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Community Currents New Holocaust Documentary Shown In Schools “Strike on Heaven,” the seventh in a series of Holocaust documentaries, showcases the tenacity of the Jewish people and their unwavering commitment to Torah despite the desperation they lived with daily under the Nazi regime. The film, jointly sponsored by the Zechor Yemos Olam division of Torah Umesorah and the Rabbi Leib Geliebter Memorial Foundation with the support of the Claims Conference, riveted students and teachers alike on Asara B’Teves. Through archival footage, and personal interviews with survivors and Holocaust experts, the film tells the story of the Nazis’ wholesale attempt to spiritually annihilate the Jews. In the film, Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Klein, director of publications and communications of TU and director of Zechor Yemos Olam, explains that one can recognize the true essence of the Jewish people from an unlikely source – Hitler himself. Hitler identified the power of the Jewish spirit, that spark of Yiddishkeit that lives within each Jewish soul. Hitler knew that once ignited, that ember could turn a regular Jew into a blazing fire. As long as one Jewish heart still beated, generations would follow, and therefore, he sought to eradicate every single Jew. Rabbi Yisroel Yitzchok Cohen, survivor and author of Destined to Survive, recalls how the Nazis burned down the Lodz shul and forced all the Jews to watch. In a fire that lasted more than 20 hours, the Nazis torched the contents of the library of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, destroying 55,000 sefarim. The Jews cried at the sight of the holy pages going
up in smoke and the Nazis struck up a military band to drown out the sounds of their cries and to celebrate what they thought would be the end of Jewish continuity. Perhaps the most moving story depicted in the film is told by Rabbi Yossi Wallis, a child of survivors and an international Jewish outreach professional. The recounting of his father’s experience in Dachau is told in segments, interwoven throughout the production. Rabbi Wallis describes his father being given a pair of tefillin by a dying inmate. Knowing he could be shot if caught wearing them, his father awoke early to put them on every day. The Nazi guards eventually caught him and decided to hang him in order to publicly show what happens when someone defies the Germans. When they offered him a last wish, he asked to put his tefillin on one last time. The guards acquiesced and he stood, tefillin on his head and noose around his neck, with the eyes of hundreds of Dachau inmates on him. The Jews who were watching started to cry, out of pity, and he screamed, “Why are you crying? Don’t you see I’m a winner? I get to die with my tefillin on for everyone to see!” At this point, the guards realized that their victim felt like a victor and they decided to make death more difficult. They removed the noose, gave him two rocks to hold, and began whipping him. They told Rabbi Wallis’s father that he’d be killed once he dropped the rocks. On the 25th lash, when he dropped the rocks, they kicked him amongst the pile of corpses, thinking he was dead. He had actually fainted, and when he regained consciousness, he was found by another Jew, who gave him bread and water and hid him. This man survived the war and moved to Amer-
ica, where he lived as a secular Jew. When his son, Yossi, approached him before his bar mitzvah, requesting a pair of tefillin, he broke down and told Yossi the story of how tefillin saved him. He vowed to put tefillin on again and to start keeping Shabbos together with his son. The story changed Rabbi Wallis’s life. “This film conveys the enormity of the losses sustained during the Holocaust while offering hope for the future of the Jewish people and the rebuilding of Yiddishkeit around the world and in Eretz Yisrael. It is mournful, but ultimately uplifting,” said Dr. Joseph Geliebter, the film’s executive producer.
Rabbanim Attend Shalom Task Force Forum Forty young rabbanim and six rebbetzins recently attended an educational forum titled “Domestic Abuse: Identifying Telltale Signs and Responding Effectively,” co-sponsored by Shalom Task Force and the Young Israel Council of Rabbis. The program, which was introduced by Dr. Alan Singer, Shalom Task Force’s executive director, took place at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and featured presentations by Mrs. Lisa Twerski and Rabbi Kenneth Auman, rabbi of the Young Israel of Flatbush. The session on domestic abuse was one of 15 evenings that the Young Israel Rabbinic Training Program holds on such topics such as halacha and infertility and contemporary halachic Issues. The program is coordinated by Rabbi Binyamin Hammer and Rabbi Perry Tirschwell, executive director of the National Council of Young Israel.
25th Anniversary Of Great Debate Tournament When Harriet Levitt began teaching English at Yeshiva University High School for Boys (YUHSB) in 1982, she saw a tremendous opportunity to enrich her students’ education through a competitive sport that had long been her passion: debate. Having loved her own experience as a high school and college debater, Levitt wanted YUHSB students to be able to participate in the National Forensic League. But there was a problem – the League’s debates all took place on Saturdays. Undeterred, Levitt began recruiting thoughtful judges and organizing debates between YUHSB and its sister school, the Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central). Levitt and her husband, Dan, also a college debater, began inviting other schools in the tri-state area, and, before long, local high schools and yeshivas were calling them, asking to get in-
volved. In 1988, Levitt and her husband drafted a policy statement and formalized the first Yeshiva Debate League. Now made up of close to 20 local yeshivas and high schools and celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Annual Cross-Examination Debate Tournament, or “Great Debate,” the League has made an impact on hundreds of students and alumni –particularly at YUHSB, where participation on the debate team is, for many, a highlight of their high school careers. For Yehoshua Levine, ’99YUHS, that atmosphere of camaraderie helped him feel connected not only to other debaters on his team, but to members of different classes and even different schools in the League. “Debate helped us cross class and school lines,” he said, recalling Levitt’s policy of having senior debaters coach freshmen.
After graduating from Harvard Medical School, Levine now finds that he draws on the communication tools he honed in the League regularly as a practicing cardiologist. “Medicine calls for a lot of quick decision-making, critical thinking and multidisciplinary communication and interactions as you navigate the health care system, and those are all things I learned in debate,” he said. Shani Pollak joined the debate team at Central as a freshman because she saw it as a great way to enhance her public speaking skills. “I have been on the team for all four years of high school and was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the captains,” she said. “I know I’ll walk away from debate with the ability to communicate effectively, research rigorously, and think critically.”
The NCSY-Touro Connection Eli Weinstein attended his first National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) program when he was in seventh grade. The program made such an impact that he wanted to give back. Today, he is an advisor to high-school students, chaperoning and creating programs at regional Shabbatonim. A student at Touro College, he credits the youth program with giving his father a more religious grounding, and hence, changing his family’s direction. Weinstein is not alone among his fellow Touro students. Hundreds of NCSYers matriculate throughout the university system. And many feel a need to give their time and energy to the organization. Their continued involvement is a natural one in the longstanding relationship between the college and the Orthodox Union’s youth program. The roots of that connection are deep. Dr. Bernard Lander, the founder of Touro College, was a driving force behind NCSY, which was founded in 1954. The organization has been giving scholarships since 1974 to promising NCSY participants to attend the college. Dr. David Luchins, the chair and founding dean of the political science department at Lander Col-
lege for Women-The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School (LCW), is also a senior national vice-president of the Orthodox Union and annually chairs the NCSY Ben Zakkai Honor Society reception with his wife, Vivian. Rabbi Moshe Krupka, the executive vice president and ombudsman at Touro, served as regional director of NCSY and in other high-level positions with the organization for two decades, including as national executive director of the Orthodox Union, the parent organization of NCSY. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that helps put Touro on the radar of prospective students who see the college-age advisors as role models to emulate, according to Luchins. “It makes it more likely a student will apply, and that’s a side benefit to Touro.” The main benefit, however, is to the student advisors, who “hone their leadership skills and get a sense of being part of a larger community,” says Luchins. “They derive a sense of responsibility to give back by mentoring other NCSYers.” Rabbi Micah Greenland, international director of NCSY, would agree. Students gain powerful leadership experience by serving as advisors, he says, while providing younger students with role
models to emulate. “It’s a natural partnership,” he said of the bond between Touro and NCSY. “The Lander colleges can be an outstanding destination for our graduates, where the inspiration they feel in NCSY can be actualized through a university environment where they pursue a quality academic program in a Jewishly growth-oriented atmosphere. Watching high schools students come into their own Jewishly has been very gratifying for Shira Prero, a senior at LCW from Chicago. Prero did not spend her high school years in NCSY, but she has made up for it since, serving as an advisor on NCSY Give, a summer travel program for girls, and as an assistant director for NCSY’s Jolt – Jewish Overseas Leadership Training – program. Now she serves as regional advisor to the Midwest region. During her stints in the NCSY summer programs, she has seen that if participants like their advisor, they are usually curious about the advisor’s college. The next thing they want to do is come to an open house, she says. “It’s a loving, caring community,” she says. “Being a part of it helps me give back to Touro.”
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Community Currents In mid-December, Yeshiva Passaic Torah Institute (PTI), under the leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Singer and Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim, held its 18th Annual dinner. More than 400 people came out to honor Mr. Shmuel and Rivky Avrahami, Mr. Elimelech and Ruthie Berenson, Dr. Chaim and Shanny Gejerman, and Mr. Shmuel Greenbaum.
(L-R) Rabbi Shlomo Singer, rosh yeshiva; Rabbi Dovid Refson, founder and dean of Neve Yerushalayim; and Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim, associate rosh yeshiva.
Celebrating Chanukah at the Chabad of Flatbush on Ocean Avenue. Hundreds gathered in mid-December in Poland for the yahrzeit of the Bnei Yissachar, Rav Zvi Elimelech Shapiro.
(Photo credit: JDN)
Friday, January 3, 2014 THE JEWISH PRESS Page 39
Community Currents Yeshivas Slobodka (Bnei Brak) held its annual melava malkah last week in Boro Park.
Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, rosh yeshiva. (Photo credit: JDN)
During a visit to injured Police Officer Rami Ravid, Israeli Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino took time to meet and express his appreciation to United Hatzalah volunteer medics from the Binyamin District for their prompt lifesaving efforts to treat and stabilize Officer Ravid after he was stabbed in the back by a terrorist.
Over 200 people attended a Cantorial Kumzitz at the West Side Institutional Synagogue (NYC) last week. Pictured from left to right are: Cantor Yanky Lemmer (of Lincoln Square Synagogue), Charlie Bernhaut (MC for event), Cantor Chaim Dovid Berson (of The Jewish Center), and Cantor Zevi Muller (of West Side Institutional Synagogue).
Putting up matzeivot for four Jewish people buried by Misaskim in its cemetery in Liberty, New York. (Photo credit: JDN)