|Contact: Michelle Soffen
Tel. 212.787.9533 EXT 20
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LOCAL UPPER WEST SIDE “STORIES OF SURVIVORS” PROGRAM GETS PICKED UP BY NATIONAL MUSEUM TO BECOME LARGEST YOUNG PROFESSIONALS COMMEMORATION OF YOM HASHOAH IN NYC
Event Open to the Public with Registration – Register Here: survivorstories.eventbrite.com
NY, New York, May 3, 2016 – The “Yom Hashoah: Stories of Survivors” Program will take place this Wednesday, May 4 at 7:30pm at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (36 Battery Pl, New York, NY). This program will commemorate the 6 million lives lost during the Holocaust. Opening remarks by Rabbi Mark Wildes and Young Friends board member Zach Boren will be followed by a special candle lighting ceremony, memorial service and an intimate interview with Mrs. Stephania Hecht, who witnessed the atrocities of Auschwitz and lived through the post-war Romanian communist regime. Unique and personal, this discussion not only recounts important personal history, but also places an emphasis on how we, the next generation, can make sure those who were lost are never forgotten.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that was definitely the case with the inception of the Yom Hashoah “Stories of Survivors” program.
In 2013, as the newly minted Director of Programming at Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE), Miriam Leichtling was tasked with running the Annual MJE Yom Hashoah program. Per tradition, she set out to find a notable survivor who had not yet spoken at MJE and soon hit a dead end. With fewer survivors physically able to travel, let alone speak professionally, she quickly realized she’d have to get creative.
Running out of time and resources, a colleague connected Miriam with his aunt who was a survivor. A sweet, soft spoken woman, she had a moving story that had never been told publicly.
“Together, we pieced her story together. Timelines, names, faces and places came together to reveal an incredible tale of survival. She had lost most of her family, survived starvation, several concentration camps and a host of other inhumane treatments. It took several meetings for me to get the story. When you ask someone to share such a personal tale, 60 years later, timelines are often skewed and need to be pieced together,” explained Miriam.
As she combed through museum archives and google searches to find the landmarks, towns and and camps the survivor mentioned in her story, Miriam realized that adding visuals to the program could be extremely effective in helping to ground the listeners.
What emerged from this delicate weeks long process of researching, talking, practicing and gathering visuals was a new program format: an interview, question and answer session, bolstered by a stream of images that matched her story.
The new format proved incredibly powerful. “The audience was drawn to her every word. Her story came alive,” recounted Rabbi Mark Wildes, Founder and Director of MJE. “We had been doing a Yom Hashoah program since the beginning of MJE, where a well known survivor would present his or her story as a speech. It was always important to me to have a survivor be part of the program. As an organization that seeks to educate and inspire Young Jewish Professionals, the best way to inform this generation of the realities of the Shoah is to have them hear first hand from those who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust and somehow survived. There is no movie, book, or documentary that is as powerful as meeting and hearing from an actual survivor who is willing to share his/ her story. They are truly the heroes that our participants need to hear from.”
Rabbi Wildes continued, “When Miriam came on board, she brilliantly changed the format so that we could listen in on a conversation between her and the survivor. Besides making it easier and more comfortable for the survivor to tell his/her story and therefore allowing for less experienced speakers to participate, this format was an even more successful way of engaging Jewish 20s and 30s and making them feel part of the conversation.”
The success of the new format was reflected in a steadily growing number of participants each year. The participants weren’t the only ones responding to this powerful programmatic shift. In 2015, The Young Friends of the Museum of Jewish Heritage partnered with MJE to host the event, which was sold out to over 300 participants. This year, the highly esteemed national museum has invited MJE to co-run the program as an official part of its roster and will be hosting the event at the museum itself. The honor is felt by all involved.
Atara Neuer, Director of MJE West, is helping to market and recruit and Rabbi Wildes is set to deliver opening remarks at the event. Under leadership of Young Friends chairman Gillad Matiteyahu, Miriam Leichtling, and museum liaison Marissa Rosenfeld, the Young Friends of the Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage are directing the event, and once again, Miriam will be helping the survivor to tell her story.
Miriam speaks for all partnering organizations when she explains why this program is so important to her. “When you listen to a survivor’s story, you are taking on precious cargo- the memories of the loved ones they have lost. You become a steward for the next generation. I can’t change things that happened in the past, but I can help survivors find their voice, if they choose. I can help make sure memories do not die. I can help young people be inspired and stay connected to Jewish life….which is everything the Nazis were trying to destroy.”
The “Stories of Survivors” is now one of the largest gatherings for young Jewish professionals in NYC and is expected to sell out once again. Survivors from past year’s interviews will be there as well as family and friends of the survivor.
Journalists interested in covering the event May 4 should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a press pass.
About Young Friends of the Museum of Jewish Heritage
About the Museum of Jewish Heritage
About Manhattan Jewish Experience (MJE)
About Rabbi Mark Wildes
About Miriam Leichtling
All Partnering Organizations: Young Friends of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Manhattan Jewish Experience, 3GNY, Brotherhood Synagogue, JICNY, Columbia/Barnard Hillel, Hillel at Baruch College