Bearing Witness: Commemorating the Shoah at YULA

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Each year, the number of living Holocaust survivors dwindles, and the memory of the Shoah fades a little bit more into history. In order to keep the stories and lessons of the Holocaust in our collective Jewish memory, allowing our students to hear from living survivors and bear witness to the terrors of the Shoah is of utmost importance.

For the past three years, YULA has worked closely with Yeshiva University and Beth Jacob to design a meaningful competition for high school students across Los Angeles in honor of Yom Hashoah. Based on a question prompt, students create an essay or piece of artwork and submit their entries to YU and Beth Jacob staff members to review. Winning submissions are announced at the annual Yom Hashoah program. This year, students across Los Angeles were presented with the following prompt: “How has the Holocaust changed your Jewish pride? How can/should you live your life differently because the Holocaust happened?”

On Sunday evening, April 27th, Beth Jacob hosted the annual Yom Hashoah evening with over 300 people in attendance. Submissions by YULA 10th graders Joseph Hier and Yair Isaacs won first prize, and Honorable mentions were awarded to Sam Richter, Asher Willner, and Joel Manesh.

YULA 10th grader Yair Isaacs gave the following explanation for his powerful winning drawing at Sunday evening’s Yom Hashoah gathering.

In my 10th grade Jewish history class at YULA, taught by Mr. Joey Small, I’ve come to grasp the relevancy of the Holocaust and how the history of our people is pertinent and crucial to my understanding of what it means to be a Jew in the modern world. The Jewish people experienced unimaginable horrors during the Holocaust. However, Baruch Hashem, we were also blessed to experience the miraculous birth of the modern State of Israel. In my drawing I highlight the Jewish star as the focal point. It represents our people’s degradation and humiliation during the first half of the 20th century, while during the second half of the 20th century the Jewish star became an integral part of our nations’ pride, emblazoned, front and center on the State of Israel’s flag, as eluded to on my sketch. The dark black on the left side of the star reflects the darkness of the Holocaust, while the lighter shade of black represents the transition from darkness to light, as we sing in so many schools and shuls across the country, “Umeiafeila l’ora, umishiabud lgeula”. For me, the candle that lies at the central core of the picture represents the inner flame of the Jew, the pintele yid, that is never extinguished no matter what we experience. It is important for us, as we move forward into the 21st century, never to forget the past and always be cognizant of it, as our past helps illuminate our future; both as individuals and as a people.