How do Reform congregations commemorate Kristallnacht?

Answered by
Cantor Rebecca Garfein

Kristallnacht, which literally means, “the night of broken glass,” occurred on the night of November 9, 1938, and marks the beginning of the Holocaust. On Kristallnacht, Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses were destroyed by the Nazis and the streets in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe were covered with  glass from the shattered windows of synagogues, Jewish homes, and businesses. 

November 9, 1938 marks the end of normalcy in Jewish communities in Germany and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Shabbat services went underground, and the beautiful music that once rang out in synagogues, like the magnificent OranienburgerStrasse Synagogue in Berlin, was silenced.  Louis Lewandowski, the first musical director of the OranienburgerStrasse Synagogue, composed much of his music specifically for that magnificent space. Lewandowski, who had also worked with Viennese Cantor Salomon Sulzer, shared Sulzer’s music with his Berlin congregation as well.  Lewandowski and Sulzer's music lives on to this day, when we continue to sing many of these classic melodies during the High Holidays and on Shabbat. Jewish communities throughout the world, regardless of denomination, still use Sulzer’s Shema and Lewandowski’s Kiddush.

Kristallnacht commemorations in Reform synagogues often include candle lightings, guest speakers, poems and prayers, and documentaries. At Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City, Kristallnacht is most often commemorated with the magnificent music of Sulzer, Lewandowski, and other composers that inspire and harken us back to the beginning of Reform Judaism in Berlin and Europe. Each and every year, Congregation Rodeph Sholom includes a special memorial candle lighting on the Shabbat closest to Kristallnacht, lighting a seven-branched menorah that was specially designed by our congregant Irwin Feld, in memory of his father, Hazzan Steven Feld, a survivor. The six branches represent the six million with the seventh candle being one of hope for future generations. 

Here are some musical resources to help plan a Kristallnacht memorial service: