May 15, 2024

The Next Generation Takes Hold

Avi Siegel Director of Teen Initiatives

Written with Ilyse Shainbrown, Director of Holocaust Education 

The Jewish people are facing a challenge: How we will continue to share the stories of the Shoah as we lose more and more survivors, and the years grow further and further away from the end of the Holocaust? 

At Federation, our Holocaust Council has been dedicated to its mission of Keeping the Stories Alive by working with survivors, as well as second and third generation survivors (their children and grandchildren), to share their story with schools and organizations. The impact is immense and unforgettable. In addition, we work to ensure the stories are remembered through our Twin with a Survivor program which provides young teens with the opportunity to become a witness to those who witnessed the Holocaust often as a mitzvah project for their bar or bat mitzvah. The one-on-one meetings between the teen and the Holocaust survivor build meaningful relationships and conclude with a promise from the teen to ensure the stories are never forgotten.  

Our Greater MetroWest community is fortunate to have had many Holocaust survivors willing and able to share their stories of struggle and survival but, clearly, we need to rely more and more on other ways of keeping their stories alive.  

Hopefully you’ve heard or read about StoryFiles, the digital interactive platform that has not only recorded the stories of our own GMW survivors Hanna Wechsler and Mark Schonwetter but also utilizes AI technology to speak, respond, and engage with learners. Through this new material, the ability to learn with survivors will be immortalized. 

But now we’re excited to share news of our latest endeavor, a program we call Youth Shoah Ambassadors. This training program gives a group of teens – many of whom have already participated in the twinning program – the creativity and skills they need to present the stories they’ve heard in meaningful and engaging ways. They work with professionals at the Jewish Play Project to develop an original performance that, earlier this month was the centerpiece of our Federation Yom HaShoah Commemoration. 

This year it felt more important than ever to come together to remember and honor the victims, survivors, and heroes of the Holocaust. The attacks of October 7 attacks and the idea that the Jewish people continue to endure and survive is what grounded our first cohort of eight Youth Shoah Ambassadors and guided the piece they designed and performed entitled “Survival.” They moved around stage expressing the words and moments that got their survivor through the horrors of the Holocaust. After the performance each recalled their survivor’s story to share with the audience. Hearing the collection of individual stories brought more weight to each one. 

The evening also included songs performed by the Israeli youth group, the Tzofim, a presentation by one of the teen’s grandfather, Holocaust survivor Eugene Ginter, who talked about the horrors he experienced and how the nightmare of October 7 has caused his own nightmares from the Holocaust to return. We concluded with the memorial prayer unifying our voices in recalling the names of those lost while praying for comfort and mercy to embrace ourselves and the entire world.  

For generations upon generations, Jews have been taught to tell and retell the stories of our people – “as if they have come forth from Egypt.” As we approach a time when those who lived through the Shoah are no longer with us, we must begin to think the same way about telling and retelling the stories of the Holocaust.  

The Youth Shoah Ambassadors said it simply as they concluded their program: “We will continue to share your stories.” From generation to generation – amen.