On the Sunday between Mother’s and Father’s Day, Holocaust survivors and their family members recalled memories of their loved ones with the help of teens from NCSY’s Jacksonville chapter (JAX).
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
As part of the “Tribute to Mothers and Fathers” program — organized by Naomi Mirensky, Holocaust Services Coordinator at Jacksonville’s Jewish Family and Community Services in partnership with NCSY JAX — NCSYers were paired with Holocaust survivors and their family members. Teens met with them in person or over the phone prior to the event and then composed a story or poem about the survivors’ experiences. Teens read their work at the event, which also included a performance by the Guy and the Yehudas klezmer group and a dessert buffet at the Etz Chaim shul in Jacksonville.
Mirensky contacted NCSY JAX after running a successful seder for Holocaust survivors with NCSY JAX teens last year. Rabbi Shaya Hauptman, NCSY JAX director, jumped at the opportunity.
“I think in order to grow as a person, you have to know where you came from and what events made you who you are,” Rabbi Hauptman said.
Teens recounted a wide variety of experiences. Leah Finegold, 16, an incoming junior at the Stanton College Preparatory School, spoke with Morris Bendit, whose earliest memories were of being liberated from a concentration camp at three years old.
“He focused on telling me about how he raised his children to really value family,” she said.
Douglas Nabert, 16, an incoming junior at Atlantic Coast High School, struck up a friendship with a 92-year-old from Montana, whose husband had survived Auschwitz.
“What I enjoyed the most is, it’s not everyday you talk to a random stranger who’s much older and you learn something from that,” he said, adding that he plans to keep in touch with her.
Elsie Platzer, 16, also a junior at Stanton, talked with the child of a seamstress who survived Auschwitz and wrote a poem about the woman’s experience.
“She fled her home only to be captured and sent to Auschwitz,” Platzer recounted. “She survived and her family died. She made it to America and lived a normal life. I found it fascinating how she went on and found pleasure in such small things.”
At the end of the event, the women were given a single red rose while the men were given mugs filled with Hershey’s kisses.
“The entire program was so memorable thanks to the contribution of the NCSY youth group’s collaboration with JFCS,” said Mirensky. “We look forward to many more collaborative efforts in the future.”
Rabbi Hauptman said the event brought out a cornerstone philosophy of Judaism.
“In general nowadays, the greatest fear people have is growing old,” he explained. “We look at it as a type of irrelevance: they’re outdated, but that’s contrary to how Jewish people think. We look to our elders on how to live.”