April 12, 2024
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‘Zikaron Basalon’: Holocaust Commemoration In an Intimate and Meaningful Setting

“Zikaron Basalon,” Remembrance in the Living Room, is a social initiative founded in 2011. To date, it has brought together over 1.5 million hosts and participants worldwide in marking Yom Hashoah. The thinking behind the program is that alongside community-wide formal events, there is a need for a more intimate way to remember the events of the Holocaust, especially for the younger genrations for whom the event is distant and the connection is weakening. On the night and day of Holocaust Remembrance Day, small groups of under 40 assemble in the homes of local hosts in their communities to hear the testimonies of survivors or children of survivors. The small gathering allows them to open their hearts to individual stories, express their feelings and ask questions. Often the programs include singing and reading from memoirs and poetry.

The process of signing up to host a Zikaron Basalon session is simply the filling out of a straightforward, one-page application. Once it is submitted, the host advertises the time and location of the program to their local network of friends and acquaintances in the community. The suggested number of participants for a session is between 15 and 40. What has been found to happen during the past decade is that the group that assembles in a particular host’s home tends to be in the same approximate age range and social affiliation as the host, which positively impacts upon the success of the evening as they share common life experiences and outlooks.

In partnering with the USC’s Shoah Foundation, the program provides testimonies from its vast Visual History Archive to assist the hosts by providing virtual testimonies in the absence of in-person presenters. Zikaron Basalon also offers a suggested guide for the evening beginning with the testimony and followed by a session of expression, which may consist of relevant music or poetry available on their website. A discussion kit is also provided, which is arranged in a progression from lighter to heavier questions that may be addressed in the presence of the presenter or after the presenter has left. The presenter is gifted with a certificate of appreciation at the end of the evening. The goal is to engage in conversations in which the participants feel free to express their feelings and opinions in an open forum. Materials are provided in Hebrew, English and Spanish to date.

Zikaron Basalon’s mission in this project is to take the “ceremony” out of Holocaust remembrance programs by creating informal, intimate settings. The belief is that focusing upon the story of one survivor is even more emotive than focusing upon millions. The hope is that this type of tribute will bring adults and especially younger people closer to understanding and relating to the events of the Shoah.

Another positive result of the Zikaron Basalon project is that many more stories from the period of the Shoah are being shared, which is crucial as the years go by and the number of survivors is unfortunately being greatly depleted with each passing year. In addition, as each story of survival is unique, and every survivor was caught at a different period of life, each story is unique and should be honored by passing it down to future generations.

In speaking to various people who attended programs organized by Zikaron Basalon, the diversity of the experiences related was evident. One session, held in the Binyamin Yishuv of Talmon, brought together a group of 35 participants, mostly in their 40s, who came to hear the testimony of a local resident who spoke about her father who passed away recently. Rachel’s father Moshe grew up happily in a small Polish town in which his father was the rav and well- regarded even by the non-Jewish residents. From early on, Moshe and his siblings’ goal was to live in Israel and thus Moshe was always involved in agriculture and the growing of flowers. In 1936 the town was attacked by a vicious pogrom and shortly afterward the Jews were relocated to the Ghetto in Radomsk. Eventually, Moshe’s parents and younger siblings were deported to Treblinka and killed. This left Moshe to care for his younger brother Meir, which he vowed to carry out in tribute to his parents. Through three killing camps and a death march from Dachau, Moshe used his quick wits to survive together with Meir. They finally made it to Palestine, where they served in the IDF during the War of Independence. Moshe married and bought land in Kfar Pines, where he worked in agriculture and established a religious family of over 100 descendents.

Another Zikaron Basalon session held in Jerusalem hosted 40 participants in their 20s, as were their hosts. The in-person testimony was given by a Bulgarian Jew who together with his family lived out the Shoah in relative safety in the home of his grandparents in a remote Bulgarian village. Here even the non-Jews were protective of their Jews, as the official policy of Bulgaria was not to turn in “their Jews.”

A third session was hosted in Jerusalem by an English-speaking family with 30 English-speaking neighbors in attendance. Through the husband’s work at Beit Tovei Hair, a senior residence, he became acquainted with a survivor from America who recently came to live in Israel and was willing to share her story in his parlor.

Now 86, the presenter related her story. As a toddler of 2 she was given by her father to the care of a devout Polish family for safekeeping until after the war. While living with the Polish family, she attended church each Sunday, after which she was taunted by the local Polish youths who believed she was Jewish. At one point the family she lived with was betrayed to the local Nazis and a group of 30 soldiers came to arrest them. Miraculously, she and her Polish mother stood up to the soldiers and were saved. After the war, now aged 6, her biological mother, who had been severely traumatized by her attempts to forge a new identity as a Polish maid, came to reclaim her. Life was difficult with her real mother and yet she survived to tell the tale and to establish a beautiful Jewish family of three sons in America.

Three stories of courageous survival, told to three diverse audiences in two languages, within the intimate surroundings of a warm parlor where participants could listen, react and absorb the lessons of the Holocaust. This is the admirable goal of Zikaron Basalon.

To learn more about all of the Zikaron Basalon programs and to sign up as a host, go to American Zionist Movement Zikaron Basalon at www.zikaronbasalon.org or [email protected].

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