As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I grew up feeling a strong connection to my family history.
The Holocaust formed part of my identity, and served as a unique entry point to understanding Jewish history, and the world at large. As I reached my late 20s, I increasingly wanted to connect with others who felt the same.
In 2005, I searched for such a platform.
I perused the program guides of Jewish institutions, such as the JCC in Manhattan and the 92nd Street Y, and looked around elsewhere. But I discovered that there were no programs specifically for the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
Among the lesser known, yet most influential leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood is the Egyptian-born British national Ahmed Ibrahim Munir.
I felt this was a void in the Jewish community, so I sent out an e-mail calling for the grandchildren of survivors to come together.
A few weeks later, five grandchildren of Holocaust survivors responded to my call, and gathered to share their family stories and discuss their legacy. Although we didn’t know each other, and came from diverse backgrounds and worked in various fields, we felt an immediate bond. We soon came to a consensus on our mission: to provide a forum for the descendants of Holocaust survivors, and to preserve and pass on our family histories to the next generation.
We established 3GNY (Third Generation New York) as an educational nonprofit organization. Today, we proudly count more than 2,000 members.
We’ve created diverse programming, such as Shabbat dinners, discussion groups, genealogy and writing workshops, museum tours, book talks, film screenings and happy hours. One of our most popular events is our Annual Family Brunch, where members bring parents and grandparents, and even the fourth generation — to share our successes of the year, and plans for the future.
As the population of survivors declines, their stories should not be lost with them. Our generation is primarily the last living link to Holocaust survivors. It is through us that future generations will hear the actual stories of our grandparents’ survival, and the unimaginable losses of that generation.
In 2010, we launched an educational initiative called WEDU (We Educate). Developed in conjunction with Facing History and Ourselves, WEDU empowers the descendants of survivors to learn and share their family stories and the lessons of the Holocaust in school classrooms. This is a concrete way for the next generation to take ownership and responsibility for our legacy.
By acting as a conduit for our grandparents’ stories, we make history more personal and relatable. We are in a special position to spotlight the individual experience of the Holocaust, and provide students with an entry point to examine prejudice today. The dialogue that we have with students has inspired them to explore their own family history, as an entry point to understanding world history and current events.
To date, we’ve trained more than 150 descendants of survivors, who have visited over 100 classrooms and impacted at least 5,000 students, as well as numerous community groups. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but when you consider there are more than one million students in New York City, we know that we’ve only begun.
The stakes are high. Hate crimes are up, especially against Jews. Holocaust references are now routine in political discourse, and Holocaust denial is increasingly presented as an “alternative fact.” Our community has a vitally important role to play as educators of the Holocaust, and ambassadors for universal tolerance.
(c) 2017 The Algemeiner