Holocaust Education Week: Reflections from Queen’s Hillel

Holocaust Education Week: Reflections from Queen’s Hillel

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

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.