USF student organizes International Holocaust Remembrance Day concert

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is held annually on Jan. 27. The day marks the anniversary of the liberation of millions of Jews from Auschwitz. It is a day to remember those who died unjustly by Nazi forces and celebrate those who survived.

This year, the University of South Florida commemorated this day by holding a concert in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Zachary Konick is a second-year music composition graduate student at USF. He is also the organizer of the concert. His Jewish heritage remains a catalyst in his wish to give back to the Jewish community.

“I haven’t always been too involved in my Jewish background, unfortunately. I go to temple for service, here and there, but I haven’t been as involved as I might have wanted to be,” said Konick. “Doing this was kind of a way to get back into my Jewish heritage a little bit more. To reconnect with this a little bit more.”

Konick, as a composer, wanted to bring a piece of his art to the stage. His piece “Kaddish” is derived from “The Mourner’s Kaddish,” a Jewish prayer that talks about death.

Throughout the composition, a juxtaposition of the Israeli national anthem and his grandmother Rosette’s voice can be heard. These elements enhance the musical value of the piece and solidify Konick’s desire to honor his grandma.

“I wanted to give something to my nana, who is a Holocaust survivor. I wanted to give something to her before she leaves from this planet,” said Konick. “My piece is dedicated to her for that reason.”

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USF graduate student Zachary Konick composed the piece “Kaddish” which was derived from the Jewish prayer, “The Mourner’s Kaddish.” Photo by Maria Laura Lugo.

Francis Schwartz is the featured composer for the concert. He is a Sarasota resident who graces the world with his “music theater” compositions, as he likes to describe his music.

Invited artists are performing four of his original compositions during the concert. These include “On the State of Children,” “Auschwitz,” “Caligula” and “The Grey Road.” Schwartz considers his music a way to combat injustice around the world.

“I’m very much aware of injustice being practiced all over the world. Discrimination, hatred. This is something that I have combatted ever since I was a little boy. Ever since I was old enough to be conscious of the fact that people hate each other and discriminate against each other for reasons of race, ethnic origin, color or sexual orientation,” said Schwartz. “It’s a very complex thing. We are masters of hate. I try through my music to unravel that very tightly knit ball of hate.”

The compositions are brought to life with the dynamism of the dancers. Carolina Garcia Zerpa and Itarah Godbolt are two of the dancers invited to grace the stage of the concert. Despite not having direct Jewish connections, they consider it important to use their art to bring awareness to events like these.

“Anyway that I can use my instrument, my body, my art form of dance to add expression or bring awareness, add another dimension or dynamic to another artist’s work and what they’re doing. That is my connection. I’m always willing and wanting to do that,” said Godbolt. “We’re also not just artists. We are people and we are activists and we have experiences. There are many ways to express that through art. When you bring all of that together is just magnifies and brings back to life another way to share those experiences”

In light of the recent events around the world, Konick considers that this concert signifies a way to unify cultures and ethnicities.

“This concert isn’t just about Jewish heritage. It’s really important to me that this concert is about unity as well, given all the tensions politically and socially in the US lately and throughout the world,” said Konick. “We really want to strike home that this concert is about coming together and fighting about persecution of any kind”