June 24, 2024
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‘Names Not Numbers©’ Screening at RPRY Brings Community Together

A scene from the RPRY “Names Not Numbers©” 2024 film.

One thing was abundantly clear, as the crowd grew and grew in the gymnasium of the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison on May 21: The screening of the 2024 “Names Not Numbers©” film by RPRY students had an unparalleled capacity to draw together the Jewish communities of East Brunswick, Edison and Highland Park to witness the culmination of this year-long project at the yeshiva.

“Names Not Numbers©” is an interactive, multimedia Holocaust oral history film project, created by educator Tov Fish-Rosenberg. The 2024 film project involved all eighth graders in RPRY, in teams of five, each researching, interviewing and filming one of six Holocaust survivors from the area—Lois Flamholz, Chaya Gurkov, Erika Leviant, Ruth Millman, Helen Rubin and Milan Schwartz.

Adelle Fradkine

The 2024 screening was preceded by a dinner with RPRY students, parents, teachers, administrators and the participating Holocaust survivors and their families, which was attended by over 100 people. The film screening attracted well over 300 people.

Speaking at the dinner, eighth-grade student Shmuel Kurtz spoke about Aharon’s silence in Parshat Shemini after the devastating loss of his two sons, and the Ramban’s view that Aharon’s silence was likely preceded by crying, screaming and shouting. He tied this to the imperative to take action when there is great injustice facing the Jewish people, and quoted Rav Soloveitchik, who stated: “Sitting still in the face of tragedy is a tragedy in and of itself.”

Speaking at the film screening, eighth-grade student Adelle Fradkine shared that her participation in the “Names Not Numbers©” project “turned out to be one of the most interesting and eye-opening conversations of my life” Adelle said: “It’s one thing to read something in a book; it’s completely different to hear it from an eyewitness. By learning so much about our survivors, then getting to know more from the interviews, we learned to empathize, to feel their story, and in that way to really understand what it means to be a collective ani (I).” (Referencing Pirkei Avot 1:14).

The screening at RPRY was followed by gift presentations by the eighth-grade teams to the survivor they worked with, a moment of remembrance in which the audience held lit tea lights, and closing remarks by Rabbi Michael Ribalt, head of school.

The moment of remembrance.

Community member Milton Erdfarb, the son of two survivors, attended the screening. “Each survivor’s story was compelling and deeply emotional,” he said. ”Recalling life-changing, horrible events from over 85 years ago, with clarity, was eye-opening. The remarks from the student interviewers that I found more significant than any other were those who exclaimed, “I’ve never met a Holocaust survivor before” and “This is the first time I’ve ever met a survivor. I never considered that a possibility.”

Harry Glazer is the Middlesex County editor of The Jewish Link. He can be reached at [email protected] and he welcomes feedback.

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