Somber emotions enveloped the Hebrew Academy of Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR) High School as students and faculty held a Holocaust remembrance assembly on April 28.
Rabbi Gedaliah Oppen, the high school’s principal for Judaic Studies, opened the assembly by introducing its purpose and talking about the March trip to Poland with a select group of seniors along with faculty members Shira Oppen (the rabbi’s wife) and Rabbi Moshe Hubner. Max Borgen, Sara Cherson, Corey Friedman, Sarah Fuchs, Joseph Greenstein, Riana Harari, Amanda Kanefsky, Jenna Kaufman, Eli Kleinworm, Daniel Margareten, Jesse Margareten, Stacie Michael, Lauren Pianko, Gabriella Shimon, and Jaimee Schwartz were the students who went on the trip. HAFTR High School’s inaugural Abraham Scharf z”l HAFTR Poland mission was sponsored by the Scharf family.
Students at the assembly were mesmerized as some of the seniors and Rabbi Oppen related their experiences during this momentous trip. Rabbi Oppen spoke about a memorial depicting trees whose branches were cut off, symbolizing the lives of the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust.
Some of the seniors gave a PowerPoint presentation showing poignant photos from the trip. They also related examples of anti-Semitism they experienced or heard about that are still occurring today in Poland.
“Listening to our fellow students talk about their experiences was more meaningful than hearing facts stated about the Holocaust,” said junior Daniella Seelenfreund. “We also heard about current Jewish life in Poland and how it is growing, which is encouraging.” Dena Gershkovich said, “It was nice to hear from the seniors who were there only a few weeks ago and their personal accounts were inspiring.”
Renee Frenkel and Jamie Klahr thought “this Yom Hashoah presentation was more relatable because the HAFTR delegation actually went there and talked about seeing concentration camps and other sights with their own eyes and from their hearts.”
We heard individual stories that were truly meaningful, especially one about a man who left his tefillin on a cattle car, escaped, went back for his tefillin, and was killed. He could have been free, but it was so important for him to retrieve his tefillin that he sacrificed his life; years later his family donated a set of tefillin in his memory. Seniors talked about their unforgettable experiences and lit candles in memory of resistance fighters.
The last generation of Holocaust survivors is aging, and it is a legacy to our young people that we all understand and remember the atrocities that occurred during this period in history. The mission to Poland was a life-changing experience for every person who went, and to share it with the entire student body was a deeply personal and meaningful way to commemorate Yom Hashoah.