Students and Shoah survivors share stories

She’s a survivor: Holocaust survivor Bella Rotner enjoyed the music, dance, and lunch program at the Flatbush Jewish Center on March 2.
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This wasn’t your typical Spring Break dance party.

Holocaust survivors and university students held hands and danced the hora during a special Selfhelp Community Service program at the Flatbush Jewish Center on March 2.

The intergenerational day — filled with food, music, and dancing — was valuable for both the students and the survivors, with each generation learning something from the other. But the most valuable lesson of the event was the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive — especially today — to make sure nothing like it ever happens again, according to one survivor who lives in Marine Park.

“Most important to me is not to be silent, and tell the young people what happened, because if they know what happened, they won’t be silent — because silence led to murder, silence leads to racism and pessimism. I lived a life that I’m asking myself, ‘how can human beings do such evil to other human beings?’ ’’ said 91-year-old Sonia Klein. “Whenever possible, I talk to students. I want them to know. The students were just wonderful.”

Selfhelp works to bring survivors of the Shoah together, and provides them with catered lunches, dancing, music, and other programs to fill their days with happiness instead of monotonous doctor’s visits, according to Selfhelp staffer Sasha Kesler.

And for this special program on March 2, about eight students from the University of Michigan gave up a spring break filled with booze for something more meaningful. They visited the Flatbush Jewish Center to learn from and socialize with Shoah survivors through the organization Repair the World New York City. Students helped serve food, danced, and chatted with the seniors, brightening up their day, said Kesler.

The experience was a bit overwhelming for one student who had never had the opportunity to speak with a survivor before. But she said ultimately it was beautiful and uplifting to hear their stories firsthand. It reminded her just how important it is to remind people that these survivors too were refugees, looking for a safe home, just like the refugees of today, said Ariel Friedlander.

“It was a very beautiful experience. I just really learned how important it is to remember these people and tell their stories. And as young people, we have to remember the events that happened and make sure they don’t happen again,” said Friedlander, a sophomore. “It was an amazing experience to talk to these people, and a lot of us by the end were crying because it was so beautiful and inspiring.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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