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YU Commemorates Yom HaShoah With Diverse Program

This week, the student body of Yeshiva gathered together to sing, dance, and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. It was a time of happiness and hope. But last week, we came together for a very different sort of commemoration. The mood was somber in Lamport as we gathered to remember one of the darkest points in our history. Organized by SHEM (Student Holocaust Education Movement), the theme of the night was “Continuing the Conversation.” Throughout the evening, speakers emphasized how our generation is the link between the old and the new. Soon, there will be no survivors. We are the “bridge” generation; the ones who are responsible for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive when there are no more survivors.

Stern College Junior Michal Kupchik, standing in front of six students holding signs that read “Jew,” began the evening by saying that “there are no words to describe how I feel that my children will never know a survivor, but this reality is impending. We are destined to repeat it if we forget.” The catchphrase so familiar to us, seen on so many Facebook pages and news sites on Yom Hashoah, is “Never Forget.” But the perennial challenge is how exactly to elevate that phrase to more than just words. How exactly do we ensure that our children and our children’s children and beyond can understand, relate to, and mourn the Holocaust?

In his remarks, Ambassador Ido Aharoni recounted his conversation with Elie Wiesel: “I’m not concerned with how people will remember the Holocaust five to ten years from now. I’m thinking about how they will remember it 500 to 1,000 years in the future—that’s how far ahead we should be thinking. What will become of “Never Forget?” Currently the Consul General of Israel in New York, Ambassador Aharoni stressed that as much as it is our generation’s responsibility to bear witness to what happened, it is even more so our responsibility and our duty to pass that witnessing along to our children and grandchildren. Aharoni spoke of Colonel David “Mickey” Marcus, a Jewish American soldier who liberated the camps and later fought and died for the fledgling state of Israel. On his tombstone at West Point, it says: “Colonel David Marcus—A Soldier For All Humanity.” Marcus’s firsthand experience of the Holocaust spurred him to actually do something about it and to fight for a Jewish homeland. We too, said Aharoni, must think about what each and every one of us can do personally to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in the world. It is not only our job to make sure we don’t forget. It is our job to make sure no one forgets.

This point hit home hard when Mrs. Pola Jasphy spoke. Introduced by her grandson and president of SHEM, David Jasphy, Mrs. Jasphy recalled her story as a survivor. For a few short minutes, the Holocaust was made real. We were challenged to try as hard as we could to put ourselves in her shoes. Mrs. Jasphy described watching as a little girl when soldiers raided her home. She went through her experiences of seeing family and friends murdered and gone missing, and hiding and living on the run for years, not knowing if the next day may have been her last. “They said because I wasn’t in the concentration camps, I was one of the lucky ones,” she said. “So you tell me how lucky I was.” There is no way for us to know that visceral, wrenching pain, fear, and emotion that only survivors can know. But somehow, to reinforce the evening’s message, we must try to carry on that legacy.

Vice President of SHEM Hadassa Holzapfel (SCW ‘15) continued the momentum by telling us about her childhood in Dusseldorf, Germany, and what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of the Holocaust, after so many years. “Germany is and always will be my home, but it’s still hard to be Jewish in Germany 70 years later,” Hadassa said.

We then watched “These Are Our Words,” a mini documentary produced by SHEM, featuring YU students and faculty sharing their reflections and thoughts on the Holocaust and on the importance of keeping the memory alive. In the video, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mentioned the idea of creating a Seder for Yom Hashoah, similar to the Pesach Seder to create that symbolism so necessary to remember what was.

The evening closed with the lighting of six candles in memory of the six million, each representing a different aspect of the Holocaust. Mrs. Jasphy and David’s brother Yale lit one, to represent the bridge between the survivors and ourselves. President Joel lit a candle to represent our attempts to rebuild the Torah world after the Holocaust. Professor Hill Krishnan of NYU lit the third candle, representing the righteous gentiles of the world. To show Jewish strength and our efforts to make “Never Again” a reality, students who had served in the IDF lit the fourth. The SHEM board lit the fifth candle, showing our commitment to keeping Holocaust education at the front of our minds. Chana Schwartz, younger sister of SHEM Vice President Naomi, lit the sixth candle, symbolizing the children that were lost in the Holocaust, and the need for the younger generation to pass on its history and legacy. The evening left us humbled and inspired, wondering how we will do our part to continue this most vital of conversations.