Holocaust Survivor Day Links Two Communities

Holocaust Survivor Day Links Two Communities

A celebration of strength was held at Congregation B’nai Torah with 120 attendees.

JCC Krakow founder, Jonathan Orenstein, with the JCC Krakow choir. Zofia Radzikowska (seated), a Holocaust survivor, is the choir director. Green is the official color of the Krakow JCC.
JCC Krakow founder, Jonathan Orenstein, with the JCC Krakow choir. Zofia Radzikowska (seated), a Holocaust survivor, is the choir director. Green is the official color of the Krakow JCC.

More than 120 people gathered at Congregation B’nai Torah on Friday, June 2, Atlanta’s first Holocaust Survivor Day, to celebrate the resilience and strength of Holocaust survivors. Held in conjunction with the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, Poland, the event engaged two Jewish communities more than 5,000 miles apart through the use of Zoom and a belief in Am Yisrael chai, an assertion that the Jewish nation lives on and is united, despite any challenges or adversity.

The event was hosted by the Holocaust Survivor Support Fund of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Holocaust Survivor Services of Jewish Family & Career Services, and the Jewish Community of Krakow. Eric Robbins, CEO of the Atlanta Federation; Terri Bonoff, CEO of JF&CS; Rabbi Joshua Heller, senior rabbi of Congregation B’nai Torah; and Jonathan Orenstein, founder/director of the JCC of Krakow, spoke about the importance of the event and continuing to meet survivors’ needs.

Barry and Rona Seidel before the blessing of the challah. Barry is a survivor, originally from Antwerp, Belgium // Photo Credit: Eric Bern Studio

“The Holocaust Survivor Support Fund is at the top of our list at Federation. We, in the Atlanta Jewish community, want to make sure each life will be lived out in dignity and that those here in Atlanta are able to live a vibrant and Jewish life,” said Robbins in his opening remarks.

The fund was created by Federation to provide survivor support, such as home care, medical needs, medical equipment, prescription drugs, dental care, home-delivered meals, emergency financial assistance, adult day care, assisted living housing support (with partial scholarships), hospice, and food assistance. Cherie Aviv, who spearheaded the creation of the fund and who leads volunteer efforts to this day, was responsible for the planning and implementation of the event for Atlanta, working in conjunction with the Krakow JCC.

“It is wonderful to see our Atlanta community come together to take care of and honor these special people. Many of the attendees told me they were so touched by everyone’s efforts today,” said Aviv.

Rabbi Joshua Heller with Joseph and Raisa Kershteyn, survivors from the former Soviet Union, before the candle lighting // Photo Credit: Eric Bern Studio

To commemorate the auspicious occasion, the Krakow choir sang two songs in Hebrew, including “Hatikvah.” Atlanta’s own Bob’s Broadway Chorus sang “Miracle of Miracles” and “Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Gov. Brian Kemp issued a special proclamation declaring the day as “Holocaust Survivor Day” for the entire state.

Ornstein, who is one of the two creators of Holocaust Survivors Day worldwide, said, “Watching our community join with Atlanta, across two continents and two languages, standing together to sing Hatikvah in yet a third language, was nothing short of miraculous. Singing the Shabbat prayers together demonstrates Judaism’s thread tying people across the world together and that we, the Jewish people, were ultimately victorious over the Nazis’ Final Solution.”

(From left) Volunteers Deborah Jacobs, Caryn Bern, Ann Kay with event chair and volunteer, Cherie Aviv // Photo Credit: Eric Bern Studio

Rabbi Heller led the Shabbat prayers with several attendees participating. Interestingly, Rabbi Heller’s own ancestor was Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller, who was the Chief Rabbi of Krakow in the mid-1600s. Joseph and Raisa Kershteyn, both survivors from the former Soviet Union, lit the Shabbat candles. Barry Seidel, a survivor originally from Antwerp, Belgium, gave the Hamotzi blessing and was especially honored to be part of the day.

“Whenever I do the Shabbat blessings, I think of my father, Max Leopold Seidel, who was taken from us and perished at Auschwitz in October 1943, when he was barely 50 years old. He is always with me. I like to believe he enjoys watching us from far above,” said Seidel.

Most of the attendees were originally from countries that were part of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Even with the time and language difference (Shabbat took place in Krakow during the event), both groups connected through music, prayers, and Hebrew.

The beautiful tablescapes, accented with fresh floral arrangements, framed proclamation from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, and commemorative keepsake frames for each attendee // Photo Credit: Eric Bern Studio

In Atlanta, attendees were treated to a bountiful pre-Shabbat lunch served by a bevy of volunteers. The tables were beautifully set with flowers, picture frames for each guest, the framed governor’s proclamation and specially selected, decorative tableware. Individual cheese, vegetable, fruit, and cracker platters were served to each guest first, followed by a number of salads, including tuna, egg and pasta, as well as fresh vegetables. Handmade chocolate truffles were served for dessert.

The team effort for the event was remarkable. More than 20 volunteers, led by Aviv, were involved in creating a joyful and memorable afternoon, with several setting up the space in advance. Other volunteers cooked, set tables, served lunch, greeted attendees, and cleaned up afterwards. According to Carol Sherwinter, one of the volunteers, “June 2 was a volunteer experience far more emotionally impactful than I had anticipated. Being hugged and thanked by a charming 85-year-old survivor was the highlight of this special program for me!”

Another volunteer, Clare Habif, concurred. “The best part of the day was having lunch with a gentleman survivor. We shared pictures of our gardens, as well as those of his grandson. It made me feel so good to know that he has created a beautiful life here in the United States after his horrific experience during the Holocaust,” she said.

Holocaust Survivor Day was graciously sponsored by Seed the Dream Foundation, Congregation B’nai Torah, and Cherie and Gary Aviv. Chefs Howard Schreiber and Debbie Lewis led the volunteer efforts to prepare the luncheon. Translators were also on hand to translate the English into Russian and Polish. Eva Beldick, who was born in Krakow and now lives in Atlanta, translated the English into Polish and told the group, “Connecting with my roots warms my heart. I know that Jewish life is vibrant again in Krakow.”

For those who would like to learn more about the Holocaust Survivor Support Fund or to make a donation, please visit visit jewishatlanta.org/give/philanthropic-opportunities/hssf/.

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