TORONTO — Hundreds of young professionals recently spent an informative and inspiring evening with 40 Holocaust survivors at the seventh annual Dinner of Miracles.
The event, held on Dec. 11 at Petah Tikva Congregation, was co-chaired by Sherri Rotstein, director of the Toronto March of the Living, and Shawna Samuel, events co-ordinator at Zareinu Educational Centre.
The evening of dialogue between the generations featured a four-course meal and a presentation of musical selections from I Believe: A Holocaust Oratorio for Today. Composer Zane Zalis and soloists Kelsey Cowie and Marc Devigne performed the powerful pieces.
At each table, young adults, a facilitator and two Holocaust survivors engaged in conversation. The survivors shared first-hand stories of their experiences during the war, how they overcame adversity and how they re-established their lives in Canada. They spoke of loss and suffering, courage, triumph and faith.
The Dinner of Miracles, which raises enough funds to cover the event costs only, helped deepen the understanding of the Holocaust for the young professionals. It emphasized the consequences of racism and antisemitism and reinforced the need to always remember and learn from the lessons of history.
“The opportunity to hear first-hand testimonies is becoming more rare and the stories need be heard by as many people as possible,” said Rotstein. “This is a piece of unique Jewish history, bridging the past and the future. This event is important for both the survivors and the young adults, as each person who attends finds the event fulfilling and meaningful.”
Rotstein said there is a unique relationship between Holocaust survivors and young adults, which is fostered through encounters such as the Dinner of Miracles. “The connections made allow the young adults to not only hear survivor testimony, but to see first-hand the kind of fulfilling Jewish lives the survivors are living despite facing such extreme adversity in their early years.”
She said the survivors were thrilled to attend and got “so much fulfillment from speaking to young Jewish adults. This is an event they look forward to annually. Many of them have come in the past, are grandparents of people attending or are speakers from the Holocaust Centre of Toronto.”
Sharona Abramovitch, a young professional who attended the dinner with her grandmother, said: “It was an unforgettable experience to be among many true heroes and to learn first-hand from survivors who lived through the Holocaust.”
Her grandmother, Elizabeth Silverberg, shared painful memories of Auschwitz, where she witnessed her family members being sent to the gas chambers, and Bergen-Belsen, where her job was to carry away corpses in blankets and toss them into graves.
While she was in Bergen-Belsen, Silverberg suffered from typhus. She said she remembers lying on the floor for about 12 days without any food, water or medication and barely conscious. Somehow, she got better, but besides the physical torture, she suffered emotionally.
Silverberg witnessed countless people in distress every day, including Anne Frank, who came on the last train to the camp. Frank told Silverberg that her family had been in hiding when someone betrayed them. Silverberg said she remembers Frank being pale and weak, dying three weeks before they were liberated.
After the war, five of the nine siblings in Silverberg’s family survived. “We must never forget our past because in order to move forward we must know from where we come. We are all human beings, forgive and replace evil with kindness and thus live life to its fullest,” she said.
“As my grandmother has told me on numerous occasions, it is important for young people today to hear first-hand from Holocaust survivors about their experiences so that their experiences of the Holocaust can be retold by us to our children and our children’s children,” said Abramovitch.
“When Holocaust survivors are no longer present, it will then become our responsibility to retell their experiences, to confront the Holocaust deniers and to ensure that these horrible inhumane acts never happen again.”