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NEW YORK, NY, January 29, 2021 /24-7PressRelease/ -- In his keynote address at the opening of a special elearning session organized by Limmud FSU to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel's former chief rabbi and chair of Yad Vashem, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, himself a Holocaust survivor, reflected on the centrality of memory within Judaism. "From Moses as an educator onwards," said Lau, "we are taught to remember."
The event honored Baruch Shub, a partisan leader in Lithuania, who escaped from the Vilna ghetto, later fought in the Red Army, and was among the Soviet forces that liberated the city, before moving to pre-state Israel, where he fought in the War of Independence. Shub, who died last month, was for decades a forceful advocate for Holocaust education. "He was committed to ensuring that the world remembers and does not forget," said Lau.
Limmud FSU generally mounts peer-led, volunteer-based gatherings of Jewish learning that specifically reach out to Russian-speaking Jews around the world from Moscow to the US West Coast, and from Europe to Israel. Yet in a project initiated by Limmud FSU founder Chaim Chesler, co-founder Sandy Cahn, and produced by Limmud FSU acting executive director Natasha Chechik, since the COVID-19 lockdown made physical conferences impossible, Limmud FSU has been providing digital e-learning opportunities on Jewish, general – and coronavirus – topics. Sessions have also been arranged by volunteer organizing committees of the festivals. These online gatherings are an opportunity for Russian-speaking Jews to learn – and be – together, virtually. This particular session was entitled "Zionist Responses to the Holocaust."
Reflecting on his late father, Yossi Shub recalled that he and his brother were "born into a real Israeli home," even though both his parents were Holocaust survivors. He praised "the ability of my parents to adapt only a few years after escaping hell, and provide a sense of optimism to their children. Yet I grew up learning to ask about everything – but not about that, and it was only later, after I visited Ponar [the site of the mass murder of the Jews of Vilna in 1941], in 1990, together with my father and brother, that I started to read the notes" that became his father's memoirs. "I vowed there not to forget our family history."
It was a sentiment of the children of Holocaust survivors powerfully echoed by Dorit Golender, Israel's former ambassador to Moscow and vice president for community relations at the Genesis Philanthropy Group, who made aliya to Israel from Lithuania in 1967. "The question of my parents' experiences during the Holocaust was not discussed at home, or in my husband's home when he was a child, though much of his family was killed in Ukraine, but we vowed to tell our children and grandchildren how our parents managed to survive that hell, and continued to suffer the pain and the memory."
In his remarks, Limmud FSU's chairman, Matthew Bronfman, explained the reason for Limmud FSU mounting this event, reminding the participants that Nazi Germany's mass destruction of European Jewry began with the invasion of the Soviet Union, and that some 1.5 million Soviet Jews were murdered: "The Holocaust holds such an important place in the experience of every Soviet Jewish family, in every Soviet Jewish community. Through all the activities of Limmud FSU we seek to give a voice to the personal and collective experiences of that unique tragedy – and of the heroism that emerged from it. Such was the heroism of Baruch Shub, whom I had the honor of meeting personally when he spoke at the Limmud FSU Israel conference in Eilat in 2016."
Those sessions are of interest to young Russian-speaking Jews, for among them there is a growing interest in searching for their roots, noted Alex Mershon, director of the Department of Culture and Education in Nativ - Prime Minister's Office, that works to offer Jewish educational and Israel engagement opportunities for young Jews in the FSU.
Among his public positions, Shub served on the Board of Directors of the Claims Conference, and its president, Gideon Taylor, remarked how Shub's life and the goals of that organization were closely intertwined. "For over 70 years," Taylor noted, the Claims Conference, working alongside the Israel government, "while pressing Germany for indemnification for Holocaust survivors, forcefully advocated that Germany must support Israel. And while working first and foremost to care for the survivors, we have also been a major partner for education and remembrance."
That education, stressed Isaac Herzog, chair of the Jewish Agency, "must carry on to the last generation."
Focusing on the significance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the result of a United Nations resolution of 2005, Colette Avital, chair of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, noted that the day's importance grows "with every passing year. We thought that antisemitism had finished with the end of the war; now we see that this is not the case."
Looking back on the Holocaust from the perspective of the State of Israel, Maj-Gen (ret.) Amos Gilad, the former director of policy and political military affairs in Israel's Defense Ministry, asked where Baruch Shub and people of his ilk found the strength to fight as they stood facing mass murder. "Today, IDF soldiers have an army, a country, behind them. I sometimes try to imagine how people like Shub had their courage."
The vision behind the creation of that state, noted Yaakov Hagoel, chair of the World Zionist Organization, was precisely, for Herzl, the sole viable response to the antisemitism he witnessed. And, noted Major General (ret.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel's National Security Council, as the world marks the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Israel must continue to make particular efforts to show Holocaust deniers that "we can look after ourselves and not be reliant on others." "Holocaust survivors helped build that state," said Major General (ret.) Chaim Erez, himself a child Holocaust survivor and chair of Israel's Museum of the Jewish Soldier in WWII. "We integrated into every aspect of Israeli society. While remembering that every one of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust could have achieved likewise, we are all in our achievements examples of rebirth after the Holocaust."
This particular session was led by Dr. Ephraim Lapid, Brigadier General (Res.), former IDF spokesperson and lecturer of Bar-Ilan University, and also featured remarks by Rabbi Menachem HaCohen, rabbi of Israel's Moshavim Movement, Mickey Kantor, the daughter of Holocaust survivors and chair of the Association of Jews from Vilna and Vicinity in Israel, founder of the Elie Wiesel Archives in Boston University Dr. Joel Rappel and Shlomo Gur, vice president (Israel), of the Claims Conference.
This event has been made possible with the generous support of Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG) and Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
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