This was not a scene from the 1950s film "The Wild Ones." The Chai Riders Motorcycle Club had come to Bayonne not to cause trouble, but to raise awareness, part of a national effort to keep the memory of the Nazi Holocaust alive in the public mind.
It is a motorcycle club that seeks to keep in touch with Jewish culture and religion. Over the years, it has done benefit rides for many organizations.
This year they came to Bayonne as part of the community's Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual event usually held around the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising in 1943, which seeks to preserve the memory of the horrors and the courageous acts of the Holocaust with the hopes of stopping such an event from happening again.
Keynote Speaker Lauren Secular, who is a founding member and past president of the club, and an active member of the executive committee of Jewish motorcycle clubs worldwide, was one of two club members who spoke during the ceremonies. They talked about the club's history of supporting Jewish causes and of the 2006 "Ride to Remember," in which members drove to Whitwell, Tenn., as part of a similar Holocaust remembrance effort.
More than 150 local residents joined the motorcycle club in the Dorothy E. Harrington Council Chambers to take part in the ceremony that included prayer, song, candle lighting, and words of comfort.
Five survivors of the Holocaust took their place in the front row, the memory clear from their expressions as they listened to the speakers. Victor and Sally Friedman, Luba Woloski, Katie Berces and Regina Resnick, along with members of the Chai Motorcycle Club, lit candles in memory of the six million Jews and five million others who perished at the hands of Nazi persecutors.
A decade-old tradition
Each year, members of the Bayonne community come together to sing, pray and recall the horrors of the Jewish victims and other victims. More than a 30-year tradition in Bayonne, the ceremony has been held in the municipal building since 1997, part of a worldwide effort to remind the general public of the slaughter of six million Jews and five million others.
The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of the Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Also targeted were gypsies, the handicapped, some Slavic people, Communists, Socialists, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals.
Yet of all those targeted, Jews suffered the most extreme loss of life, with nearly two out of every three European Jews murdered by the end of World War II.
Although the Jewish community recognizes the Holocaust as beginning with the rise of Adolph Hitler as the dictator of the Third Reich in 1933, the mass murder began in March 1942.
When the killing ended, those who survived were released from concentration camps and came out of hiding. Vowing to keep the memory alive for future generations, the Jewish community established Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), a day to remember those that suffered, those that fought, and those that died during the worst act of mass genocide in modern history.
"Bayonne is one of the few municipalities in the country where the ceremony is held in City Hall," said Laurie Sokol, who served as chairperson for this year's event.
Upon entering, each visitor was handed a program and a yellow Star of David, symbolic of the badges Nazis required Jewish people to wear after the start of WWII, stars that futher isolated the Jewish population and eventually aided the Nazis in rounding people in for transport to concentration and labor camps.
The gathering, however, was not one only of the Jewish community, but also one for city officials and other concerned citizens who had come to support and sympathize.
The ceremonies in City Hall had a solemn, yet reverent, air as war veterans of Bayonne marched in bearing flags, followed by a candlelight processional of Bayonne synagogue students.
Joyce Nestle and Hara Benjamin-Garritano, who serve as the Temple Beth Am cantorial soloists, sang "Hatikvah" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Laurie Sokol, this year's chairperson, greeted the congregation, and introduced speakers that included an innovation by Bishop Thomas A. Donado and a talk of the nature of violence in our time by Father Gerard Pisani.
Mayor Terrance Malloy, Council President Vincent Lo Re, and Freeholder Doreen DiDominico each issued proclamations.
Also in attendance were County Executive Tom DeGise, state assemblymen Anthony Chiappone and L. Harvey Smith, and representatives for U.S. senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
The Bayonne Interfaith Clergy co-sponsored the event.
"We have to stop being afraid of remembering," Malloy said, "of remembering tragedies of the past so we can prevent them in the future. We must remind the community that there are people out there who would like to forget or would deny the event ever took place. It did take place. It is a black mark on humanity that some people stood around and allowed it to happen. And that can't happen again."