by George J Elbaum
Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) is a San Francisco Bay Area social services organization whose mission statement is “Serving individuals and families of all faiths and backgrounds, guided by the Jewish value of caring for those in our community most in need.” As such, JFCS carries a special responsibility within the Jewish community for reaching out to children, the aged, those with special needs, and for the resettlement and acculturation of refugees and immigrants.
Among its many services, the JFCS provides the facilities and educational programs on the Holocaust for visiting teachers, adults, and student groups. My presentation today was to students participating in JFCS’s Next Chapter program, as I’ve done in past years. The Next Chapter is an introduction to the history of the Holocaust for 9th through 12th graders, in which they can develop a connection with Holocaust survivors. Because of the current pandemic, students meet via Zoom every 1 – 2 weeks from December through May and hear from different speakers through the course of the program. By learning to recognize the value in others’ stories and experiences, students learn to appreciate their own story and identity, as well as gain moral courage and a sense of social responsibility. Students thus build a special community of social responsibility and genocide awareness, and may be awarded up to 20 – 30 hours of community service.
My talk was arranged by Penny Savryn, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, and managed by Yedida Kanfer, Director of Community Education, who introduced me to the audience and conducted the Q&A session. To add some visual interest to the text, I had asked Yedida to take a screen shot of the audience as shown on Zoom in a matrix of thumbnail photos as I’ve done in my Zoom presentations. However, Yedida had a surprise for me: after thanking me for the talk and telling the audience that she would be taking their photo while they applauded, she asked them to unmute their microphones so I could actually hear the applause! First-time ever by Zoom – thank you, Yedida!
Notes from students
After my Zoom talk with the JFCS Next Chapter students I received from Yedida Kanfer the “thank you” notes from the couple dozen students who attended it. As has been a custom for years, after dinner my wife Mimi read aloud each note, and we highlighted the thoughtful statements that particularly resonated with us, and these are shown below.
- I encourage you to continue telling your story so others can be inspired by your story and learn to never give up if you work hard and have a goal.
- Your story reminded me how important it is to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves
- Your standing up to that anti-Semitic boy back in Poland shows how principled you were (and still are) at such a young age.
- It really stuck with me how you repeated the message of being for things, and not against things. This is a beautiful way in which we can view the world in a positive light. Also it is something I really needed to hear.
- It brings me an immense amount of hope to meet people so committed to educating the next generation about the past. May we take your life and your words as a guiding example.
- Your words further exhibited to me how important it is to be resilient and stand up what is right.
- You reminded me that even when facing hardships, it is important to push through and continue with one’s goal, as it will pay off in the end. It was a reminder that I needed.
- I really liked how you talked about the story with your counselor, and how you weren’t affected by his discouragement, but instead you worked even harder to chase your dreams. Thank you so much!
- You told us to “be for things, not against things,” which is great advice, especially for teenagers like me. Please continue to teach others.
- I appreciated the fact that you answered questions with a lot of depth. I learned so much from hearing you speak.
- It was incredible to hear about all the details you remember, and your strength and perseverance are inspiring
- It was very moving hearing you recount the pieces and details of your life and how you were so eager to share with us.
- I really appreciate your thoughts and the questions you asked us. It made me really reflect on the way I view things.
- I want to especially thank you for the advice and inspiration that you gave me.
- I deeply admire you as a person and as a testament to human resilience and character.
- Your harrowing account made me appreciate the comfortable life I have and reflect on brutality of the Holocaust.
- Thank you for choosing to spend your time on an increasingly important mission, informing the younger generation of the extent to which systematic persecution and separation can reach.
- Your words of wisdom remind me to never be a bystander in situations of oppression.
- I’m very grateful that you are sharing your story with everyone because there is so much anti-Semitism and people are starting to forget about the Holocaust.
- You are the prime example of perseverance and hope during an extremely difficult time.
- I am grateful to you for sharing your wisdom with us and reminding me to never stand by when people are being hurt and oppressed.