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Students Inspired by Israel Programming

By Chaya Levinson and Kayla Wolgel

Connecting to Israel is always a key component of the Academy Judaic studies curriculum and even some extracurricular programming, but never is that connection more strong than the week spanning Yom HaShoah to Yom HaAtzmaut. Parents and community members who have joined these programs throughout the years have come because the Israel programming at the Academy connect them to these holidays like no other place in Chicago.

israel-programming-1On Yom HaZikaron this year, students took part in a very moving presentation that Mrs. Rimel and Mrs. Blaustein prepared. The students watched a powerful movie, and then everyone had the privilege to hear from a speaker who while in seminary was caught in the middle of a terrorist attack. She spoke of her triumphs and struggles, and everyone was very inspired.

On Tuesday, Yom HaAtzmaut all students davened a tefillah chagigit, followed by festive doughnuts at KINS. For the morning program, students and staff heard from Consul General Roey Gilad who spook and then answered several student questions about Israel’s security. He also encouraged the students to be active in Israel’s future by reading about Israel, advocating for the Jewish state and visiting. “Jewish education is at the end of the day the most important thing. You are the most important asset we have in the State of Israel.”

israel-programming-2The students then split off into grade levels to play Panoply, an exciting Israel trivia game, before having an Israeli-style seudat mitzvah in the beautifully decorated gym.

After lunch was lively dancing, both in the gym and out in the front of the building. The program overall will certainly prove memorable to Academy students. It was inspirational for everyone- next year in Israel!

Many thanks to Mrs. Adina Blaustein and Mrs. Tzippi Rimel, along with their student committee, on creating such meaningful programs. View photos on our Facebook page.

To commemorate Yom HaShoah, survivor Magda Brown spoke for students and staff. In addition to sharing her story, Mrs. Brown relayed to the students that she had been a typical teenager just like them.

Mrs. Brown lived in Hungary and during World War II. When the Nazi rounded up the Hungarian Jews into a ghetto, Mrs. Brown’s spacious home became crowded with 40 people. In the spring after the Jews were placed into a ghetto, the Nazi began to transport them to Birkenau, the holding camp, and eventually to Auschwitz.

On her 17th birthday, Mrs. Brown and her family were forced into trains to go to the concentration camp. They endured harsh conditions, including extreme thirst.

“On June 11 they shoved us into a boxcar. Perhaps 25-30 people could have sit on the ground. They shoved in 75-80 people. The total darkness, the heat, the body odor, the tension is indescribable. In order to allow my parents to sit on the wooden floor, I stood for three days straight,” she said.

israel-programming-3When Mrs. Brown and her family arrived at Birkenau, the Nazis separated them, but told them that they would be reunited later, which was a ruse. Mrs. Brown explained that the Nazis continually used psychology to deceive the Jews and give them a false sense of security. She never saw her parents again. Her mother was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and her body was burned to ashes. After the families were separated, Mrs. Brown and the other young women were taken to the showers. Their clothes were stolen from them, their heads shaven, and they were given odd-ends clothing. The women were given no beds, rather they had to sleep on the floor, “packed in like sardines.” They were constantly counted and treated like zombies, expected to follow the Nazis’ every command.

Mrs. Brown was eventually able to leave Birkenau and went to work in bomb factory with several of the women from the camp. There, the living conditions were better (they were given beds), but the health conditions were hazardous, as they were constantly exposed to poisonous chemicals without protection.
israel-programming-4The end of the war was Mrs. Brown’s saving grace. The women at the factory were forced to march down a highway. As they were marching, Brown and a few other women saw a barn in the distance. They decided to make a break for it, even though their chances of being caught were high. Mrs. Brown made it and stayed there until the end of the war.

After the war, Mrs. Brown had no family and nowhere to go. She remembered that she had an uncle in Chicago, and with the help of HIAS, he was contacted and she moved to Chicago to live with him.
Mrs. Brown’s testimony shocked the students and gave them a new perspective of the Holocaust. Mrs. Brown’s use of explicit detail painted the pictures of her testimony for the students. Her visit was a wonderful opportunity for the students of ICJA to learn more about the Holocaust.

On the evening of Yom Hashoah, senior Matthew Silberman spoke at JUF’s 68th Holocaust Memorial Service, representing grandchildren of survivors. Matthew is the grandson of four survivors. “Today, I am here to give you hope, but also to ask for help. Grandparents, parents, please continue to tell us what happened, so that it can never happen again. Tell us again how you survived, so that we may be inspired by your boundless strength. Tell us how you remember, and bring us to important events like this one so that this becomes a part of our schedules and our lives. And, most importantly, tell us again to tell others your story, so that we will always remember you, and so that our friends, our teachers, our children and their children will also know and remember.” Read his full speech online.

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