Yeshivah of Flatbush Names, Not Numbers© Event Brings Students and Holocaust Survivors Together

Holocaust survivors Susan Finkelstein, Sally Frishberg, Rabbi Jacob Jungreis, Toby Levy and Henry Ruston were welcomed warmly at the Yeshivah of Flatbush (YOF) Elementary School on Monday, May 6, for the culmination of the school’s Names, Not Numbers© (NNN) program, created by educator Ms. Tova Fish-Rosenberg. This unique, inter-generational approach to Holocaust education has connected 2,000 survivors and WWII veterans with more than 6,000 students worldwide. The evening consisted of an elegant dinner and the premiere screening of Names, Not Numbers©: A Movie in the Making, a documentary that records the program’s selected 32 eighth grade students’ experiences with and interviews of the survivors. The memories created by being in this program will be forever cherished by the students and survivors alike. NNN participant, Holocaust survivor Bronia Brandman, was unable to attend the event and was dearly missed.

Ms. Barbara Zelenetz, Chairperson of Liberal Arts and coordinator of the NNN project, addressed a dinner crowd of 200 people, and explained why the legacy of these survivors, and thousands of others, is such an important part of Jewish and world history. She praised the students for showing “incredible sensitivity and maturity” in their relationships with the survivors, and she thanked the survivors for teaching the world what “courage and true faith - emunah” - really are. Two of the survivors endured concentration camps. Some survived in hiding with the help of Gentile neighbors. One was rescued with his family on the Kastner Train.

Following Ms. Zelenetz’s introduction, Ms. Rosenberg told guests that the completed documentary will be archived at the National Library of Israel, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, as well as at Yeshiva University’s Gottesman Library.

Leading up to the event, the students learned about the history of WWII and studied the survivors’ biographies. Before the first interviews took place, students visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage and had a session with the documentary’s cameraman, Saul Sudin, as well as with journalist Jeannette Friedman to advance their personal filming and interviewing techniques. In December, they met, interviewed and filmed the survivors.

At the screening following the dinner, Middle Division Principal Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg welcomed the over 300 guests. He spoke about the survivors’ will to live and described them as heroes who maintained their humanity despite the horrors they faced. Student representatives Michelle Belenkiy, whose family was directly affected by the Holocaust, and Morris Hasbani explained why they felt an immense responsibility to continue the legacy of the survivors and to remember what happened not only to the five in present company, but also to the entire six million victims.

Names, Not Numbers© was introduced to the school by YOF Executive Director Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Rothman. He explained that “it is an outstanding program that allows students the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a Holocaust survivor. This program has a huge impact on all involved.”

Parent mentors Ms. Ami Sasson and Ms. Fortune Terzi expressed their gratitude for the program. Of her daughter, Ms. Sasson said, “Esti learned so much from listening to Holocaust survivors and hearing about their heroic lives.” Ms. Terzi added, “I was privileged to assist my son Solomon’s group in the NNN program and was proud that he took it upon himself to make the commitment to this project. Hearing the stories from the survivors first hand created a meaningful and authentic experience.”

After the viewing, Head of Elementary School Rabbi Yahel Tsaidi discussed the obligation of the students’ generation to keep the memory of the Holocaust atrocities alive, or they risk becoming as distant in memory as the Crusades. Ms. Zelenetz stated,“With each passing year, it is becoming even more important to preserve the testimony of Holocaust survivors. If we don't bear witness, then as survivor/writer Elie Wiesel famously said, ‘we are guilty, we are accomplices.’”

The NNN program is funded by a prominent foundation. NNN at Yeshivah of Flatbush was sponsored by The Suzanne and Dr. Lawrence Fishman (ES’47) Holocaust Education Fund. Dinner sponsors were Nadya and Gennadiy Belenkiy, Marjorie and Jack J. Gindi, Tammi and Sol Mosseri and Ami and Ralph Sasson. Special thanks to Barbara Zelenetz for her tireless efforts directing the NNN program, and to the parent mentors for their helpful role in the entire process: Marjorie Gindi, Tammi Mosseri, Bruria Pool, Ami Sasson, Amy Sasson, Alyssa Shamah and Fortune Terzi.
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