Yom HaShoah: The Strength of Sharing Stories

April 14, 2023

This coming week, communities in Israel and around the world will observe Yom HaShoah u’Gevurah, Israel’s official day to mourn the shoah, the calamity that was the genocide of millions of Jews and others across Europe during World War II, and to honor the gevurah, the strength and determination of survivors. Yom HaShoah allows us to memorialize the greatest tragedy experienced by the Jewish people in modern times with rituals, like observing a moment of silence, reading the names of victims aloud, and taking time to read stories about Shoah victims and, if we are so lucky, to hear first-hand accounts from those who lived through it, and survived.

This past Tuesday, an intergenerational group of TOS members gathered in our chapel to welcome Ms. Janet Singer Applefield, a child survivor from Krakow, Poland, and hear her incredible story. Ms. Applefield, now 88, a mother of 3 and grandmother of 5, lives south of Boston and spends much of her time speaking about her experience though Facing History and Ourselves. With smiling family photos on a loop in the background, Ms. Applefield spoke of her happy childhood upturned by the unimaginable, reminding us that wrapped up in the unfathomable horror of the Holocaust were millions of real people with real hopes and fears, with families and friends, with memories and stories all their own.

Listening to Ms. Applefield recount her experiences – of how her family evaded capture, of the abuse she endured in hiding, and of the loss of family members, friends, and the only home she had ever known, I was in awe. Yes, her resilience and bravery was certainly evident and palpable as she spoke, but I was struck by how opportunities like this, to hear a survivor’s story firsthand, told in real time, is now and will be increasingly rare. While advances in technology have captured nearly life-like hologram recordings of survivors telling their stories so they may be shared with generations to come, hearing Ms. Applefield’s story, surrounded by our community reminded me of this sad reality, and that, now more than ever, it is on us to learn and share stories like Ms. Applefield’s, and of all survivors, to allow them to live on and ensure that we, and the world, will never forget.

May the memories of those who perished and those who lived through the Holocaust be a blessing. And may the survivors who remain have the courage, and receive the love and support they need to continue to share their stories and their wisdom, for they truly are a blessing to us all.

Rabbi Jennifer Queen