Posted by Elyse Rast
On Tuesday, April 29, the day after Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), more than 100 people, 80 of whom were Holocaust survivors, attended a special luncheon hosted by JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services (SHS) and supported by CJP and Generations After at Kehillath Israel Synagogue in Brookline. Rabbi Hamilton began the program and was later joined by two active duty Israeli Defense Force soldiers who poignantly spoke about their grandparents who survived the Holocaust and imbued them with life-affirming messages of hope, strength, and love.
I was honored to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the SHS staff and share my feelings of victory: victory that the Jewish people survived under great odds and victory that they chose to live with compassion and empathy. Many survivors raised respectful, successful children who are now themselves raising children who are proud of their grandparents' histories. One great-grandchild in the room, Hannah Hiam, currently an intern for SHS and a student at Gann Academy, does not take things for granted as a result of what her relatives faced. "I seek ways to challenge myself and give back in part to honor my grandmother and great-grandmother's perseverance."
This is a group who survived the worst humanity had to offer and never gave up. As they age, they continue fighting and their offspring reap the rewards of having such tenacious parents and grandparents. Being with survivors and three subsequent generations was a beautiful and life-affirming experience.
One attendee, Janet Markman, who survived ghettos, camps, and the death march, proudly invited me to her grandson's Bar Mitzvah since "we're family now." Another attendee, Tania Lefman, who survived years of living in the forest, told me how happy she was to see so many survivors attend such a "wonderful event" and that it was "nice to celebrate while remembering our fallen brothers, the six million."
One of the highlights for me was Kehillath Israel's preschool children who very bravely lined up in front of the sizable crowd and sang their favorite Jewish songs. There were few dry eyes in the room, and the thunderous applause could certainly be heard down the street!
Tuesday's event was just one more life-affirming moment.
Elyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.