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.

Dear First Year Me

Dear First Year Me

Written by Alana Spira,

Dear First Year Me,
Congratulations! You made it out of high school – Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts to help you make the most of the next four years.

DO go outside of your comfort zone!
I know it’s cliché, but the most incredible experiences happen in the places you least expect.

DON’T eat only pop-tarts and Mac and Cheese.
I know it’s tempting, but this gets old fast. Throw an apple in there once in a while.

DO travel
Whether its at the Castle, an exchange, or a summer road trip, travel is a great way to change your perspective and learn about the world. Queen’s has some great experiences to broaden your horizons.

DON’T sleep through your Monday morning classes
Even though you hate that 8:30am calculus class, you will be glad you went at the end of the semester when you don’t have to scramble to learn 12 weeks of material in 12 hours.

DO make the most of all the amazing resources on campus
Whether it is the Peer Learning Assistants, who will help you create a study schedule, or the amazing Hillel Director who will help you find your Jewish home on campus. It can be tough being a first year student away from home for the first time. These resources are invaluable to helping you settle into this crazy little City of Kingston and making it your home.

DON’T Overplan 
It is great to have a goal and know where you want to go, but it is equally incredible to find things you are passionate about and see where those leads you. Sometimes the place you end up is a place you least expected, and is better than anything you could have imagined.

DO Get involved in clubs, like Hillel
It is an amazing way to meet some of your best friends and develop strong leadership skills. Hillel was my home away from home, a place where I started as a volunteer and became President. I was inspired by those who came before me, and mentored by those who came after me. I had the resources and support to plan events and create a community on campus. It is through this community that I met some of my best friends – people who share strong Jewish values and a love of meatballs and kugel.

DO Remember to stop and enjoy the experience
You are only in university once. It is easy to get stressed with all the assignments and deadlines, but take a moment to stop and connect with the people around you and the crazy things you only get to do at Queen’s – like walking around all day during Hoco or dancing all night at Bar Mitzvah Bash – it’s amazing how fast four years goes by.

Dear First Year Me, I am so excited for all Queen’s has in store for you. You are going to love it!
Love, Alana, The Bubbie of Hillel