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Giving Voice to Songs of the Holocaust

The “We Are Here: Songs From the Holocaust” concert at the Salt Shed, created by Ira Antelis and Rabbi Charles Savenor, took place on November 6. The show commemorated the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, the 1938 assault on thousands of Jewish businesses, synagogues, and homes in Nazi Germany and Austria.

The November 6 iteration of “We Are Here” was the second version, following a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall in New York. It was a one-night-only production that featured a variety of songs written by Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps of Nazi-occupied Europe.

Each song was accompanied by a true story about the writer(s), and then different singers and celebrities came on stage to perform. By striving to bring innocent people’s voices back to life, the concert was dedicated to the hidden children of the Holocaust and the innocent souls who were murdered during the war.

Along with rabbis and pastors, a variety of celebrities, such as former Chicago Bears player Charles “Peanut” Tillman, singer and songwriter Justin Jesso, and Broadway actor Zachary Piser, either presented or performed each song. Attendees were treated to a variety of songs that encapsulated a spectrum of emotions that allowed the audience to connect with Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

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For me, this concert was an extremely meaningful experience. The show was especially relevant now that so many Jewish people are unable to publicly celebrate their religious beliefs due to the rise of antisemitism following the October 7 attack on Israel.

Many Jews piled into the Salt Shed, hoping to feel a sense of community and belonging. It was especially impactful to see two Latin seniors perform on the stage at the concert. Richard Heller played the guitar while Eliza Lampert sang “We Are Here,” the first song after intermission.

To prepare for this show, Richard said, “I worked with Ira and Curt Morrison, the other guitar player, once or twice before [they] met as a full group two times. It was an amazing feeling getting to play a song with so much meaning behind it. ”

Eliza said, “It was such an incredible opportunity to be part of this show. To be surrounded by musicians and vocalists from all walks of life was so unique.” She added, “I wasn’t aware of the concept of the Holocaust songbooks in general, and to hear them, that was so special in itself.”

Not only did this concert commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht and those lost in the Holocaust, it also brought the Jewish community together during a time when so many feel scared and alone. “You could tell that everyone was glad to be together embracing our religion and remembering the past,” Richard said.

Eliza added, “[It was] relieving to be in a space where nobody was disagreeing or fighting.”

Another attendee, senior Elsie Cohen, said, “I’ve been missing that feeling of connectivity a lot and been quite distant from my community.”

However, by being in a space with those who share her same beliefs and celebrations, Elsie was reminded “that [her] community was still out there.”

Elsie touched on the fact that the events occurring in Israel over the past months have been constantly compared to the Holocaust. “Being able to memorialize the art of those lost in the Holocaust while simultaneously acknowledging the lives being lost now in Israel felt like a great balance,” she said.

All in all, the concert was absolutely incredible, and it was powerful to see so many people together in one space to support each other. The concert was shown on a variety of news and social media platforms for people all over the world to join in.

You can watch and learn about the concert here: https://www.wearehereconcert.com/media

This story was originally published on The Forum on December 1, 2023.