June 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Epitome of Dor L’Dor at The Moriah School

The final scene of Moriah School’s “Names, Not Numbers©” film is of one of our survivors, Pearl Zelmonovic, kissing the forehead and holding the hands of her great-great-nephews, Moriah students, Meir, age 6 and Avi, age 3. I remember the moment with true clarity, not one adult in the room had a dry eye. In this scene, Zelmonovic, age 95, poignantly proclaims: This is our future.

As the educator proudly responsible for Holocaust education through the “Names, Not Numbers©” program at The Moriah School, I have found myself reflecting on today’s pandemic while searching for historical connections. People over time have needed to adapt to global conditions and frightening circumstances. With confidence, I knew our school and the greater community would strategically acclimate. Traditionally, a school calendar is a widely-used resource and its dates are typically claimed long in advance for all kinds of events. Ironically, June 14, was originally unmarked on the The Moriah School calendar. When planning for June of 2020—in July of 2019—this Sunday held no particular significance. At that time, one could not have imagined the pandemic that altered the world, and the challenging times the community would face that would, amongst other things, require end-of-year school milestones to be shifted and rearranged. Looking at it now: What a meaningful day it turned out to be for The Moriah School. The epitome of Dor L’Dor.

The first milestone event of the day was our eighth grade graduation. Every person connected to the Class of 2020 was invested in providing the students with a memorable way to graduate! Navigating social distancing laws and restrictions due to the pandemic has been challenging for all schools. Luckily for Moriah, Yavneh Academy was gracious to partner and share their ideas of a drive-in graduation. On a picturesque afternoon, families arrived one after the other to administrators and teachers greeting their cars with pom poms, Mazal Tov signs, cold water, popcorn and, most importantly, a smile and a wave. Each staff member was elated to finally see their Moriah students in person once again. I was overwhelmed. Trying to hold back the desire to embrace parents and colleagues—as is customary at most graduation ceremonies—was an emotional task. It is, after all, the end of an educational journey that we have traveled on together.

As the afternoon progressed, the graduation had many traditional elements as well as pandemic-induced variations on the standard program. Speeches were delivered live, with only one person on the stage at any point in time, against a background of unrelenting car honks and cheers, while a new twist, a faculty video filmed on Zoom with both humorous and serious dimensions, was aired before an enthusiastic audience. Students took the stage one by one to receive their diplomas, but it was this year’s graduates as fifth graders who performed our traditional alma mater, “Moriah in Our Hearts” written by Moriah alumna Shimona Dardik Gotlieb, in a video created three years ago.

Moriah has a long-standing tradition of recognizing alumni whose children graduate as well. It’s a part of Moriah’s legacy and generational connection. Traditionally, Moriah alumni are the ones to hand their child their diploma. Sentimental, yes. As Moriah alumna Dr. Sandy Yahalom stated: “As a Moriah alumna, I have been looking forward to this day since my daughter started early childhood. I was also crushed to think that they would lose out on this crucial milestone. I still think back fondly to my own Moriah graduation. Seeing their faces light up as they started calling the names (even behind masks), made all the planning worth it. This event was one that the graduates and their families will never forget. The epitome of Dor L’Dor.”

Celebration of the Moriah Class of 2020 and its achievements continued well into the evening as students prepared for the film “Names, Not Numbers©.” Frank Berger, Jean Chapnick, Angie Goldfeier, Sol Graff, Joseph Klarfeld, Frima Laub, Susan White and Pearl Zelmanovics brought their stories of survival, emunah and strength to the screen. Moriah eighth graders were fortunate enough to study the Holocaust in the fall semester and interview the survivors in January. Therefore, all footage for the film was ready for editing prior to the pandemic. These survivors, each with an emotional tale, exemplified power. Anna Yunis had the opportunity to interview her family member Joseph Klarfeld and hear his story for the first time. Anna, too, represents one of fourteen children whose parents are Moriah alumni. She noted: Interviewing Joseph Klarfeld was very meaningful for me and my family. He shared details about his experiences that he had never discussed before. I am so glad I had the opportunity to do this. Again: the epitome of Dor L’Dor.

The film “Names Not Numbers©” premiered that evening. In order to adjust to the times, Tova Rosenberg, creator of “Names, Not Numbers©” shifted the premier to YouTube. Moriah, along with many other schools, was able to accommodate the change. Abby Herschmann and I prepared the students and their families for this new format. Ensuring the preservation of the stories of these Holocaust survivors, five of whom are related to Moriah students, was a goal for all. Maintaining the close relationship the students have formed with their survivors, was paramount. In early May, 16 of our students gathered to bring 95th and 96th birthday wishes to their survivors. In June, with regard to all social distance regulations, students traveled to visit their survivors, bringing them flowers and dinner and reconnecting with them prior to the film. The Moriah community and families of the survivors embraced the change. To date, The Moriah School has 945 views of the film. Again: the epitome of Dor L’Dor.

Across our community, guided by our rabbis, medical professionals and educators, we have assiduously maintained our traditions. They may look a little different than they did a few months ago but it is these traditions, passed down for generations, that have enabled us to survive our current challenges and that have allowed us to bring structure and meaning to our lives. On June 14, the theme of Dor L’Dor echoed loud and clear both at our Moriah graduation and in our “Names, Not Numbers©” presentation. I felt a tremendous sense of pride and nostalgia towards Moriah as my children were once eighth graders receiving their diplomas and watching their film premiere to end their Moriah experiences. The Class of 2020 deserved these milestones as well. To that end, both of these events on June 14, were a culmination of many months and years of preparation. Our eighth graders remain a generation in the making, clearly influenced and shaped by all those who came before them. They are our future. The epitome of Dor L’Dor.

By Rachel Schwartz

 

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