From the Desk of David Black: Remembering the Holocaust takes all of us

From the Desk of David Black: Remembering the Holocaust takes all of us
David Black, Executive Director, Sid Jacobson JCC (Photo credit: Sid Jacobson JCC)

By David Black

This week, Jews here on Long Island and around the world observe one of our most solemn days – Yom Hashoah – the day we remember the six million men, women, and children who were brutally slaughtered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. 

Almost 80 years later, with the number of survivors not only in New York but around the world dwindling with every day’s passing, it is becoming more and more incumbent upon all of us who are still here to “Never Forget.” 

At East Hill’s Sid Jacobson JCC, where I am fortunate to be the executive director, we interact quite a bit with just a few of the more than 30,000 Holocaust survivors still living in the New York area through UJA-Federation’s “Witness Project,” a remarkable program that connects high school students with survivors of the Shoah. 

Most are in their 90s, so when they experienced the absolute worst of humanity, they were little children – much younger by comparison than the students to whom they speak today. 

They lost their childhoods in the atrocities of the death camps. 

They lost siblings. 

They lost one – or sometimes both – of their parents. 

But, amazingly, they never lost hope. 

Together with these high school students – most of whom had never met a World War II veteran nor a survivor of the war before now – I have heard the most amazing stories of determination and resilience in the face of adversity like no one before or since has ever known. 

I have witnessed emotions run rampant through teenagers who spend most of their non-school hours on cell phones and Tik Tok. I have seen the oldest and frailest among us connect with the strongest and most physically able. And I have seen Christian, Muslim, and other non-Jewish children (in addition to Jews) learn the most important lessons they will ever learn from octogenarian and nonagenarian Jews about loss, hope, resilience and determination of spirit. 

What’s even more special about this program is how the students – after learning from their elderly counterparts – relay what they see and hear to an audience of hundreds right here on Long Island through speeches and survivor-inspired artwork.

Next week, the JCC will open a photography exhibit showcasing the vibrancy, strength, sense of humor and resiliency of 17 local survivors. We invite visitors to see through the lens of photographer Daniel G. Weiss and ask them what they see when they look at the faces of these remarkable men and women who experienced the very worst of humanity almost eight decades ago. 

Over the past few years, we have seen what antisemitism can do when left unchecked through seminal national moments like in Charlottesville when neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us” through the streets of an otherwise peaceful Virginia city. 

Last month, the Anti-Defamation League, the leading global organization on preventing hatred and violence, released its annual report on the pace and frequency of antisemitic incidents throughout the United States which it has published since 1979. 

According to its findings, there were 3,697 recorded incidents of antisemitic violence or destruction of property in this country. Year over year, that amounts to a 36 percent increase since the year before (2,717) and an astounding 500 percent increase from 2013 (751 separate incidents). 

The New York and New Jersey area saw an overwhelming 39 percent jump in incidents of antisemitism last year, accounting for more than 15 percent of all incidents directed at Jews throughout the country. 

On Long Island alone, such incidents have risen by an astounding 10 percent since 2021. 

While there is arguably no single cause of the violence and hatred directed at American Jews, no one can dispute that the rhetoric and vitriol against just 2% of the country has increased. Antisemitism has existed since the Roman Empire nearly two millennia ago. It has persisted throughout the world and in the United States, despite the pleas of the three generations since the world witnessed the atrocities of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and the other death camps in Europe. 

Now, as the Greatest Generation and those who managed to escape Hitler’s final solution fade into history, the torch must be carried by this new generation. This crop of high school students who are meeting survivors will most likely be among the last to do so. Within a few years, anyone with any real memories of the horrors of Nazi Germany will be gone. 

On this Yom Hashoah, we must honor their struggles and the memories of those they loved and lost by telling their stories to the young people of today. And those young people should be compelled by history to repeat those stories to the young people of tomorrow. 

Only then will we truly “Never Forget.” 

David Black is the executive director of the Sid Jacobson JCC, the only full-service Jewish Community Center on the North Shore 

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