Holocaust Education Week 2019: Keeping Survivors Memories Alive

Holocaust Education Week 2019: Keeping Survivors Memories Alive

Written by: Sarah Mandel 

Earlier this month, Queen’s Hillel hosted its annual Holocaust Education Week. This year, we were fortunate enough to have a total of three survivors visit our campus to share their stories. Being able to hear their testimonies first hand is such a privilege, and we are so thankful for the survivors who took the time to engage in meaningful conversation with students here at Queen’s.

The first to visit was Jochebed Katan, a child Holocaust survivor, who joined us for Shabbat dinner. Jochebed was born in Nazi-occupied Holland, where she was immediately given up to another family who hid her and kept her safe for the duration of the war. After sharing her story with us, Jochebed went on to speak about her important mission: defying hatred. She asked us to help her by accepting everyone for who they are, regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexuality and anything else that deems them “different”. Although anti-Semitism and hatred alike still exist, we must do everything we can to combat it. It was a beautiful way to spend Shabbat, commemorate the Shoah, and most importantly, honour Jochebed.

The following Monday, we were visited by Holocaust survivors, David Moskovic and Reny Friedman. David was taken to Auschwitz at just 14 years old. Not long after arriving, he was required to walk nearly 10 kilometers to a work camp called Buna, where he worked as a brick layer for nine months. He was then forced on a death march, where he marched for three days straight without breaks and food. After surviving this horrific march, David was taken to Buchenwald on a train so crammed he had to sit directly on top of another prisoner’s head. Each day in Buchenwald, the guards would take hundreds of prisoners past the camp gates, force them to dig their own graves, and shoot them. One day, they took David there and he knew if he passed through the gates, he would never return. David cleverly decided to drop to the ground and was able to escape his death, since the guards reached their quota of prisoners who passed through and sent the rest back. Despite the hardships he faced during the war, David now lives a happy life and always looks to help others, recently aiding a Syrian family in need.

Reny was a hidden child during the war. In 1942, the Underground placed Reny in a convent in France, where she lived for around two and a half years. She fit in nicely with the other Catholic girls and was kept safe. She was so comfortable there that when her father came to pick her up after liberation, she did not want to go with him. She did not recognize him, nor did she even speak the same language as him. After promising he would bring her back, she finally agreed to go with her father. It took many years for Reny to realize she was not a young Catholic girl anymore. Even to this day, she still has her cross and vows to never forget her time in the convent.

Reflecting back on this year’s Holocaust education week, I think about how my generation will be the last to have the luxury of hearing firsthand survivor testimonies. Given this reality, we must take on the role of sharing the stories we hear with generations to come and ensure these atrocities do not happen again.

Getting Back To Your Roots

Getting Back To Your Roots

Recently, my mom took the 23AndMe test to learn more about her ancestry and genetics. For those of you who don’t know, 23AndMe is a genetic testing service that can analyze ancestry and genetic predispositions through a saliva sample.

After taking this test, my mom discovered her blood is 99.9% Jewish Ashkenazi. I wondered what percentage of my blood was Jewish. She told me it didn’t really matter because based on the halachic law (Jewish law) of matrilineal descent. I was Jewish. This got me thinking: is it just our blood that makes us Jewish? Is it our values? Our customs and traditions? Or a mix of all these things?

Growing up in Toronto, I lived quite a sheltered life within the Jewish community. I went to a Jewish day school, Jewish high school, and Jewish camp. My volunteer hours were done at synagogue, and I always dressed in blue and white for Yom Ha’atzmaut. When Yom Kippur rolled around, I was able to fast without worrying about missing a test. I munched on my matzah pizza during Passover with my friends, and never questioned my Jewish identity. I lived, breathed, and acted Jewish, no matter what blood was running through my veins.

Then I came to Queen’s and things got a little tricky. I found myself unable to fast or go home for the holidays during midterms. One exam season, I nearly ordered a Domino’s pizza, forgetting it was Passover. I listened in class as one of my professors put down Israel and I didn’t say a word—it was a cold thing to do for a warm-blooded Jew.

I hadn’t forgotten I was Jewish, but I definitely felt disconnected. Aside from my blood, I really wasn’t acting very Jewish. Last year, my roommate, who was president of Queen’s Hillel at the time, asked me if I wanted to help out with set-up at a Shabbat dinner. I decided to tag along and help, not realizing a small act of kindness would help bring me back to my roots. I started helping out with Hillel events during my spare time and found that in addition to a great bagel brunch, I got to be around friends who share the same culture and values as me. This environment made me feel more at home.

University is a balance where we study and try to have a good time, but Judaism needs to be balanced too. Students can’t always eat kosher or keep Shabbat, but if we do absolutely nothing, it becomes more difficult to keep the connection alive. I believe being Jewish should be more than just a genetic trait. Joining Hillel helped me find that balance between living my secular life on campus but still having a place to explore my Jewish identity. Joining Hillel, or even just attending Hillel events, is an awesome way to stay connected to your Jewish roots and express your identity beyond your DNA makeup.

Welcome Back!

Welcome Back!

Written By: Jemma Kaczanowicz

Welcome Gael’s!

As the Program Coordinator for Queen’s Hillel, I’m excited to welcome you to another school year!

Hillel is a unique organization within the Jewish university experience. We offer space for students of all backgrounds to explore their Jewish identity and community on their own terms. Whether this is through socializing, engaging with others about Israel, working with Hillel staff and student exec to come up with innovative programming, or celebrating Jewish rituals, there is a place for everyone at Queen’s Hillel.

During the 2019-2020 school year, Queen’s Hillel will be offering a variety of programming from Shabbat dinners, Holocaust Education Week, welcoming special guests to campus, participating in the second year of Out of Sync, and more! I want to hear from YOU about the type of events you would like for us to bring to Kingston, so please reach out to me with your suggestions.

Becoming involved with Hillel at Queen’s University is an opportunity to explore your Jewish community while at university. Hillel is FOR students so, without your participation and input, we can not be nearly as successful!  So please reach out if you are interested in helping to make Queen’s Hillel fantastic this year!

I can always be found out and about on campus, tabling at events, hosting programs, or stop by our NEW club space in the JDUC Room 221. As I am still relatively new to Kingston, I am taking every opportunity I can to speak with Queen’s students to learn about what they would like to see on campus, to hear your Jewish story or to have you tell me all of your favourite places to grab coffee!  Please reach out to me at jemma.kaczanowicz@hillelontario.org if you would like to chat.

I wish you the best as you start another year of learning, growth, and exciting opportunities.