Overview

TWIN-WITH-A-SURVIVOR is a program designed to help B’nai Mitzvah perform the mitzvah of becoming a witness to those who witnessed the Holocaust. (The mitzvah: to “Remember the evil which Amalek perpetrated on us” – Ki Tazi)

The student will meet and get to know a Holocaust Survivor; will include the Survivor’s experience in his or her talk and will recall that Survivor at anniversary Bar/Bat Mitzvah commemorations. Because of the circumstances of the Shoah, many Survivors never had the opportunity to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah. None had a Bat Mitzvah. Survivors have told us that being adopted has given them “a new lease on life.”

This program is usually described as “truly transformative” in its effect on the student and family, as well as for the survivor. It helps students mature and increases their knowledge of the history of World War II, the Shoah, and their Jewish heritage. They learn about human resilience; that one can overcome the greatest trauma and adversity to create a satisfying life and become a valued member of society. Most importantly, students learn that despite all the suffering and losses survivors endured for nothing more than being Jewish, they have chosen to remain part of the Jewish community.

When you meet a witness, you become a witness.
– Elie Wiesel 

Guidelines

  • Students must agree to meet a Survivor a minimum of three times (although more than three meetings are recommended). Meetings can take place within the school/synagogue; on "neutral turf” such as the Aidekman Campus in Whippany or in a diner, and/or in the Survivor’s home. At least one meeting should take place in the Survivor’s home (or place of business). We recommend a minimum of one hour per session. 
  • At least one of these meetings should be videotaped. Three copies of the tape will be made. The copies will be distributed to the student, the Survivor and to the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest.
  • Students must agree to keep journals of their meetings. While some of these notes may be personal reflections, Federation will receive copies of the portions of interview notes the student wishes to share. These portions should include the factual materials of the interviews that become future references for the student.
  • MetroWest will archive sealed copies of the interview notes as well as the videos and will have them available as back-up materials for the students’ future use.
  • Rabbis/Educational Directors will identify candidates. In cases where candidates volunteer to twin with a survivor, the Rabbi/Educational Director must agree and add a signature to the contract.
  • Minimal considerations should include:
    • Is the student knowledgeable about the Holocaust? 
    • Is the student stable and mature? 
    • Does the student have a respectable GPA? 
    • Will the student have parental support for this project? 
  • We recommend that Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom (Doubleday, 1997) and/or Salvaged Pages by Alexandra Zapruder be read prior to engaging in the program.
  • Student must sign a contract. Click here to view attachment 1. In addition, the student must obtain signed parental consent. Click here to view attachment 2. You may adjust the contract and consent forms to fit the particular needs of the student. We must receive the signed forms before we can proceed in assigning a Survivor to the student
  • Although we don’t anticipate that either the Survivor or student will be tongue-tied, we recommend that the student approach each of the interviews with a set of guideline questions that explore different aspects of the Survivor’s life. Students should realize that three sessions are hardly enough time to learn someone’s history. The guidelines will ensure that the most important aspect of the Survivor’s story will be addressed. Should the pair decide that they want to spend more time together, the Survivors will be able to elaborate on the individual aspects. Otherwise, the students should present the survivors with a list of questions for each interview so that the Survivor can gauge how much ground he/she will have to cover in the given time.
  • Whereas Holocaust Survivors may have a perfect memory of their own experience during the Holocaust and may be well versed in the history of that era none of them are qualified historians. So please, when writing your D’var Torah to include only the Survivor’s history. All historical facts should be checked for accuracy. Remember: Inaccurate facts are fodder for Holocaust denial.
  • Minimally, the students should ask:
    • Place and date of birth. (This should be followed up by consulting an atlas to get a geographical sense and an encyclopedia for a historical perspective of that Survivor’s country)
    • Lifestyle of the Jews in general and the Survivor’s family, in particular
    • Detailed knowledge of parents, siblings, and grandparents, with specific anecdotes. Anecdotes about extended family and childhood friends
    • Religious, social, educational, and economic life of the Jewish and non-Jewish community
    • Details of the Survivor’s life from earliest recollection to point of transition (1930’s)
    • Transition to 1945: oppression, ghetto, hiding, concentration camp experience, partisan activity, and emigration to sanctuary
    • Liberation return to home, D.P. camp, wait to emigrate to America or Palestine
    • Life in a new land (see sample questions)

Sample Questions

When did you arrive in the United States? 

Did you arrive by ship or plane? 

What was your first impression of America? 

Why did you choose to settle in New Jersey? 

Describe the town or city as it appeared to you when you first arrived. 

Did it in any way remind you of your home in Europe? If yes, how?

Did you feel welcome in the United States? If yes, what particularly made you feel welcome? If you were made to feel unwelcome, please explain.

Please describe your employment history: first job and subsequent ones. 

Please describe your first and subsequent homes in the United States. 

Did you attend night classes to learn English? Please describe that experience. 

Did you send your children to area schools and colleges? 

What do you consider the best thing about living in New Jersey? 

What are your thoughts on life, relationship with others, prayer, Judaism, religious observance, children, and grandchildren. 

Suggestions and Recommendations

  • We recommend that the student bring a camera (and video recorder) to each interview to make her/his own record.

  • In order to become better familiar with their family and their lives, we encourage the student to see photographs and documents of the Survivor’s pre-war and post war life (some also have photographs of life during the war).
  • It would be a good idea to participate in a shared activity, e.g. watching a Holocaust movie together and discussing it, or visiting a Holocaust exhibit.
  • Some Survivors have heavy accents. The students should not hesitate to ask the Survivor to clarify any remarks that he or she does not understand. Students should ask the Survivors to spell out names and places they mention during the conversations.
  • Please invite the survivor to the service. You may choose to offer the survivor an aliyah or other honor. That’s entirely up to you. Some families invite the survivor to the post-synagogue party. Again, the choice is your personal choice.

On the day of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah:

  • Take a breath, look around and savor the moment. It goes by much too fast. We will present certificates of completion to both the student and Survivor. Mazel Tov!!!!
  • We strongly encourage the family of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah to plant two trees in Israel in honor of this occasion, one for their child’s simcha and one in honor of the Survivor.
  • Please consider a donation to the Holocaust Council of MetroWest to mark this special occasion. In these difficult financial times, the Council depends on contributions to enable us to provide programs, including this one. We hope we can count on your generosity to continue our work of remembering the past to ensure a better future.

Fun Facts:

  • This link is a 10-question quiz about Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, which is both fun and informative.