June 15, 2024
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June 15, 2024
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An Evening of “Defiance” and Celebration: Bielski Partisans Honored

New York—The Jewish Partisan Education Foundation (JPEF) held their annual dinner at New York’s Gotham Hall and honored the Bielski family and all of the surviving Bielski Partisans, who famously formed the largest Jewish Resistance army in Russia during the Holocaust. It was an evening that celebrated the triumph of Jewish determination and the heroic accomplishments of the Bielski Partisans, led by brothers Tuvia, Asael and Zus who formed an underground army and built an encampment in the forest, in the process saving over 1100 Jews. Younger brother Aron, who was only 10 at the time and is the lone surviving brother, as well as a large number of Bielski children and grandchildren were in attendance at the dinner.

Many cousins came to honor their grandfather Aaron Bell (nee Bielski). Aron’s daughter, Susan Abrams lives in Teaneck. Former Teaneck residents Aliza Abrams and her brother David, were there, too. “We didn’t always know about our grandfather and what he went through because when we were younger it was very hard for him to speak about his experiences. As we got older, he began to share his story, commented Aliza. “It wasn’t until the books and the movie Defiance (which portrayed the Bielski Brigade) came out, when we realized how many people were saved by our grandfather’s family.” Aliza brought Aron to Yeshiva University to speak to the students of YU and Stern last year to share his experiences. “My grandfather taught me the importance of identifying as a Jew and so I always wear a yarmulke at work, since they didn’t survive for us not to be proud of our Judaism,” added David.

JPEF premiered The Legacy of the Bielski Brigade at the dinner. The film is narrated by actor Liev Schrieber, who portrayed Zus Bielski in the feature film Defiance and is an active supporter of JPEF. After the film, each of the 17 Bielski Partisans in attendance was presented with a special commemorative medal designed especially for the occasion by the JPEF—they were placed around the recipients’ necks by one of their children or grandchildren. It was an emotional and joyous way to recognize the heroism of these brave fighters and to convey the lesson to all about Jewish determination and Jewish survival.

Helen and Sheldon Zelig of Englewood and their sons Aaron and Joshua also attended to honor Helen’s mother, Lisa Kushner Reibel, who could not attend. Lisa and her sister Rae, brother Chanon and father Nachum, were part of a group of 230 Jews who escaped the notorious Novogrudek Ghetto by digging a long tunnel over a period of months and fleeing into the forest. Chanon was killed soon afterward. The Bielskis heard about this group and rescued them by inviting them to join their encampment, which resembled a small village.

In reality, the majority of the people in the Bielski camp were not the fighters but received refuge and protection from the Bielskis. A few years ago, JPEF produced a film called A Partisan Returns, showing the Kushners, their children and grandchildren returning to Novogrudek and to the site of the Bielski encampment. “I was overcome with tremendous emotion when I looked around the room and realized that most of the 400 people at the dinner would not be sitting here without the heroism of the Beilski brothers,” observed Helen Zelig. Helen’s cousin ____ who is Rae Kushner’s daughter, and her daughter Pamela Hirt and her husband Ari, of Bergenfield also attended the dinner.

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz saluted the courage of the Partisans and stressed the importance of standing up for your people and showing support for Israel, especially on college campuses. “The Bielskis had courage thrust upon them unwillingly. They had no choice and they knew it,” he exclaimed. Quoting Elie Weisel, Dershowitz proclaimed, “Always believe the threats of your enemies more than the promises of your friends.” He added, “The Bielskis built a city—Jerusalem—in the forest because they had to depend only on themselves or die. Every young person who understands the story of the Partisans would be proud—but they have to know about it.”

That is the mission of the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation which provides more than 7200 educators worldwide with JPEF’s innovative curriculum and films and sponsors special events inspiring young people to stand up against discrimination and antisemitism by retelling the story of the Jewish Partisans. It is estimated that from the 1,100 Jews rescued by the Bielski’s there are now over 10,000 Jewish children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren leading one to wonder how many more Jews would have come from the 6 million who were murdered. They are the real legacy of the Bielski brothers.

“I think it is the responsibility of every young person to speak to a survivor because you are the last generation to know survivors. It will change your life,” added David Abrams. Like the multitude of Bielski Partisan children and grandchildren in attendance, he speaks from first- hand experience.

For more information about the JPEF go to www.Jewishpartisans.org.

Steve Fox is president of Fox Marketing & Video Productions in Teaneck and co-chair of the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee as well as the Bergen County Holocaust Memorial Committee. He can be reached at foxy555_aol.com.

By Steve Fox

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