At a time when the world has been turned upside down, people are struggling, and each day brings a new challenge, it is even more important that we remember – that we remember the Shoah, the millions of innocent lives lost, and the hardships, fears, isolation, and monstrous suffering endured by the Jewish people.
Time will distance us from this pandemic, just as throughout history, time distances us from the pain and struggle. As time distances us from the Shoah, our connection to living survivors also becomes distant. On Thursday, April 8, the Yeshiva of Central Queens presented two Yom HaShoah programs to remind us of the importance it is to be Jews, to fight and stand up for what we know is right, and to take accountability for our obligation and our responsibility to really listen to their stories, to learn from those stories, to remember them, and to pass the stories of living testimony on to our children.
The younger students joined together for T’hilim for all who perished and to watch Daniel’s Story, a poignant video memory of a young boy who lost most of his family yet survived to share his experiences. It was powerful to watch the students connect to this young boy, hearing what he lived through and how he survived the worst tragedy in history. Rabbi Michael Ribalt and Rabbi Shmuel Soffer shared stories of their own families with the students. Several students lit memorial candles for their relatives who survived the war and rebuilt their families and for all the families and generations lost. Emmy Birnbaum lit a candle in honor of her grandfather’s family. Eitan Berkowitz lit a candle in honor of his great grandparents. Cobi Gomberg lit a candle in honor of his great-grandmother. Suri Hoffman lit a candle in honor of her great-grandparents. And Levi and Shimmy Orenbuch lit a candle in honor of their grandmother.
The program closed with a moving video by Shalsheles called Generations, where the students saw how special it was that am Yisrael survived even during the darkest of times. Learning that even today when we are all struggling through this pandemic, if we stay strong, we will be okay.
In the JHS, students joined together by grade for a special presentation. The program began with Principal Rabbi Mark Landsman speaking about the importance of our role, being the last generation to have the privilege and honor of hearing first-hand accounts of survivors’ experiences. Students heard recorded stories from survivors, watched a powerful slide show on what life was like before, during, and after the Holocaust, followed by stories told by staff members, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of survivors.
Mrs. Renee Faibish, JHS teacher, spoke about her grandmother and the tremendous sacrifices she made while living in Siberia during the war, knowing that hope always remained. Heidi Birnbaum, grade 8, told a story about her grandfather and his attempt to keep Pesach in the camps by not eating the food and saving it until he really needed it to survive and how it was her family’s Pesach miracle. Siblings, Eliana Gomberg, grade 7, spoke to the JHS, and Coby Gomberg, grade 5, spoke to the elementary school, about their great-grandmother, Natalie Kaplanska Gomberg. They told about her life in Poland as a young child and how she snuck in and out of the ghetto risking her life at every moment, in order to survive so generations could be born. “It’s very sad that my Bubby lost her family in the Holocaust. It’s very difficult that she had to go through her life without them. But it’s because of her survival that there is no end to the Jewish people. Because of her, my family went on. My family and my people will continue to go on. I’m so proud to be her great-granddaughter,” said Eliana. The YCQ Yom HaShoah programs ended with a solemn recitation of Keil Malei Rachamim, and a beautiful and meaningful rendition of Ani Maamin sung by Rabbi Michael Ribalt, elementary school Judaic Studies assistant principal, Rabbi Moshe Hamel, JHS Judaic Studies assistant principal, and JHS rebbe, Rabbi Ophie Nat, written by the Modzitzer chasid Rav Azrieli David while fasting on a cattle car on the way to a concentration camp. The programs reminded us that we are here, we are part of klal Yisrael, and we are strong because they fought and survived and created a legacy, and we will be their witnesses by passing on their tragedies and triumphs for generations to come.