Queen’s Hillel hosted Holocaust Education Week that brought a variety of events to campus. One moment that stood out to me was during our 78 Years Later: A Conversation about Remembrance event, where two Holocaust Survivors, Reny Friedman and David Moskovic, shared their experiences at Queen’s University.
As I stood to the side of the room watching Mr. Moskovic and Mrs. Friedman individually share their experiences during the Shoah, I was touched to see how attentively the 50 people in the room (on the evening of a snowstorm, no less!) were listening.
During the last half of the evening both survivors were brought to the centre of the room to answer questions together, and their witty banter with one another stayed with me since then. The overwhelming response I received from students and community members in attendance was how moved they were by the experience and how unusual it was to see two Holocaust survivors in conversation with one another. A student explained to me afterwards that they hadn’t seen two survivors share the space like this before and that it felt different from other lecture series because of how they shared the floor together. Mr. Moskovic and Mrs. Friedman had very different experiences during the Holocaust but they were bound together in camaraderie having gone through an utterly horrific event and yet, both had managed to create meaningful lives after the Shoah.
In a time where it is becoming increasingly rare to have one, let alone two, Holocaust survivors in the room, I cannot help but feel that those of us lucky enough to be in attendance, were given an incredible gift of witnessing their stories. Being in the room with a Holocaust survivor means we are prioritizing space for them to share their experiences. We will be the last generation to say that we were in the presence of Holocaust survivors. Every time we step into such settings, we are bearing witness to history and become the new memory keepers. It is our burden and our privilege.
Holocaust Education Week on campus is a student driven initiative, as they lead the planning and strategy for the week. Members of our Hillel student executive board had personal ties to the two survivors who spoke and were instrumental in inviting them to Queen’s University. Students had the chance to shape the type of programming Queen’s Hillel brought to campus, giving our students ownership to offer Jewish experiences and learning to their peers.
Holocaust education is one way that Hillel Ontario is able to encourage university students to grapple with the past as a way to work towards a better future. It is my hope that with opportunities like this, students involved with Hillel will continue to carve out a space for themselves within the Jewish community, both at university and long after they leave school.
With initiatives like Holocaust Education Week on university campuses the past will never quite leave us, but nor should it, as what happened to us can inform how we go forth into the world. We carry the weight of telling our truths and our histories while also ensuring that “Never Again” is more than words; it is an action for Jewish and other marginalized people to work towards creating a better, kinder world, and our Hillel students will shape our Jewish future.
Written by: Jemma Kaczanowicz