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Engrossed in a Holocaust story that resonates

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In commemoration of Yom HaShoah, more than people joined a Zoom event hosted by Temple Hillel in North Woodmere, which featured filmmaker and Five Towns native Tyler Gildin discussing his documentary, “The Starfish” on April 7.

Yom HaShoah is Hebrew for Holocaust Memorial Day. The day is commemorated in the United States and Israel on a day corresponding to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, when Jewish residents battled Nazi forces for nearly a month that April and May.

“The Starfish” was released in May 2020 and recounts the story of Gildin’s late grandfather Herb Gildin, who grew up in Germany. As World War II began, 10-year-old Herb and his older sisters Cele, 14, and Margaret, 12, were split up and sent to Sweden to live with non-Jewish families far away from the Nazis’ reach. After the war, the siblings were able to connect with their birth parents in the United States.

The title refers to a folktale about an old man who sees a boy on a beach tossing starfish back into the ocean. The man tells the boy that there are so many starfish that he’ll never make a difference, he won’t save enough. The boy responds by tossing another starfish into the water, and telling the man that he just made a difference to that one. Gildin saw this as a connection to his grandfather’s family in Sweden.

“Its not a typical sad Holocaust story,” said Gildin, a Woodmere native. “It’s a story of survival, resilience and the American dream. It also focuses on the importance of human kindness.” Herb died in May 2019, at the age of 90. 

Gildin added that his grandfather was not always forthright with sharing stories from his childhood throughout his childhood. “He was not one that liked to reflect since he was someone who always wanted to look forward in a very business oriented way,” he said. “His older sister Cele passed away in 2017 and at the funeral, my grandfather gave the eulogy. That was the first time I heard him discuss stories from that time.”

Rabbi Steven Graber, of Temple Hillel, moderated the discussion. He noted how impressed he was with the film. “I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning but I was so glad I got to see it,” Graber said. “When I think about the Swedish family that helped Herb and his siblings, it made me ask this question to myself, what are we doing to help others who are in need today?”

Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg, the spiritual leader of Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, said during the virtual event that he was impressed with Gildin’s filmmaking. “As the producer and director, Tyler was able to step back so that people were able to get engrossed in his grandfather’s story,” he said. “Was I so engaged in the film because I know the family? No. I was engaged because it just happens to be an excellent film.”

Gildin said that for even those who are not Jewish, there are relatable elements for everyone in the film. “Everybody comes from somewhere where you have to deal with certain challenges and obstacles,” he said. “There are certain pieces in this film that I think resonate with a wide audience.”