‘Forever alive’: Pitt community commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day with walk, name recitation


Image courtesy of Stefanie Greene

Riley Crow, a junior film and media studies major, greets participants before the “We Walk to Remember” Holocaust Remembrance Day event.

By Ryleigh Lord, Assistant News Editor

For Riley Crow, Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a time to ensure the lives and legacies of Holocaust victims are not forgotten.

“You die twice,” Crow, a junior film and media studies major, said. “Once when you stop breathing and once when somebody says your name for the last time. We make sure that the memories of those lost are with us and forever alive and a blessing by reading their names when there’s no one left to say Kaddish for them anymore.”

About 20 students, staff and faculty gathered in Schenley Quad Monday morning for the annual “We Walk to Remember” event. Participants, who were silent, walked up Fifth Avenue past the Cathedral of Learning before reentering the Quad on Forbes Avenue. People used the time to reflect and mourn the lives lost during the Holocaust. After the walk ended, members of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity on campus, read names of Holocaust victims in the Quad. 

Crow, the president of AEPi, helped organize the annual event in collaboration with Zachor, a branch of Hillel that focuses on Holocaust remembrance. According to Crow, AEPi has annually hosted the walk, which falls on the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, since about a decade after the Holocaust. This year, Yom HaShoah took place from Monday evening to Tuesday evening.

“Holocaust awareness, education and remembrance is a huge part of our values and is part of us every day,” Crow said. “Once a year we want to get the Jewish community together and go on a silent memorial walk to be reflective and think about the six million that were lost in the Shoah.”

“Shoah” is the Hebrew word for “catastrophe.” Many Jewish people use this word to refer to what is more broadly known as the Holocaust, as it singularly references the persecution and genocide that Jews experienced at the hands of Nazi Germany. 

Ben Fisher, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and Jewish identity chair of Alpha Epsilon Pi, said events like these are even more important as the number of living Holocaust survivors decreases. 

“As we get further and further away from when the Holocaust happened, there’s a lot of deniers who try to say it never happened,” Fisher said. “A lot of the people who were there to see it and live through it are starting to naturally die, so it’s important to keep the memory alive of what happened so it doesn’t get repeated.” 

Stefanie Greene, a Jewish educator and Cantor at Hillel JUC, said Holocaust Remembrance Day is also a time to recognize antisemitism that both predates and came after the Holocaust. 

“In this climate today, there is so much hateful rhetoric and antisemitism against Jews is at an all-time high right now,” Greene said. “It’s really important to remember that [the Holocaust] is a moment in history, but there have also been many, many other moments throughout history where Jews have been persecuted going further back than the Holocaust.”

Organizers also handed out small blue pins, which Fisher said refer to the fact that Jewish people make up about 2.4% of all U.S. adults, but Jewish-targeted hate crimes make up about 51.4% of all religiously motivated hate crimes in 2021. 

“It’s very important for people who aren’t Jewish to come here and understand why we are so scared on a daily basis, and to cross cultures so that hopefully they are more educated about what Jewish life is like,” Fisher said. 

Crow said Holocaust Remembrance Day is personally important to him because of his family history. 

“Growing up I was not very religious at all,” Crow said. “My family was kind of disconnected, partly because my grandmother got disconnected from her birth parents because of the Shoah. The Holocaust severed my family lineage and connection to Judaism, so to be able to do events like this and restart my family connection to our Jewish roots is what’s really important to me.” 

Crow also emphasized that although the Holocaust took place over 75 years ago, it still has modern-day repercussions. 

“It’s important to remember that the Holocaust isn’t some historical event that you read about in class from time to time,” Crow said. “It’s very much still a reality — we have generational trauma, food insecurity and lost histories as well antisemitism completely unrelated to the Holocaust today.”

Greene said she hopes that events like “We Walk to Remember” reach non-Jewish members of the Pitt community. 

“It is so important for non-Jews to learn and participate because stomping out all forms of hate against all marginalized people needs to be a collective effort of all of us in society,” Greene said. “So it really means a lot to Jewish students at Pitt when their non-Jewish peers and friends make an effort to learn and support them in programs like this.” 

Crow, who is in his third year of participating in the walk, uses it as a moment of contemplation and reflection. 

“I always think of the walk as some form of meditation,” Crow said. “I get to stop and think about my grandmother and how proud she would be to see this strong Jewish community.”