Recognizing Current Issues this Yom Hashoah – Part II

(Read Part I: On Connection here.)

Part II: On Action

Young professionals and college students are taking a deep interest in connecting to our remaining Holocaust survivors.

For example, in New York City, hundreds of volunteers team up with the iVolunteer organization to visit often-lonely Holocaust survivors and become like family.

According to the 2009 Claims Conference, survivors are “more likely than other elderly to be socially isolated, and as a result, are more likely to live in poverty and be in poorer health.”

While health and financial needs plague today’s survivor population, the worst poverty is loneliness. These feelings are greatly alleviated through volunteer visits. But honestly, I feel like the volunteers get more out of these visits than they could ever give.

However, while Jews across the world remember the Shoah this week, there is a large number of people who are unaware of the critical need for basic safety net services for many of the frail and aging Holocaust survivors who live right here in our own community.

According to the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA), DC’s community safety net organization, there are hundreds of survivors in the DC-area in need of critical homecare and medical support services.  In fact, JSSA is reporting a dramatic increase this year in the number of survivors requesting care. As a result, JSSA is now facing critical shortfalls as the need is outpacing available funding.  (Learn more about the issue here.)

In light of all these issues, EntryPointDC partnered with JSSA to create an Inter-generational Passover Program with Silver Spring-area Holocaust survivors on Good Deeds Day. This was a memorable event not only for the Holocaust survivors, who were elated to have the opportunity to tell their personal stories and socialize with each other, but also for the young professionals who got to connect with them.

For one participant, it was his first time meeting a survivor, never having had the opportunity first hand. For a young woman, who is an Iraqi Jew , it was important to her to come because her own family had been persecuted in Iraq. Another came to connect with his Jewish heritage for the first time since the passing of his father.

Others came as proud representatives of their own survivor grandparents. After the event, one shared, “I just wanted to thank you for organizing this event; it really was so special.”

These connections are so important to our community. This June, we’re trying to make more of these inter-generational exchanges happen.

Service for SurvivorsWe want to connect survivors and young professionals with our Service For Survivors Trip – a Service Learning Trip to Miami Beach, Florida. Participants from EntryPointDC, GLOE, Community Services, and other partners will be joining us. Truly, we welcome anyone in their 20s & 30s to join us  in this mitzvah.

One of my favorite things about this project is the chance I’ll get to interact and connect with individual survivors, knowing that this is a population deeply in need, AND that there is something we can do about it. (The fact we’ll all be hanging out in Miami Beach doesn’t hurt either.)

As the last generational link, we are almost out of time to hear their stories.

And then, when the time comes, we’ll pass those stories on.

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Recognizing Current Issues this Yom Hashoah – Part I

Part I: On Connection

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a time for commemoration and reflection about the Holocaust and the six million men, women, and children who lost their lives because they were Jewish.

Yom Hashoah, which falls on Thursday April 19th, is also a day to honor the survivors and listen to their stories. I love working at a place where we get to look at these stories in multiple ways, knowing that everyone connects to it in different ways – whether it’s through film (Nicky’s Family) or art (Traces of Memory: A Contemporary Look at the Jewish Past in Poland), or through conversations.

The important part is that the connection happens.

My own interest in Holocaust studies began in my eighth grade Holocaust course with my teacher Mrs. Silverman. Unlike other projects in the past, the research projects in her class did not feel like homework, but rather like an opportunity for meaningful exploration – not something that junior high students often get to experience.

That eighth-grade project on survivors impacted the rest of my life: I’ve been studying and teaching the Yom Shoah ever since in some way or another – the power of having an amazing teacher!

My goal is to help others have similarly resonant experiences with this survivor community.

In Jacksonville, Florida, I brought my public school students to a Yom Hashoah program at the Jewish Community Center there. The majority of them were Muslim Bosnians whose parents were subjected to ethnic cleansing in the 1990s. These students really responded to class lessons on the history of the Holocaust, and asked to volunteer at the ceremony.

At the program, they were in awe because for the first time, they were able to put a face with the  Shoah history, and could personally connect to another group that understood genocide, first-hand.

The Passover seder, which talks about freedom from oppression, is often used as a time for Holocaust reflection. In fact, many Haggadot include passages about the relationship between the Holocaust and Egypt. Some Haggadot even explain how victims observed the holiday in Nazi occupied Europe.

A few weeks ago, just before Passover, one of my best friends, a 27 year old young professional working in Finance, discovered her own family’s experience in the Holocaust. It had a huge impact on her and inspired her to lead the seder at her home for the first time, and to intertwine the two histories.

She wrote me:
‘After lighting the candles and saying a prayer, the first thing I said to initiate our Passover 2012 was: “These are the traditions our grandparents celebrated with their families before the war, and it is important to preserve these traditions and honor all of those we have lost.”

I then passed around a framed photograph (that came into my possession only a few days before), with a picture of my grandfather’s immediate family. Being able to see six individuals who did not survive enabled everyone else at our seder to truly feel the importance of this night.’

These are the vital connections we need to make with our survivors – teaching lessons to young people and within our own families – so that no future generation has to have first-hand experience with genocide again.


Read Part II: On Action Here

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