With drama, music and the sounds of thousands of names being read, Jewish students across the country led their campuses in remembering the Holocaust last week during Yom Ha'Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and Holocaust Awareness Week activities. Hillel student leaders ensured that the lessons learned from the Holocaust and other genocides would not be forgotten as they planned meaningful programs that touched the entire community.
University of Rhode Island Hillel paid tribute not only to the victims of the Holocaust, but also to those currently suffering in the Darfur region of Sudan with a "Field of Flags" on campus grounds. Students planted more than 2,000 multi-colored flags that represented both the 6 million who perished during the Holocaust and the 400,000 victims of the Darfurian genocide. Although a memorial service provided a more intimate setting for reflection, URI Hillel Director Amy Olson said the field's central campus location gave thousands more students and faculty an easy way to experience the exhibit throughout the week.
"It's hard to get people to come out for something because everyone is busy, they have a class or they have to study. This way, everybody walks through the campus and experiences it without making that extra effort to go to something," Olson told the Providence Journal.
URI students weren't the only ones who called attention to the victims of other genocides during Yom Hashoah programs. University of Southern California Hillel partnered with the campus Jewish Law Students' Association and the Armenian Students' Association to sponsor a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the Holocaust and the 1.5 million Armenians who died during the 1915-1923 genocide in Turkey. At North Carolina State University, Hillel students organized a campus-wide information fair in which visitors could learn more about the Holocaust and the situations in Darfur, Kosovo and Bosnia, among others.
"The reason we're doing this is because there are still a lot of problems with people hating each other and persecuting each other," Ben Mazur, the NC State Hillel treasurer, told the Technician student newspaper. "Every time this happens, we try to learn a lesson from it and we try to educate people about it, but there are still problems like this going on today."
The arts continued to play a vital role in conveying the memories of the lives lost in the Holocaust. University of Missouri, Columbia Hillel co-sponsored "Silenced Voices, a Concert of Remembrance," which brought back to the life the music of many Jewish composers that was banned by the Nazi regime. Ithaca College Hillel brought author Ken Shuldman and filmmaker Rich Newberg to campus to discuss their works on chronicling the experiences of Holocaust survivors. And at California's Chapman University, the Hillel Foundation of Orange County and the Student Society of Entertainment Arts partnered to present the Jurek Becker play "Jakob the Liar." Senior Anna Scanlon, who adapted the play about misinformation in a German-occupied Jewish ghetto in 1944, said it has become an important educational tool for both the audience and the actors and crew.
"The students involved have really learned a lot about the Holocaust as well as Judaism. They went to a special learners Shabbat since only two members of the cast are Jewish, and they really, really liked it. I think it's brought more humanity to the event, even more so than the audience, because they live and breathe these characters for several weeks and get to know their character like a good friend, so it makes the Holocaust much more real," Scanlon said.
As in previous years, many Hillels also sponsored daylong or 24-hour vigils in which students took turns reading the names of Holocaust victims. Hillels at West Virginia University, the University of Virginia, Binghamton University, the University of Iowa, Arizona State University and Elon University were among those who organized readings. Holocaust remembrance activities were funded, in part, by the Darmstaedter Estate through the UJA-Federation of New York.