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‘Never Again’ Means More at This Year’s Holocaust Survivor Day

The klezmer band struck up a happy tune, and people who survived the Holocaust during World War II left their seats and began to dance. That embodies the spirit of Holocaust Survivor Day, to celebrate the lives of the survivors.

Tuesday marked the third time it was celebrated in the Philadelphia area. Gov. Josh Shapiro and former Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney officially recognized Holocaust Survivor Day last year. About 85 Holocaust survivors came to the Holocaust Survivor Day event at Keneseth Israel [K.I.] in Elkins Park.

Jason Holtzman, Jewish Federation director of the Jewish Community Relations Council spoke. His paternal grandparents, Sally and Herman Holtzman, survived the Holocaust along with two aunts.

Sally Holtzman lived through the war by hiding with her family in a barn in Poland.  When Nazi soldiers set her family’s home on fire, she ran back into the burning house and saved her baby sister. Herman Holtzman survived Auschwitz, the infamous death camp.

His grandparents met each other in a displaced persons camp after the war, eventually moving to Philadelphia.

Participants dance at the Holocaust Survivor Day event at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel on June 4, 2024.


“Despite the unimaginable horrors they endured, they exemplified resilience and lived each day with profound happiness,” said Holtzman. “As a descendent of Holocaust survivors, I have a deep appreciation for life, a sentiment shared by many second and third-generation survivors.”

Before the Holocaust, Poland was home to 3.3 million Jews, he said. Afterward, only 300,000 remained.

“We must remain vigilant and committed to educating future generations about the horrors of the past to ensure they are never repeated,” said Holtzman.

That’s the mission of Chuck Feldman, president of the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center [HAMEC], which is also located at K.I. HAMEC has a program to send survivors to visit schools, either in person or through Zoom. It reached 160 schools this year and survivors have told their stories in thousands of schools over the years.

“We have a saying, people will talk about the Holocaust and say, ‘Never again.’ With respect to education, we say, ‘Never enough.’”

Daniel Goldsmith, 92, attended the luncheon. Goldsmith, who lived in Belgium at the time of the Holocaust, had spoken with DVJournal before. Goldsmith, who was a child at the time, survived with the help of Catholic nuns and priests.

Jason Holtzman

Feldman said it amazes him that Pennsylvania does not have mandatory Holocaust education. However, he noted a survey showed Pennsylvania millennials know more about the Holocaust than students in states where it is a mandatory part of the curriculum: New Jersey, New York, California, Florida, and Illinois.

State Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) and Joe Hogan (R-Penndel) introduced a bill that would require the Department of Education to write curriculum guidelines for schools offering Holocaust and genocide instruction. It would also require transparency so parents know what their children are learning. The bill is still in committee.

“You are an inspiration to us all,” Paula Goldstein, president of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia [JFCS], told the survivors.

“Since Oct. 7 events too devastating to comprehend are unfolding in our world and our community,” she said.  They are “living proof of that hope and resilience,” she said.

Dr. Marcy Gringlas, cofounder with her husband, Joel Greenberg, of the Seed the Dream Foundation, brought her mother, Reli Gringlas, a Holocaust survivor, to the event.

Marcy Gringlas said she deeply misses her late father, who survived Auschwitz.

“In 2021, Seed the Dream Foundation worked with our global partners to establish a special day to honor you, our cherished Holocaust Survivors,” she said. “We wanted to celebrate and honor your courage and your resilience, and the remarkable lives that you have built. Now in its fourth year, Holocaust Survivor Day events are happening around the world. Seed the Dream Foundation is proud to be supporting events in 26 communities here in the United States.”

Jonathan Ornstein with the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, Poland came up with the idea for the Holocaust Survivor Day, along with Rabbi Michael Berenbaum, after they both identified the need for a day to focus on the life and resilience of survivors. The idea was a day survivors wouldn’t have to share with the memory and tragedies of the Holocaust.

Partners for Tuesday’s event included 3G Philly, Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors Association, Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, and Sons & Daughters of Holocaust Survivors.

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Local Seminar Talks to Jewish Kids, Parents about Campus Antisemitism

When Andrew Goretsky was in college, he had a friend from a rural town in upstate New York who had never met a Jew before.

Goretsky said he was going home for Rosh Hashanah, and his friend asked him what that was. When Goretsky told him it was the Jewish New Year, “He looked at me dumbfounded and said, ‘You’re Jewish?’”

“He said, ‘You can’t be’…He looked at me deadpan and said, ‘Andrew, you don’t have horns.’”

“This was 1991. He was told the reason we wear hats and yarmulkes was we’re covering up our demon horns because we killed Jesus Christ,” said Goretsky, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Goretsky spoke at a seminar for teenagers and parents on dealing with antisemitism Sunday at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr.

According to Goretsky, there were more than 750 complaints of antisemitism filed with the ADL in this region, which also includes South Jersey, in 2023 alone. That’s up from about 500 in 2022. And since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, antisemitic incidents have increased, especially at colleges and universities.

Andrew Goretsky

Jewish students are suing the University of Pennsylvania for antisemitism on campus. Its former president, Liz Magill, resigned due to her lackluster congressional testimony on the topic, as did Harvard’s president. Drexel and Temple face federal civil rights investigations over antisemitism. And in March, Haverford College students held an “Israel Apartheid Month.”

The two speakers at the Bryn Mawr event agreed that Jewish students should know their connection with Israel and be able to articulate what Israel means to them.

Dimas Guaico is the regional campus manager for the Jewish youth organization StandWithUs. Raised as a Christian to Latin American parents and a graduate of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, Guaico detailed Jewish history in Israel from biblical times on.

On May 14, 1948, the British pulled out, and the Jews declared a state.

“After 1,900 years of oppression, they finally have their Jewish state, Israel,” said Guaico. The next day, “five Arab armies invaded Israel for the sole purpose of destroying the newly created Jewish state,” he said.  There were 750,000 Arab refugees and, at the same time, nearly one million Jewish refugees who were driven out of Arab countries and sought refuge in Israel. About 60 percent of Israelis are descendants of Jews from Arab countries, he said.

“It is a myth that Jews lived as equals with Arabs in the Middle East,” he said. Instead, they were “dhimmis,” or second-class citizens and slaves.

The Israelis turned Gaza over to the Palestinians in 2005. In 2006, the Palestinians elected Hamas as their government. Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Goretsky said social media skews the conversations about the Hamas-Israel conflict.

“I want to encourage you to take the conversations off social media and engage in different ways…because the algorithms are really going to be giving you feedback of emotion,” he said.

“For those of you about to embark on college, you need to think about your own stories as it relates to Judaism, as it relates to Israel. How do you intend to share that?” Goretsky asked.

Many critics of Israel often have a double standard. For example, Israel isn’t the only country that receives U.S. foreign aid, but it’s the country being targeted for ire, he said.

“We’re not saying don’t be critical of Israel. We’re saying don’t be antisemitic,” said Goretsky.

Huntingdon Valley resident Ed Beck, president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, has a grandchild about to go to college and is concerned. Jewish institutions “need to provide more resistance training” because campus antisemitism “isn’t going to go away,” he said.

“A lot of my peers who don’t understand what’s going on with the conversation may be perpetuating harmful stereotypes or things that aren’t true are getting this information from TikTok or Instagram,” a teenage girl said and asked where to send them for accurate information.

Carl Nathan, a Jewish activist from Newtown Square, said people should know what the claims of pro-Palestinian protestors are so they can respond, and he recited a list.

Guaico referred both to the StandWithUs website.

“If people aren’t willing to have conversations, there is never going to be a road to peace. For us, education is the key to peace,” he said.

The seminar was  hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

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Survivors of the Oct. 7 Hamas Attack Speak Out at Lower Merion Event

“We thought we were in the safest place in the world. But after 6 a.m., the gates of hell opened. An RPG was firing upon us, and I became terrified as nothing was going to prepare me for the sights I was about to see.”

Those were the words of Ofer Kisin, an Israeli survivor of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack, speaking at a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia reception at the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood Sunday.

Some 1,200 Israelis were killed by Hamas terrorists in the attack, which also featured mass rape and mutilation of victims. In addition, terrorists kidnapped around 240 people, including Americans, and took them into Gaza as hostages. Hamas still holds 137 captives.

Ofer and Rony Kisin of Kerem Shalom told attendees they were celebrating the Simchat Torah holiday before the massacre.

Israeli Oct. 7 survivors (from left) Hila Fakliro, Shani Teshuva, Rony Kisin, Ofer Kisin.

Shani Teshuva of Kibbutz Zikim also shared her story. Teshuva said a 10-minute delay saved her life along with the strength of her children while living under constant rocket barrage.

“We felt really safe the night before as my 12-year-old daughter went out skateboarding with her friends, and on that morning, I went for a bike ride,” Teshuva said. “At 6:29 the next day, there was a rainfall of rockets. My husband and I got our kids and went into the safe room, where we all covered our kids on the floor. This went on all day as we were fighting for our lives.”

Later, as debris continued to fall, a cyberattack occurred. It resulted in all communication going out. Teshuva’s husband went to the emergency center, and the emergency team told him to check on people door-to-door while also checking on his family.

Teshuva’s narrative captured the community’s adversities in the attack’s aftermath and the uncertain situation.

“Everybody is afraid because we didn’t think this would happen again. Right now, we’re fighting for survival and bringing hostages back home,” Teshuva stated. “My family and I are currently evacuated and have no idea when we will return. We can’t make any important decisions on what’s next while we’re displaced.”

Hila Fakliro was a bartender at the Supernova music festival when Hamas terrorists attacked. Several hundred festival goers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were enjoying the festival when terrorists began shooting them. The militants surrounded the revelers using motorcycles, trucks, and paragliders.

Chillingly, Fakliro heard terrorists laughing and singing while slaughtering innocent festival attendees.

“Around 6:30, my bar manager told another bartender and me to take cover as we were listening to the rockets go off for 45-50 minutes,” Fakliro said. “We then decided to go to my car, but something told me to leave the car as there was a massive traffic jam for people trying to escape.”

After hearing loud crying, Fakliro ran for about nine miles. She found a farm community and hid there for around five hours. She eventually made her way back to her apartment after hiding.

“I was panicked because if I wasn’t in my car, I had a feeling I was going to be dead,” Fakliro said. “I’m so thankful I’m alive and can share my story.”

“We don’t hate Muslims or any specific group of people. We hate Hamas, and they are a terrorist organization that wants us killed,” Rony Kisin said.

As for Fakliro, she hopes Hamas is finally defeated soon so she can return to her everyday life and continue to fulfill her dreams.

“I eventually want to get married and have children, but I unfortunately don’t feel safe bringing them into this world right now, given everything that’s going on,” Fakliro said.

While the survivors adapt to their current situation, they remain grateful for their visit to America and the opportunity to share their perspectives.

“After this trip, we will be going home with warm hearts and eternal gratitude for our time to tell our stories,” Teshuva said.

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UPenn’s Magill Once Again Slow to Respond to Antisemitism, Jewish Groups Say

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill is once again facing criticism for her slow response to antisemitism on campus.

Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and Jason Holtzman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, sent an open letter to Magill asking her to respond after antisemitic graffiti was found on Oct. 20 at Penn’s Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) chapter house, which is known as a Jewish fraternity.

The graffiti read: “The Jews R Nazis.”

“The University of Pennsylvania’s swift condemnation of this graffiti is needed to show Jewish students that you are committed to ensuring their safety and well-being, especially at a time when it is being threatened nationwide,” the Jewish leaders wrote.

M. Elizabeth “Liz” Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania.

“While we understand that the University’s Division of Public Safety is still investigating the incident as ’a potential hate crime,’ the wording used is irrefutably antisemitic and therefore deeply painful for Jewish students and their allies to witness.”

“A recent Hillel International survey reported that since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, 56 percent of Jewish students feel scared on campus, and 1 in 4 report that there has been an act of antisemitic violence or hate on their campus in the last 10 days,” they added.

There have been pro-Hamas demonstrations, including one where a Jewish student was injured, Holtzman said.

“Faculty at Penn have participated in those rallies and promoted them in their classrooms,” said Holtzman. “And that’s unacceptable behavior, too. And I think President Magill needs to show leadership and make it clear that Penn will not tolerate rallies that promote jihad and where Jewish students get assaulted, and Jewish students are told to go back to Berlin, to go back to Poland…That type of rhetoric is unacceptable for a campus or anywhere in our society.”

And, they noted, “The Secure Community Network (SCN) has reported an alarming uptick in antisemitic incidents concentrated on college campuses since Oct. 7. SCN received 94 antisemitic incident reports on college campuses, representing 15 percent of the total 614 antisemitic incidents logged across the country during the month of October.”

“We appreciate your commitment to better supporting Jewish students on Penn’s campus following the Palestine Writes Festival held on campus in September. However, as the university continues to consider its policies to effectively combat antisemitism on campus, we remind you how critical timeliness and consistency are to setting the precedent that antisemitism and hate have no place at Penn. Penn’s statement on this matter is necessary to ensure that Jewish students understand that they have your protection and support on campus,” the letter said.

As of Monday evening, Magill had yet to respond to the federation. And a Penn spokesperson did not reply to DVJournal.

Holtzman told DVJournal he has heard from Penn, Temple, and Drexel students who are afraid on those campuses.

Students have “expressed the real feeling of being under threat and not feeling safe on campus,” said Holtzman. They “are not comfortable speaking Hebrew on campus. They’re not comfortable wearing a Star of David on campus.”

And other students have also stopped wearing the hijab or veil, he said.

“Penn Hillel is horrified by the recent uptick in antisemitism on campuses – including Penn – and in many spaces around the country and world,” said Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, executive director of Penn Hillel. “We will continue to work closely with university leadership to ensure they understand the severity of this issue and that they act upon it to ensure that Jewish students feel safe and secure on campus. We are also in close contact with the students of AEPi so that we understand their needs and can help amplify their voice to the administration.”

When asked if he thought this would be “the new normal,” Holtzman said he hoped it is not a permanent situation.

“But I think it’s very clear that there’s been a great deal of antisemitism existing in our society, in our city for a long time,” said Holtzman. “And it doesn’t take much for people to show the worst of themselves.”

“The truth is that Israel is responding to a terrorist group that invaded their sovereign borders and massacred people, tortured people, raped and kidnapped people,” Holtzman continued. “And Israel is forced to respond to those actions on behalf of Hamas. We saw within less than 24 hours after the attack occurred on Oct. 7, there were protests and rallies already taking place throughout Philadelphia and on and off campus.

“So we know that the people who hold these deeply problematic and bigoted views are here. And it doesn’t take much for them to act.”

Holtzman added, “We have a lot of work to do in terms of education. Israel is not fighting against the Palestinian people, against the Muslim people. Israel is fighting a war against the radical terrorist groups, and had Hamas not done what they did on Oct. 7, there would be no war.”

In Israel, 300,000 people are now homeless, he added.

Israel Solidarity Rally Brings 1,000 to Wynnewood

At a rally held in solidarity with Israel Monday night, Ardmore resident Amichai Shdemah told the story of his step-grandmother’s abduction from her home in Nir Oz kibbutz by Hamas terrorists.

The woman, whom Shdemah calls “Savta” or grandmother, is 84.

“We know some details. In the morning, she was hiding in the safe room,” Shdemah said. “Later, a neighbor heard her calling for help and went outside. He realized he couldn’t help her. There were too many terrorists, and he fled back to his safe room.”

Family members kept trying to call her cell phone. Eventually, someone answered and said in Arabic, “Hamas.”

“We are helpless and sick with worry,” he said. Officials gave the family no information. “They have checked hospitals,” he said. “And the list of the dead.”

“She was a social worker who worked with many families,” he continued. She has the “gift of an enormous family and remembers everybody’s birthday. She always made us feel part of her family. Her chicken soup is our kids’ favorite.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro

With signs that said “Philly Stands With Israel” and blue and white Israeli flags, around 1,000 people rallied in Wynnewood to support the Jewish state after the horrific Hamas terrorist attack that began on Saturday.

The group prayed, sang, and listened to remarks from politicians, clergy, and Jewish community leaders.

Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Jewish Federation, organized the rally. He thanked the supporters and donors who’ve aided the beleaguered Jewish state.

“I don’t have sufficient words to describe the horror of the past few days,” said Balaban. “To wake up on Saturday morning, on Shabbat, a day of rest and Smideot Serot, to the news that Israel, our Jewish homeland and our Jewish people, had been attacked with thousands of rockets. And hundreds of terrorists infiltrated from Gaza. The news of Israelis being murdered, taken hostage, thousands wounded.”

“To read news of toddlers being kidnapped by terrorists,” said Balaban. “To know that refresh of social media or the news would bring with it horrific new details. We stand united, but we also stand in pain together,” he said. “We are heartbroken. We cry together. We are grieving. And we are angry.”

“In our own streets of Philadelphia and in Times Square,” he added, “while Jews are being massacred, there are those that cheer for our destruction. We’ve heard them call these terrorists’ freedom fighters,’ but that’s not what they are. They’re murderers who’ve stolen the lives of innocent Jews.”

“We’ve seen this same hatred time and time again. Like a virus, hatred of Jews has survived over time by mutating,” he said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro said, “We stand against terror, and we stand with Israel.”

Many are worried about our friends and family in Israel, which is “now a war zone.”

Others have never been to Israel but “recognize its critical role in the world. You recognize what Israel represents: Freedom. Democracy and peace. Those are values that we as Americans and we as Pennsylvanians hold dear.”

The gathering was near the spot where William Penn arrived 341 years ago, said Shapiro.

Penn had “a vision to build a colony built on the promise of religious tolerance and understanding,” said Shapiro. “Today, three and half centuries later, I am honored to address you tonight, both as the 48th governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and as a proud American Jew.”

“We must condemn the horrific acts of war perpetrated by Hamas and their enablers,” Shapiro said. “Hundreds of Israelis are among the dead and captured. But so are American citizens, as well as British, French, Canadian, Mexican, and so many other nationalities…These unprovoked attacks on innocent civilians warrant condemnation here in America and all across our globe…Let me speak the truth. There is no moral equivalency between Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization as designated by the United States, and Israel,  the only functioning pluralistic democracy in the Middle East.”

Tsach Sa’ar, Acting Consul General of Israel, said, “My homeland is bleeding. My homeland is burning. And my homeland is the closest ally of your homeland in the Middle East and beyond. This same homeland is the spiritual anchor for the Jewish community in America.”

On a joyous day in the Jewish calendar, “Palestinian terrorists from Hamas unleashed unprecedented terror. They killed over 1,000 individuals. Left thousands injured. And abducted more than 100. The victims, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Americans, and other foreigners…The atrocities committed are unspeakable. Children were murdered. Women were assaulted and abducted to Gaza. Elderly women at a bus stop were sprayed with bullets. Others were set ablaze.”

“It marks the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” said Sa’ar.

Gail Norry

“These horrifying actions were not just against Israel. They were acts against America, against the free world and all of humanity.”

Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and about 14 state legislators attended the rally. Representatives from the offices of other area congressional representatives, as well as from Sen. Bob Casey and Sen. John Fetterman, attended.

“I stand with Israel 100 percent,” said Philadelphia resident Gail Norry before the rally. “I’m horrified at what has happened. They took innocent lives. Havoc has been wreaked.

“These were people sleeping in their homes,” said Norry. “Young adults at a concert. They just had their entire lives turned upside down. The nature of the attack, just how horrible it was.” She had just traveled to Israel in May to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary.

“It is the only place to be in Philly if you’re a strong supporter of Israel and a proud Jew,” said Joshua Steinerman, a Bala Cynwyd resident who came with his family.