Thursday, June 30, 2022

Naaleh High School for Girls, coming of age in its fourth year, has indeed enjoyed a landmark year in 2022. With the inaugural senior class graduation taking place last week, it has been a year of many firsts. One of the most moving and poignant of those “firsts” was the school’s public presentation on June 7 of “Names, Not Numbers©,” the Holocaust documentary film project for students, started in 2004 and created by educator Tova Fish Rosenberg.

Although Naaleh actually participated in the “Names, Not Numbers©” project previously, there were still restrictions in place due to the environment of COVID at the time, therefore the video was shown in a closed environment. This year’s documentary presented their first opportunity for a public sharing of the project.

While the project provides a unique opportunity for learning and hands-on experience of the students, Tamar Lowe, faculty coordinator of the project, was responsible for acquiring the necessary professional resources and maintaining the momentum of the project to keep it on task. “Part of the “Names, Not Numbers©” project requires each school to bring in a journalist who will teach the students about best practices of interviewing techniques. Mrs. Deena Kobre, head of school and I thought it would be nice to have a local journalist help us with this part, as most of our students and their families live locally and read The Jewish Link. So we reached out to Elizabeth Kratz, associate publisher/editor of The Jewish Link, and she was kind enough to come and present an interview skills workshop for us.”

Lowe explained further: “In the process of identifying survivors who might agree to be interviewed, we decided to first inquire amongst the families of girls participating in this year’s project. Three of the survivors are relatives of students, and the fourth was suggested to me by a friend who knows her from the JCC. Since I also work at the JCC, I approached Mona Parnes and asked if she would agree to be interviewed.” In her opening remarks before the screening of the documentary the students produced, Lowe also shared a personal reflection on the traditional Yizkor service, and the meaning of “Keil Ma’aleh Rachamim,” reminding her of the imperative of “Zachor v’lo tishkach.”

Several students involved in this year’s production offered their perspectives. Naomi Kaufman, class of 2024, explained, “Names, Not Numbers©” is important to me because we heard firsthand testimonies from survivors. I had the privilege of interviewing my grandfather, Rabbi Nochum Cywiak, who had never spoken about his experiences in the Holocaust. We can learn from their immense strength, resilience and emunah in Hashem, as I did by interviewing my grandfather, an invaluable lesson to all.” Recalling the resilience and resourcefulness of his mother while they were in hiding, Rabbi Cywiak related in the documentary that she had found some potato peelings somewhere in the trash. She gathered and cleaned them up, and then he smiled, exclaiming how she somehow and amazingly transformed them into “a tzimmes.”

Bracha Moskowitz, class of 2024, found the experience inspirational. “Their perseverance and constant emunah are truly inspiring. Despite the horrific things they went through and all they lost, they never gave up and kept hoping for the best. It makes you realize just how much they did to survive. We are here only because of them, and we owe it to them to continue persevering, growing and paying it forward. I joined this program because my great grandmother was in Auschwitz and lost many family members, including two of her children. She passed away when I was in third grade and was never interviewed, so I wanted to make sure other survivors get the chance she never had.”

Ayala Frohlich, class of 2024, related that she is a descendant of Holocaust survivors, but she was very young when they died, so she didn’t get to hear their stories firsthand. “‘Names, Not Numbers©’ is a way that I can relate to and perpetuate their story through connecting with other survivors. Everyone’s story matters, and no two are the same. After interviewing Mr. Fohn and hearing the stories of the other survivors, I realized that the pain and suffering was truly different for each person and therefore each story deserves to be told.”

Frohlich said that the project inspired her to appreciate what she has and never give up hope. “One difficult aspect was feeling the deep sadness as they told their stories, crying about their lost loved ones and how they were killed. It is not easy to hear a person share such horrific experiences. But I do feel that I owe it to them and the generation of the Holocaust to hear these stories and tell them to others, no matter how painful it is for me.”

Dova Moskowitz, class of 2023, expressed her appreciation of the technical experience. “I learned about the behind-the-scenes work of making a production like this. I learned how to operate a video camera, keep it in focus and use the recording and edit functions, so the story made sense.”

Racheli Diament, class of 2023, said she appreciated the opportunity to build a connection with the survivors, “a privilege not everyone gets to have.”

Tehila Katz, class of 2023, added that her great grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. “I can truly see why these stories and the treasure of the messages that the survivors related along with their stories need to be shared.”

Adina Friedman, class of 2023, called “Names Not Numbers©” crucial, since the last generation of Holocaust survivors is aging. “We must pass their stories down to later generations so no one can deny what really happened.”

Kobre expressed appreciation to Tamar Lowe; Devorah Schloss, school operations manager; members of the Naaleh staff; and the four survivors for sharing their experiences and their stories. “In 20 years these are the memories we will have. Each survivor is an eyewitness to the truth, and every story is unique and needs to be recorded forever. This is not just Jewish history; it is world history and it is personal history.” She also related part of her discussion with Rosenberg, creator of the program, who urged Naaleh’s participation with the simple but poignant remark, “You can’t wait.” Kobre expressed how important it is that “the students of this generation understand their role in transmitting the stories and information.”

By Ellie Wolf


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