Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), spoke at the Sixth National Conference of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies at Fordham University School of Law in New York. Rabbi Ellenson spoke at the session on "Shaking the Conscience of American Jewry: The Rabbinical Students who Challenged Jewish Leaders to Push Forcefully for Holocaust Rescue," September 21, 2008.
Rabbi Ellenson spoke about the role of rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary and their impact on the Synagogue Council of America, the national umbrella group of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform synagogues. In early 1943, the Synagogue Councils announced the establishment of an emergency committee of Christian and Jewish leaders to raise awareness of Nazi genocide and, following a suggestion of the students, a nationwide publicity campaign was held during the seven weeks of semi-mourning - between Passover and Shavuot - during which special prayers were recited for European Jewry and memorial protest rallies were held. Communities were urged to write letters to political officials. This campaign took place at virtually the same time as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the failure of the allies' Bermuda Refugee Conference, which both began on April 19, 1943. This effort enabled ordinary Jews, even in remote communities, to participate in concrete protests against the Nazi atrocities and to feel they could do something meaningful in response to the news from Europe. The campaign culminated on May 2, 1943 with memorial rallies in cities across America and included assemblies at churches in cities on the same day - a rare departure from the generally indifferent response of America's churches to the Holocaust. The rallies received significant press in newspapers and on the radio. This important Jewish-Christian cooperation helped raise American public awareness about the Nazi slaughter of European Jewry.
The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies teaches the history and lessons of America's response to the Holocaust, through scholarly research, public events, publications, and educational programs.