Sharing from Holocaust Remembrance Week


  “Never Again Is NOW: The most relevant Holocaust Remembrance Week”

 In over a decade of helping to coordinate Yom Hashoa events, escorting survivors , and listening to testimonies , this year seems the most powerful, but also the most draining.  The juxtaposition to the October 7th Massacre in Israel and rising Anti-Semitism all over the world, to Yom Hashoa and Never Again is just too obvious of a parallel to anyone who chooses  not to close their eyes to it. I was glad to hear Speaker Mike Johnson share this thought too at the Holocaust Memorial and call it “moral clarity.”

Commuting with a survivor into Manhattan during rush hour for an event  for Holocaust Rememberance at the beautiful Safra Synagogue, Sally looked radiant but a little tired.  “It’s very emotional for me to re-live my story 3 times in two days,” she said. I tried to empathize, “Because it’s your PTSD from the past and also dealing with our present situation now,” I suggested. Sally Muschel, one of the strongest ladies I know gave me a sad smile and nodded in agreement.  She was also very worried about her granddaughter organizing a counter protest on campus to counter the anti-Israel protests.  “It’s your fault Sally, you taught her too well! She’s the leader just  like you” I joked. She didn’t laugh.

 Thank God the event at Safra Synagogue with Sally and Aron Krell was beyond captivating.

One congregant asked Aron how he managed to be the sole survivor of his entire family and extended family and live through some of the worst camps, including Lodz Ghetto, Birkenau, Saxen Hausen, and Mataussen and a six day death march. It was a moment of levity when he said, “ All I can say is I’m still here!” Everyone laughed. However,  questions quickly turned to these heroes, these survivors, to give the congregants strength and guidance in our current Anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel climate.  The survivors kept their composure, put on even stronger voices and encouraged the crowd as they imparted solid advice.  It was like being in a town hall meeting, and the survivors were our leaders.

Sally encouraged us that Israel would have to be OK. They will defeat terrorism even if it is hard , and we need to continue to support our only Jewish state , as that is what the survivors built and didn’t have during the Holocaust to save them. Aron instructed us to “take threats seriously, and for each of us to urge police and government to get much more involved in taking down violent protests in schools and elsewhere.”

What kept me awake that night was not only the very intense stories of Sally and Aron during the Holocaust, but also just being in awe of how they were strong enough to stand there and deal with double traumas; the traumas of re-telling their pasts, and then standing there answering questions and providing support in”the now”  for worried Jews in the audience  dealing with modern day frightening  Anti-Semitism, which can cause re-traumitization for our Survivors.

 “Does this situation here in New York remind you of before the Holocaust in Europe?” one man asked Aron. “Actually, it’s more open Anti-Semitism then it was there even, so it may be worse,”Aron responded. “So we need to push for more support!  ” the survivor said in a proud strong voice, encouraging the crowd not to cower.

Similarly, the next day at Brooklyn College Hillel House , many Jewish  and some non Jewish students listened to the story of Jack Tavin  in a safe space . The students had also been harassed with anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic protests as of recently, and this gathering clearly gave them strength and purpose.  The  siren and moment of silence was very melancholy, not just because of the Holocaust memorial, but also the present times on campus. Brooklyn College was my Alma mater and I always felt 100 percent safe and  carefree on the campus.   Noticing the high security in this Jewish club house and the tension on campus was just plain sad to me as a sign of how much things changed and how differently these students have to grow up. The silver lining was that this great little Jewish fraternity was more important than ever as a safe haven.

Speaking with diverse non- Jewish audiences not only helps teach the past, but also helps shed light and clarity on the present wave of Anti-Semitism.  Daniella Russ of JCCGCI’s transportation department, escorted Izabella Blustin to HLA , a public charter school in Mill Basin, Brooklyn her son Yishai attends so Isabella could tell her story. Sixth to eighth graders of diverse backgrounds greeted the Ukranian Holocaust survivor with a riveting dance performance set to Hebrew music in her honor.

Eugene Halpert took to the opportunity to fly out to St. Louis and also speak to a diverse group of U.S.  Air Force personnel and community members to educate and inspire.

All the  survivors gave personal blessings to anyone who waited in line to greet them at the end of their events. I watched people cry and listen intently to the blessings these strong heroes imparted to them,  helping them face whatever these precarious times will bring.

I’m still in awe of these survivors I watched, and frankly all of them that I know that head out to speak , educate, fight, and encourage, not just during Holocaust week but all the time. They live with the trauma of the past, and choose to face the hate of the present again in order to do the work.

 We come out to listen to and honor their stories, but in reality, I think they are the ones helping us face and stand up to our story during these trying times.

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