Though the Holocaust ended nearly 73 years ago, the need to remember that horrific time continues, with anti-Semitic incidents on the rise and the number of survivors dwindling.
To connect the past with the present and future, the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC has matched up volunteers to bring lunch to the Jewish Community Center on Grove Avenue in Cedarhurst, where they will either sit down with a Holocaust survivor in a small group or travel to their home in the Five Towns or nearby Valley Stream, Lynbrook and Far Rockaway on Monday, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in memory of the civil rights leader.
The event is called Kindness to Victims of Discrimination, in honor of King’s legacy, and is supported by a grant from the United Jewish Appeal-Federation’s Time for Good initiative. The JCC has the largest program for Holocaust survivors on Long Island, serving more than 300 people who lived through what Nazi Germany called the “Final Solution,” its code name for the plan to exterminate the Jewish people.
Laurie Stone Brofsky, the volunteer service manager who is leading this project, wants to make sure survivors have the chance to share their stories. “The number of survivors still alive today is quickly diminishing; this chance to hear about the Holocaust firsthand from a person who actually lived through it is very special,” she said. “Time is short, and while we can make a difference, the Gural JCC provides programs and services to Holocaust survivors.”
There are roughly 100,000 Jews who were in camps, ghettos and in hiding under Nazi occupation who are still alive, according to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, one of the few international organizations that tracks this information. The Third Reich is gone, but not the prejudice its supporters expressed, as there were 1,299 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the United States in the first nine months of 2017 — a 70 percent jump over 2016 — according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League. Those numbers include assaults, destruction of property and attacks against Jewish institutions. New York state, with the largest Jewish population nationwide, had 267 incidents reported.
Leah Goldberg has partaken of the services offered by the JCC for nearly eight years. Originally from Poland, Goldberg now lives in Valley Stream and will be enjoying a kosher lunch with volunteers on Jan. 15, and looks forward to sharing her experiences. “We shouldn’t forget,” she said. “I’ve shared my stories with my children and my grandchildren, but more people should know.”
Goldberg explained that she’s unsure whether sharing survivors’ stories can prevent anything like the Holocaust from happening again, but Brofsky believes she understands how survivors’ stories impact everyone involved. “It means a lot to survivors to be able to share their experiences with younger generations so that the discrimination people faced during the Holocaust will never be repeated,” she said.
There are regular events at the Gural JCC for Holocaust survivors and their families. Chaverim is a special enrichment program for survivors to socialize, enjoy kosher meals, engage with both recreational and educational activities, and even receive health monitoring and group therapy.
There is also a group for the children of survivors, where they can talk about honoring and preserving the legacy of their parents, and work towards educating the next generation.
Hewlett resident Zachary Tucket, who is 12, is part of that next generation. He and his mother, Elizabeth, first volunteered at the JCC on Thanksgiving, helping to distribute food, and she thought this would be a great experience for him. “It will help him understand more,” she said, referring to the Holocaust. “And I’m sure it will mean a lot to the people there to see a young face there.”
The Holocaust was an extreme example of intense hatred, but Brofsky hopes that sharing the MLK Day of Service with survivors and honoring King’s legacy will help foster an environment in which discrimination is just a memory. It’s “about doing good, serving your community,” she said. “On MLK Day, we will show Holocaust survivors kindness and honor them by listening to their stories and learning from their experiences so that we can go forward to make sure that the discrimination people faced during the Holocaust will never be forgotten and never be repeated.”
The deadline to sign up for the Gural JCC’s volunteer event was Jan. 5. For those who want to volunteer for future events, go to timeforgood.com.