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Temple Beth Israel Holocaust commemoration focuses on the role of journalism in stopping genocide

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I was honored to take part in a Holocaust Remembrance Observance April 15 at Temple Beth Israel. The event began with a prayer service by Rabbi Joan Lenowitz of Congregation Ohev Sholom, followed by a candle-lighting ceremony conducted by Rabbi Jeffrey Astrachan of Temple Beth Israel.

Laurel Leff of Northeastern University spoke Sunday at Temple Beth Israel.

The ceremony featured the lighting of candles representing various segments of the community – Holocaust survivors, Jewish community leaders, interfaith clergy, journalists, political leaders and children.

I, of course, was there to represent the local journalism community – along with York Dispatch Editor Lori Goodlin. And journalism was a major theme of the event, as the seventh and final candle was lit by Laurel Leff, journalist and author of “Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper.”

Leff gave a fascinating presentation based on her book detailing how she contends The New York Times failed to adequately inform the nation about the Holocaust. That’s not to say the “paper of record” didn’t report on the death camps. It did. But she contended that those reports were for the most part buried inside rather than featured on the front page.

Leff says that was a failure of leadership on the paper’s part. Other major newspapers followed the Times’ lead – or lack of leadership – and downplayed reports on the ongoing Nazi extermination of Jews.

Why? Leff put forth a number of reasons (not excuses): The war itself was the most important news – and winning the war would end the Holocaust. Journalists and the public found the story of the Holocaust difficult to believe. The Times was owned by a Jewish family that bent over backwards NOT to appear biased toward Jewish news. She made other interesting points as well.

I left a little ashamed by my profession. How could it fail to fully tell a story of such monstrous proportions on the front page – perhaps stirring public passion on to victory in the war and an end to the genocide? I was depressed about the capacity of regular people (readers) to ignore or downplay genocide.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s happened several times since World War II. It’s happening right now in Africa.

Depressing, yes, but fascinating. I plan to read the book.