Holocaust Exhibit Provides Powerful Experience
Posted by: UJA Federation on Tuesday, December 15, 2009 at 6:41:52 pm | Comments (0)
"I still remember the first time I met someone who didn't know about the Holocaust," said Joshua Cusano, dressed in a dark suit, addressing the crowd of more than 100 at the Hunter College Hillel opening reception December 9th for the One Soul: When Humanity Fails exhibition.
It was not that the girl was a Holocaust denier, Cusano, a Hunter undergraduate, explained. She just did not know, and she is not alone.
Survivors of Dachau greet U.S. troops, April 30, 1945. Photograph Sydney Blau, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy National Archives.
Commissioned by the Afikim Foundation - a nonprofit dedicated to developing educational and communal programs - When Humanity Fails is an exhibit designed to reach out to people who would not ordinarily visit a Holocaust museum. A four-walled structure with two openings, it contains photography, video, text, and recorded audio of testimonies from survivors and liberators.
Hillels Provide Access
Speaking to guests - Hunter alumni, fellow students, faculty, and family - at the reception, Lisa Pollack, executive director of Hunter Hillel, thanked UJA-Federation of New York for their "unwavering guidance and support." Although UJA-Federation is not directly involved with the project, it contributes by supporting Hunter as part of "12 local Hillels that provide an opportunity for increased access to Jewish life and experiences," said Suzanne Peck, chair of UJA-Federation's Task Force of Hillels. "The Hillels reach and engage more than 16,000 Jewish college students in a broad range of Jewish learning and living activities."
"One of UJA-Federation's priorities is to support and inspire current and future generations by drawing on Judaism as a source of purpose, meaning, and community," Peck said. "Exhibits such as One Soul: When Humanity Fails not only connect students to a painful era in world history, but also help them understand the necessity of taking a stand. For many college students, social-action activities are their link to Jewish values, and exhibits such as One Soul encourage this connection."
Cusano and fellow student Leya Schwartz spoke at the event, drawing parallels between the exhibit and a Holocaust class they had taken. Through the class, each was paired with a survivor with whom he or she met weekly. Schwartz said that all four of her grandparents are survivors, and she has thought that "as nature takes its course," we lose the people who can tell us about what happened. The firsthand accounts will still exist in movies and textbooks, she said, but it's not the same.
Cusano added that when we have first-person testimony or an exhibit like When Humanity Fails, we "can utilize it to raise awareness of other genocides."
Fighting "Holocaust Fatigue"
"People suffer from what they call ‘Holocaust fatigue,' " said Dr. Rabbi Israel Singer, a former CUNY graduate and teacher who spoke at the event. Singer is the former president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Singer said many people are tired of reading about the Holocaust, about genocide in Rwanda and Darfur. We need to fight this, he said, and one way is to focus on "what man can be, not . . . how bad man has been."
Singer said he first thought the exhibit might not be a good match with Hunter College. But upon learning how "the demography of City University has changed," he said he realized the lobby at Hunter is the perfect place. Much of the Hunter College population is made up of students who are the first generation to go to college or the first generation to be born in the United States.
The exhibit will be on display through Wednesday, December 16th, in Hunter College's West Building lobby, East 68th Street at Lexington Avenue in New York City.
Posted by: Gabriella Geselowitz on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 6:15:08 pm | Comments (0)
"Jews are a very opinionated people," declared human rights legend Natan Sharansky at a press conference Sunday, "every Jew cannot unite his or her all opinions in one. They have at least two opinions."
This certainly seemed to bear true at the General Assembly, where the idea of pluralism seemed to permeate the event on every level. There were several minyanim to choose from for Shacharit, from traditional Orthodox to Conservative Egalitarian. The organizations present ranged from Ha'Aretz representing journalistic coverage on Israel on a whole, to the Chabad table with tefillin for those who had not yet prayed that morning. Pluralist organizations such as MASA offered to accommodate participants from a variety of backgrounds (they partially subsidize long-term Israel trips from Orthodox Seminary to secular social work programs).
Even anti-Israel activists were represented, albeit unofficially, as a protestor interrupted Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to call to end the "occupation in Gaza."
And in keeping with the GA's pluralistic spirit, Jews and security personnel of different backgrounds and beliefs helped to escort the interloper out.
ICHEC - Week III
Posted by: Leya Schwartz on Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 1:55:31 pm | Comments (0)
In class this past week we discussed death and dying and what it means to us and to our survivors. Many brought up how their friends very casually drop in conversation the fact that they know they are going to die soon. We discussed how to deal with that. Alicia doesn't talk about the fact that she is going to die, rather she talks about how to get better, how to feel better, how to live her life better. She and I speak about her sickness every week. She is one who wears her emotions on her sleeve. Some days she is very sad about the condition she is in. She had to turn down a tour group recently because she knew she would not be able to physically do it. So she is coping with the fact that she may never be able to work again. All I could do is be encouraging. We talk every week about her emotional status regarding her pain and disabilities now. I tell her that if she is not optimistic and positive about the situation she may only digress. This is something I believe in across the board and know that I want to incorporate into my everyday life.
Alicia has only allowed for my vision to be even clearer. I want to be a doctor, and now I can confidently say that I know how I want to practice. The mind and the body are in sync and a patient must be treated with that view. The patient's psychological mindset can heavily influence the status of their physical being.
I see this with Alicia at every meeting. She is a good patient because she knows her body, knows what hurts her, and knows why. But not only that, she is expressive. She feels more pain when she is sad than she does when she is happy. When I come to visit she always says: "Every time you come I enjoy your company more than anything. You take my mind off of this darn illness and I feel better for the rest of the week."
Here is a perfect example of how she and I help and learn from each other. Sometimes I even feel the need to call her during the week for my dose of encouragement.
ICHEC - Week II
Posted by: Leya Schwartz on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 7:11:38 pm | Comments (0)
Alicia and I are getting closer and more comfortable with each other as our time together progresses. As our relationship grows I think of her more and more as one of my good friends. That being said it is hard to remember that she is different. On one of our last visits she spoke about her recent interview with an Austrian Jew who wants to find out more about the lives of the Jews living in Austria during WWII. Alicia explained to me that she was only 9 years old when the Germans invaded Austria and that she still remembers it as if it was yesterday.
It was the dead of winter and the Nazis were coming into Jewish homes during the night to take them across the border to Czechoslovakia. She knew that if they came to her house she would suffer the long journey in the harsh winter climate. As Alicia lay in her bed late at night she would practice enduring the cold by pulling the covers off her body and laying there shivering for as long as she could possibly handle it. This 9-year-old girl wanted to be prepared. She wanted to make sure she would be accustomed to how cold and miserable she would be if the Nazi's would take them away. The Nazis never came for her family as they did for many others in Austria at the time. But sometimes I forget that she is not just a friend, also someone who is a living proof of such a horrible era of inhumane suffering. Alicia is amazed that she is still so emotional about her early childhood but realizes that it is a part of who she is and will be there in her heart for the rest of her life.
This same theme was also conveyed in class. Last week we watched the Eichmann trial and saw witnesses retell their experiences during the 1930's and 1940's as Jews in Europe. Even though the trial took place in Israel in 1961, it was obvious that the events of the Holocaust impacted the survivors' lives forever and molded them into the people they already became. There was one witness who conjured up so many horrible thoughts and pains that he ended up fainting at the stand from distress. No matter how normal they seem they will always have a deep scar in their hearts and minds from the lives they lived under the Nazi Regime. And through all of her grief and reflectance Alicia again reminded me of how rewarding it is to be with her and be able to learn from her. Someone who experienced such tragedy and devastation still lives a happy and relatively healthy life today.
ICHEC - Week I
Posted by: Leya Schwartz on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 3:06:00 pm | Comments (0)
The past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for me. The months of September and October prove to be very busy ones for Jews. The holidays include a large amount of eating most times, with a small period of the extreme opposite on Yom Kippur. In addition, there is the large amount of time spent praying and reflecting. With the New Year in full swing, it is important to reflect on the past year and try to better oneself for the year ahead. This time of reflection and introspection with G-d became a large part of my past few weeks.
Perfectly intertwined has been hearing a Holocaust survivor speak of her experience. Standing at 4 feet 10 inches (at most), this special woman is elderly. Having survived the Holocaust, she came to speak to us about her experiences. Nothing or nobody can explain what her life was like, and I won't even attempt to. All I know is that every account I hear breaks another piece of my heart. She should have died in so many different instances yet she managed to survive. She survived the occupation in Poland, she survived the Sosnovietz Ghetto, she survived mass killings, she survived Auschwitz, she survived Dr. Mengela, she survived the death march, she survived two bouts of typhus, and for what? She saw her family, friends, and fellow Jews die before her eyes. Six of her seven other family members weren't as lucky, or unlucky as some look at it. But she feels that if she endured the Holocaust she HAS to live now. She is here for two reasons. First, to continue the growth of the Jewish nation with her beautiful family, exactly what Hitler and the Nazis were determined to destroy. And secondly, to experience the most beautiful gift G-d gave to the Jewish people: Israel. The first time in 25 years that she laughed was when she visited Israel 20 years after the war. That is what she lives for, and that is what all of the Jews should live for, to appreciate and understand the importance of the State of Israel. This inspired me during these important times to put my life and thoughts into perspective. She inspired me to revisit my trip to Poland, print out my pictures, put them in an album and caption them using my lengthy journal. As I revisited I thought more and more about how important that trip was and how every PERSON should go. Only there will you be able to superficially grasp what happened to the Jews of Eastern Europe.
On a very different note, along with the theme of these few months, I met with Alicia, my friend. Alicia has been an important inspiration during these times of repentance. With all of her stories and experiences she reminds me again and again that life is too short. When Alicia first moved to America she was around 30 years old and worked for Elizabeth Arden. She was a tall, thin, blond who fit the company image perfectly. After seven years she left Elizabeth Arden because she felt she could be doing something she really loves while she works: traveling. She soon landed a job for a travel agency and worked her way up to becoming a tour guide. Alicia and I have the same passion for traveling. She loves to learn about different cultures, as I do. I can sit and listen to her stories from all around the globe for days. When she was talking about one of her trips to Japan she was telling me about this waterfall that was not on the itinerary for the group but was definitely on hers. She woke up three hours earlier and trekked to the waterfall by herself. Alicia said something to me that will always resonate: "I never regret anything I did, only something I didn't do." They say that wisdom comes with age and you can really see that with Alicia. Some may think of elderly people as out of touch with the times or old-fashioned, but Alicia is more than in touch with the world today she is someone who I would gladly take advice from. She is an honest person who knows what it is to really live life. Even with her inhibiting injury she goes to museums alone, taking in the fresh air and the knowledge. She is thankful to me that she can now have a friend who will listen to her stories. "Some people my age are bitter misers and they don't get out much, but I refuse to live my life like that: you only live once," she says so eloquently and honestly. She is an extremely refreshing person to be around. ‘Refreshing' is not necessarily a term one would use to describe an elderly person, but Alicia is something special and I am so thankful to be able to spend time and learn from her. I hope this year will be as meaningful and special as these two amazing women who I met. Their stories and lives inspire me to live mine in the best way that I can.
Posted by: Rebecca Kaplan on Tuesday, September 29, 2009 at 2:45:04 pm | Comments (0)
Although this was only the first week of class and I only had a chance to speak on the phone with my friend, I already know that the upcoming year will be amazing. I have had bonds with older people, including my grandparents and patients in the hospital I volunteer for, but no interaction will be the same as the one I will hopefully form with my survivor. Alicia is my friend. She is someone that I will be able to have one-on-one time with, but not as a family member or a patient whom I talk to for a few minutes. We have the opportunity to form a friendship just like I would with anybody my age only I will be relating to someone much older. The fact that we are not from the same generation or the same country will pose as a challenge. To overcome those challenges we will have to relate in very different aspects than normal and leaving our comfort zone. That is what makes it a unique and unbelievable experience.
I already experienced this in our first telephone conversation. Before calling Alicia I rehearsed some lines from the notes I took in class. After introducing myself on the phone the paper was out of sight. Our conversation was so comfortable and natural that I didn't want to hang up, and neither did she. The second she looked at the clock and realized that we were on the phone for 30 minutes she said, "Oh gosh I have been keeping you on the phone forever! I am so sorry! I just felt so natural talking to you and didn't realize the time. I can tell this is going to be a great and honest relationship!" When I heard her say that there was a smile on my face that extended from ear to ear. I was originally paired with Alicia, who, for some of her life lived in Argentina, because I had studied there for a semester last year. But I soon found out this was not the only thing we had in common. She prides herself on and values honesty as one of the most important things in life, just as I do. All I can say is I cannot wait for Wednesday at 3:30 pm.
-Submitted by Leya Schwartz
Posted by: Rebecca Kaplan on Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 6:56:07 pm | Comments (0)
Being the first human awareness event of the semester and the last of the year 5769, I believe that it was one of the most successful. Some people think that the number of people that come to an event make that event sucessful, but this is not so. We are not about quantity, but quality. During my visit, I meet a man that was in his early 40's and although he had been in the hospital for about 2 weeks, he was in high spirits. Later I was baffled to learn that he was starting chemo the next day. The realization that our world does not revolve around us had hit me. Not only are we angry and worried about the minuscule details of our lives, but we let these things get a hold of us. From that moment, I learned that these things that constantly anger us and stress us are due to our own entrapments. Rather then stressing and worrying, let's rejoice and embrace the fact that our problems are not as bad as they seem and as long as we have good friends family and happiness we can prevail.