Yom Hashoah at Rutgers Hillel – Never Forget
By Jeffrey Camras, Class of 2015, Skokie, Illinois
Seventy years ago, the Shoah forever changed the course of Jewish history. The Shoah, better known in English as the Holocaust, took the lives of six million Jews and demonstrated the extent to which human evil can be realized. The impacts of the Shoah are still very much alive and strong within world Jewry, given the presence of survivors who can tell their stories. This is going to change, however, in the next short decade or two, as survivors of the Shoah are increasingly passing away as they age. It is for this very reason that my generation must be taught and learn as much as possible about the Shoah, especially from primary sources, the survivors themselves.
Two years ago, something very strange happened around Yom Hashoah at Rutgers Hillel. The students who planned the events for that day chose to have a movie showing. Despite apparent support and enthusiasm for the event, few students actually showed up. Additionally, some students were quite outspoken in their disappointment that this is how Hillel chose to acknowledge the day. The student board response was to amend the constitution, officially requiring an appropriate commemoration, mandated to the Education Chair.
Being in charge of planning Yom Hashoah the following year certainly provided a significant opportunity to have a powerful impact on the Hillel community. Rutgers Hillel was approached by a survivor, David Tuck, who was looking to speak to college students, as he recognized that many of them have never received formal education about the Shoah. I reached out to the Holocaust Awareness Museum in Philadelphia. Their theater group performed a play about a fictitious relationship between a Jewish girl and her German friend in pre-WWII Germany. Lastly, the Yom Hashoah planning committee felt it would be appropriate for a student to share his experiences upon visiting the concentration camps in Poland. Prior to the events, several students volunteered their time to table and raise awareness, not just about the upcoming event but also to start a discussion about the Shoah on campus. Many students at Rutgers are simply not aware of what the Holocaust was, something I was astonished to discover.
The planning took months, but the support and resources available were tremendous. A simple call to the UnitedStates Holocaust Museum yielded express delivery of materials and resources for us to use, free of charge. Grants were available, thanks to the David and Fela Shapell Family Foundation.
I reflect back on the event with mixed emotions. It was certainly a success, but is there much work that needs to be done to make it an even greater success in the years to come. We established important relationships with useful individuals and organizations who proved their willingness to help college students, especially with matters as important as this. I look to the future, when there are no more survivors to share their own story, and envision Rutgers Hillel being a leader in telling their stories for them. I imagine a Yom Hashoah program quite different from the one last year, as Hillel adapts to the needs of its students, always finding new and unique ways to share the story of the Shoah.
I am proud of what happened here at Rutgers Hillel. It was a moment that epitomizes what Hillel stands for; a student organization, run by students and willing to adapt to the needs of students. Without the student criticism, this program would not have taken the same shape, and we as a whole certainly would have missed out.