Twin-With-A-Survivor Program

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

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 speech 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 twinned 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.

The students are then asked to give back, as we know that the years are getting further and further away from end of the Holocaust; yet we also know that the stories of the Holocaust are so critical to continue to tell. Through a variety of options, or one that the students can create on their own, they are asked to share their survivor’s story to the greater community.

The giving of Tzeddukah is a greatly important component of Judaism. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Holocaust Council of MetroWest to mark this special occasion. 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.

Guidelines and Suggestions

For they were living men and women, not symbols. - Elie Wiesel

  • Due to the COVID-19 era we are offering our Twin With A Survivor Program virtually or social distanced. Please inquire for further information.
  • Students must agree to meet a Survivor a minimum of three times. Meetings can take place within the school/synagogue; on ‘neutral turf,” such as the MetroWest campus or in a diner; and/or in the Survivor’s home. We recommend a minimum of one hour per session. Meeting time and place will be agreed upon by both parties.
  • The student should make three copies. The copies will be distributed to the student, the Survivor and to the Holocaust Council of MetroWest.
  • Students must agree to keep journals of their meetings. These notes will help them compose their D’var Torahs. While some of these notes may be personal reflections, MetroWest 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.

  • Minimal considerations should include:
    • Is the student knowledgeable about the Holocaust?
    • Is the student stable and mature?
    • Will the student have parental support for this project?
  • We recommend that each student read at least one young adult Holocaust diary, memoir or novel that’s protagonist is a young child or teenager during the Holocaust. (We can provide you with suggestions and copies of books if needed)
  • Choose at least one option from our suggested list or create one of your own, in order to tell the survivor’s story to others
  • The student, parent and Clergy or Educational director must sign the included contact. 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.

The primary objective is for the student to understand that the Survivor she/he is twinning with, was, remained and continues to be uniquely human.

In this process, the student will increase his/her abilities to interview, and document history, all of which should prove invaluable skills for learning and life.

Suggested interview topics:

  • Place and date of birth
  • Lifestyle of the Jews in general and the Survivor’s family, in particular
  • Detailed knowledge of parents, siblings, and grandparents, with specific anecdotes about extended family and childhood friends
  • 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

Continuing to tell the story: (sample ideas for students to complete in order to continue to tell the story; if you have your own idea, please share it with us)

  • Create a slideshow presentation of your survivor’s story and present it to a class in your school, religious school or somewhere else locally on a commemoration date (i.e. Yom HaShoah, International Holocaust Remembrance Day or Kristallnacht)
  • Volunteer at the Holocaust Council to help with speaking and programs
  • Write an article on your survivor’s story for your school newspaper or a local newspaper
  • Join us on a bus trip to Washington, DC to visit the Holocaust Museum with students and tell your survivor’s story on the bus (please be in touch with our office to arrange a date for this)
  • Create an online platform to share your survivor’s story
  • Create a children’s book about your survivor and read it to a class at your synagogue’s younger grades
  • We recommend that the student bring a camera (and video via phone) 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).
  • 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 interviews/conversations.
  • Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Holocaust Council of MetroWest to mark this special occasion. 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.
  • 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. Note: Some families invite the survivor to the post-synagogue party. Again, the choice is your personal choice.
  • 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 before the big day. Mazel Tov!!!!

Contact Us

Ilyse Shainbrown
Director of Holocaust Education & Newark Initiatives
(973) 929-3080

Jamie Carus
Program Manager
(973) 929-3067