This month, students at JKHA and RKYHS will be participating in programs that are key parts of their Holocaust education at school. These experiences will make an indelible mark on their lives, offer a window into their heritage and provide a directive on how to live their lives as Jews and give back to society.
The JKHA eighth graders are participating in the life-changing program “Better Together Names Not Numbers©: A Movie in the Making.” This oral history film project and curriculum take the teaching of the Holocaust and its lessons well beyond the classroom. Throughout the year-long project, the students are guided by professionals in their fields—Cari Strassberg, a television producer who has worked at ABC News and Good Morning America; Mikaela Floom, a noted filmmaker; and Debbie Finkelstein, JKHA principal—to learn proper interview and filming techniques as well as to explore the concepts of faith and belief. Working in small groups and using the skills they learned from the professionals, the students themselves interviewed, filmed and edited eight local Holocaust survivors, recording their stories for posterity. We thank Sara Bedzow, Charles Bedzow, George Blank, Miriam Gershwin, Gladys Halpern, Rose Holm, Jack Pomeranc and Menno Ratzker for taking the time to be interviewed by our students for this important project.
The project will culminate in a community movie screening on Monday, May 22, at the school, featuring the survivors’ stories, edited by the students, woven together with a documentary produced by the professional videographer who worked with the students throughout the year. Throughout the year, the eighth-grade students have learned that they are responsible for building the future on the foundations set for them.
When asked what lessons they gleaned from working on the Better Together Names Not Numbers program, eighth grader Eden Bendory commented, “I have family members who survived and passed away in the Holocaust. I understand how important it is to pass down the stories of survivors so that they can be remembered, honored, and to prevent genocide from happening again.”
“Their story is a part of history that needs to be remembered so that this will not be repeated and the story will be carried from generation to generation,” added classmate Hannah Mamet.
In addition to the extensive Holocaust Studies and Jewish History classes offered at RKYHS that study the history of anti-Semitism and put the Holocaust into a historical context, the school is pleased to organize a Jewish heritage trip for Poland and Israel. The seniors will be leaving in mid-May for this trip, which is rooted in Jewish history. They will tour once-vibrant cities and towns and come away with a greater understanding of the devastation of the Shoah. The journey also will include visits to concentration camps, surviving area synagogues and yeshivot that our students will fill once again with the sounds of Tefila, learning and Jewish songs. The trip will culminate in Israel for the 50th anniversary celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem. This meaningful and powerful trip aims to strengthen their Jewish identities and give them a stronger connection to their history, roots and their responsibility to the future of the Jewish people.
The lessons learned in the Names Not Numbers program and the upcoming trip to Poland echoes that of the theme of this year’s JKHA/RKYHS annual dinner and key values imparted on students at JKHA and RKYHS. The pasuk associated with the dinner reads, “Just like my ancestors planted for me, I plant for my children” (Taanit, 23). At JKHA/RKYHS it is important that students learn where they are from and where the Jewish people have been. By learning about what previous generations have been through, the students can focus on where they are going, how they can do good and the positive impact they can make on others’ lives.
Among the survivors interviewed for Names Not Numbers is one of this year’s JKHA/RKYHS Annual Dinner honorees George Blank. George, along with his wife, Harriet, has worked tirelessly in advocating for the value of Jewish education and the importance of defining one’s Jewish identity and voice. They have devoted endless hours and provided valuable leadership in promoting affordability and strengthening the school’s financial assistance endowment for future generations of Jewish children.
Having survived the horrors of the Holocaust as a child and subsequently being taken in in America along with his mother, George Blank feels compelled to inspire the next generation in learning their responsibility to give back. He feels strongly that he survived for a reason, and he has made it his life’s mission on how can he give back and make an impact in the world.
Students at JKHA/RKYHS have the privilege to be inspired by the strength that those before them have drawn from their experiences. A common theme heard from the survivors interviewed in Names Not Numbers is that they survived, they are here and they are able to share their stories. Through impactful programs and experiences at JKHA/RKYHS where students learn where they are from, they are able to internalize that knowledge and embody one of the core values of the school, to make a difference. They are imbued with the takeaway message to live lives that maintain a strong connection to Torah and Jewish values and optimize their responsibility of perpetuating the legacy from generation to generation.