Getting to know Holocaust survivors at Brandeis


Nearly 80 years ago, the Holocaust was declared over and World War II ended. Each year since 1951, Jewish people in the United States and Israel have honored the memories of the 6 million Jews killed by Nazi Germany on Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom Hashoah, which this year falls on Sunday.

That day, Brandeis Hebrew Academy eighth-graders will present a program created for this year’s commemoration, called Yom Hashoah. It will include poems written by students, video interviews with Holocaust survivors and songs.

The poems were written with the guidance of Audrey Bieber, the school’s literacy coordinator.

“Over the years, the eighth-grade students at Brandeis Hebrew Academy have had a unique and comprehensive education about the Holocaust from their Hebrew studies, literacy studies and their participation in the JCC program with Holocaust survivors,” Bieber wrote in an email. “This extensive lens has enabled them to write truly meaningful poems about such a horrible time.”

Sunday’s presentation will be the culmination of a two-year program, in partnership with one created by the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC called Chaverim. Students have been meeting with, and getting to know, Holocaust survivors.

“They want their students to be face to face with survivors,” Laurie Brofsky, volunteer services manager at the Gural JCC, said. “It’s very important that in the years to come, when they face challenges, criticism of their faith and Holocaust deniers, the students can say, ‘I knew a Holocaust survivor.’”

The students not only learn about the survivors’ lives, but also take part in craft making, reading and quilting blankets for Israel Defense Force soldiers.

“We try to connect to the songs so it’s more meaningful (for) us and for them,” eighth-grader Leah Minkov said, “and we show emotion as we read our poems and sing the songs. We read the background of the songs so it means more to us. The songs are in Hebrew, so we read the translations, the stories, who made it and why.”

During the first year of Yom Hashoah prep, the students built a foundation of knowledge, and over the past school year they took a deeper dive into the survivors’ lives.

“Last year was definitely more of just scratching the surface, basic things about what happened and how old were they,” Asnat Rakhmanova, another program participant, said. “This year, we got to meet them deeper, learn more interesting things about them. It was sadder, but we were able to get really close with them. Now we’re able to pass on their stories to others who may not have the same privilege as this, to sit and speak with a Holocaust survivor. We are really lucky in doing so.”

The students and survivors met every month on a Thursday at the JCC’s Lawrence campus, where the students interviewed their assigned Holocaust survivor.

“This is one of the last generations of Holocaust survivors,” eighth-grader Zachary Obadiah said. “It’s a responsibility to pass on the knowledge, and it’s a tribute to making sure no one ever forgets.”

Never forgetting is the program’s primary theme, along with aiming to ensure that younger generations are exposed to the voices of the remaining Holocaust survivors.

“I feel privileged that our students are actually documenting it, because I think the legacy is most important,” Hagit Genosar, coordinator of the Yom Hashoah program, said. “Those kids in our little Brandeis, they leave a mark and I think it’s a big deal.

“I wanted to try and make them feel how people did back then, in the readings and songs during class,” Genosar added. “It’s hard, and it’s something you cannot grasp.”

She said she believed the work the students did, and their getting acquainted with survivors, will leave a last mark on their lives.

“This is something that has so much value to it, and it’s pure gold,” Genosar said. “In perspective, when they grow up, they will appreciate and understand it more. They will get older and it will grow on them, and they will understand that they were the last generation.”

Sunday’s program starts at 7:30 p.m. at Brandeis, at 25 Frost Lane in Lawrence. The interviewed survivors and their families, along with community members and the students’ families, will be in attendance.