Amid rise in anti-Semitism, local students learn from those who survived hatred of the Holocaust

Meyer Academy students working on special project
Posted at 7:41 PM, Mar 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-16 11:13:42-04

Jewish schools and community centers across the country have received threats in recent months. Cemeteries have been vandalized. Swastikas have been painted on cars and homes.

Some of those incidents have happened right here in South Florida.

The crimes have communities on edge but one local class is learning about one of the most gruesome crimes in history, from those who survived it.

Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy at the Mandel JCC in Palm Beach Gardens is one of many Jewish schools and centers in the area that received bomb threats recently.

But on Wednesday morning, students sat down with Holocaust survivors to talk about life, their faith and the history that connects them.

It was meaningful conversation between the past and the present.

"It's our history, but it's your past," said eighth grader Talia Fitter to survivor Joanna Grun. "Life goes on. You have to keep going."

Eighth graders at Meyer are working on a special project called "Honoring Life" -- learning about life and their faith from Holocaust survivors.

"My experience...I had so many experiences," said Grun. "You just think of it like history."

Many of the survivors were the same age as these kids when they went into hiding from the Nazis during World War II. Some lost their parents.

"Here's the star we had to wear in Germany," said survivor Gary Eichenwalk, who recounted his years as a 12-year-old going into hiding with his family.

"I was 10-years-old when this terrible era of my life happened," said survivor Gabor Nameth.

Students are documenting the conversations and stories of the survivors.

"It was moving because so many of our families were in the Holocaust," said student Lindsay Copple. "You get to hear about the family you never got to meet."

But survivors say these students face their own challenges these days.

"The ugly head of anti-Semitism is raised again it's happening again at these very hours," said Nameth. "It cannot be tolerated. In our own small way -- try to fight it."

Survivors shared what they see in the world today and what the youth needs to speak out against.

"Ransacking the Jewish cemeteries... It's scary. Very scary," said Grun.

In January, schools and Jewish centers across South Florida went into lockdown after a rash of bomb threats. It was part of hundreds of threats being reported across the country.

A month later, a swastika was spray painted on a Jewish family's car in Boca Raton.

"It's just nerve wracking because we're not used to it and it shouldn't happen," said eighth grader Jacob Brant.

"And at such a young age, we shouldn't have to deal with something so scary," added Fitter. "It's very hard because a few times, as a Jewish community, we've had to go into complete lockdown. We all deal with it, we all come together as a Jewish community and we talk about it in school."

It's something survivors say they have no tolerance for.

"Tell the world: If you see any hatred, stop it immediately. If you don't, you don't know how far it's going to get," said survivor Sandor Tambor, who spoke through tears about those who sacrificed their lives to help his family during the Holocaust. "That's what I'm living for. That's my life, to tell the world that there was a tell the world that hatred is a cataract of the mind, of the heart."

Students said the conversations with Holocaust survivors was refreshing.

"It shows us that we need to continue. Because things like bomb threats shouldn't be scaring and preventing us from living our Jewish lives," said eighth grader Mya Bodnick.

Survivors urged students to be proud of who they are.

"[We told] the children, don't let themselves down. To fight back and be proud they are a Jew," said survivor Goldie Schwartz.

Students recorded these interviews and conversations with survivors.

They plan turn it over to Israel's historical archives during a mission trip this summer.

Rep. Lois Frankel recently sent a letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to take action against the rise in crimes against Jewish and minority communities across the country since the November election.

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