Posted on 16 March 2015.
BY VALERIA SALGADO
Senior Sophia Torres along with nine other Cypress Bay students from Leslie Rheingold’s Holocaust History class with the help of JFS (Jewish Family Service) put together a Purim event for Holocaust survivors. They held a brunch with live music on March 3 at Century Village in Pembroke Pines and hosted 150 survivors.
Torres was the leader of the event and contacted JFS, saying that she wanted to have a strictly student-run event for Holocaust survivors.
“JFS came to our Holocaust History class and talked to us about survivors and volunteer opportunities,” Torres said. “After listening to all the options the one that triggered the most attention was coordinating a brunch for all survivors.”
An account was made on a website called gofundme.com where people from all over the world could donate to help raise money to buy materials to put together the event like food and decorations.
“The website was a huge help because we got donations from different states and from people we didn’t even know,” Torres said. “We ended up raising $1,200 in donations.”
Torres said most survivors at the event already knew each other, but there was one woman named Geanette Pelcam who saw for the first time someone she lived with in a concentration camp with until being liberated in 1945.
“At the event, Geanette approached me ecstatic to share that she just ran into a friend she made during the Holocaust,” Torres said. “After moving to Florida 23 years ago, Geanette reconnected with many survivors who live in Century Village as she does.”
Holocaust survivor Michael Sadek was one who shared his story.
“I started off in a ghetto in Poland then ran away underground to a Polish lady who took my family and me in until she got scared of the Germans,“ Mr. Sadek said. “I had to live in the fields after and survived there until the war was over. It was a miracle.”
Junior Jordan Keller sang the national anthem of the U.S.; the national anthem of Israel, “Hatikvah”; “The Sound of Music”; and “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”
“I felt like I was able to give them a bit of positive memories from the past, despite all of the terrible things they went through,” Keller said. “Music has always been a huge support, and it touches so many people’s lives.”
In Mrs. Rheingold’s class, students have been learning about the ghettos that Jews were forced to live in. They learned that in the ghettos music had a big impact on their lives because it was what kept them going every day. For this reason, Torres thought it would be important to bring music and songs they would enjoy.
“They were all mesmerized by Keller’s singing. They felt young again and you could tell by the look in their eyes. It was beautiful and having her sing really helped bring the event together,” Torres said.
The survivors enjoyed a bagel brunch. They also each got goody bags that had Purim items like groggers and Hamentashen cookies that junior Alex Zeidel provided.
“The survivors were all so happy to have received the goody bags,” Zeidel said. “I’m so happy we gave them that because many of them would ask for one or two more so they could take them back to their grandchildren.”
Torres said since she will be leaving for college soon, she hopes that the rest of the group will continue with JFS and plan more events. Junior Beau Ritkes, who helped raise money and was part of the group, said the event was an overall success and would like to plan more.
“This event was a really nice way for me to express the respect I have for these people,” Ritkes said. “I have distant relatives that were affected by the Holocaust so I know they would be proud of me. I would definitely do it again and I’d love to develop lasting relationships with the survivors.”
Torres went to JFS in Plantation afterwards and talked to the advisers and only got positive feedback. Many survivors contacted JFS and told them that they had fun especially being around teens.
“It really means a lot to me and everyone else who helped that everyone enjoyed the event, because we put so much effort into this without any outside or school help,” Torres said.
Mrs. Rheingold was very proud of her students because they pulled together an amazing event.
“I introduced the program to them and they took it onto their own hands without me having to babysit them or anything,” Mrs. Rheingold said. “It meant a lot to me that they did an amazing thing out of the goodness of their hearts not for a grade or any other purpose.”
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