “I’m just going to read the names,” said one woman. If you knew them, you know how special they were.” Many people nodded in agreement. Most attendees did know many of the survivors named. Their unstated thoughts and memories swirled through the air, silently but unmistakably bonding the group as they stood together remembering relatives and dear friends.

Some people were moved to tell longer stories. “My Dad, Jack Trocki, we call him the builder of this community,” said Ira Trocki. “They lived in a house with four other families. They had no money. They had nothing. But they decided to build a shul.”

“My parent’s friend Jack Werber saved 700 children in Dachau, including Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Lau, the chief rabbi of Israel. He hid them to prevent them from being sent to the ovens. He’s recognized by Yad Vashem,” said Roth.

One woman, who did not grow up in the survivor community, read the name of a beloved friend who had recently passed, Cyla Kowenski. “She was my friend, I was her aid. We spent a lot of days together and she taught me a lot of things,” said the woman of Kowenski, as others chimed in about her many contributions to the community and how dearly she was missed.

The name reading of Ruth Kessler, another survivor who recently passed, also brought a flood of fond memories to many service attendees. “I can’t believe she’s not here. She was such a bright soul, and a great baker,” said Roth.

“It feels so empty without their presence in our lives,” said Roth of the survivors who had recently passed.

“I think what we do here by reading the names is so important,” she added. “These lives, their personalities, the things they contributed will stay alive if we keep them alive.”

“Who knows what the community would have looked like without the energy and contributions of the survivors,” said Rabbi Rapoport. “May their memory be a blessing.” 

Return to top