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Twin-with-a-Survivor Program

The three most momentous events in Jewish history are the Exodus-Sinai experience, the destruction of the Temple, and the Holocaust (Shoah). Each of these contributed significantly in forming us into “a nation of priests, a light unto the nations.”

Of those events, the only living witnesses who are still with us are those who survived the Shoah. Unless these Survivors live to the proverbial age of 120, contemporary B’nai Mitzvah students will be the last generation privileged to meet and speak with actual eyewitnesses to the Shoah.

The Holocaust Council of MetroWest created Twin-With-a-Survivor in 2001 to provide B’nai Mitzvah students the rare opportunity to make personal connections to these extraordinary models of human courage andresilience who exemplify continued commitment to the Jewish community.

After three meetings with a Survivor the student incorporates what he/she has learned into the D’var Torah.

Twin-With-a-Survivor assures that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony is profoundly meaningful and extremely moving for the participants as well as the entire congregation.

Additionally, participating in this program ensures the fulfillment of several mitzvot, including becoming a witness and honoring the elderly.

Twin-With-a-Survivor has proven a tremendous growth opportunity for both the students and their families. Many loving friendships have resulted between Survivors and the B’nai Mitzvah families.

Guidelines and Suggestions

For they were living men and women, not symbols.
– Elie Wiesel

  • Students must agree to meet a Survivor a minimum of three times (although more than three meetings are recommended). Meetings can take place within the school/synagogue; on "neutral turf” such as the Aidekman Campus in Whippany or in a diner, and/or in the Survivor’s home. At least one meeting should take place in the Survivor’s home (or place of business). We recommend a minimum of one hour per session.
  • At least one of these meetings should be videotaped. Three copies of the tape will be made. The copies will be distributed to the student, the Survivor and to the Holocaust Council of MetroWest.
  • Students must agree to keep journals of their meetings. While some of these notes may be personal reflections, MetroWest will receive copies of the portions of interview notes the student wishes to share. These portions should include the factual materials of the interviews that become future references for the student.
  • Federation will archive sealed copies of the interview notes as well as the videos and will have them available as back-up materials for the students’ future use as well as for other researchers.
  • Students share their reports and D’var Torahs with the Holocaust Council and their survivors. Students receive a folder and pre-addressed envelope to send all their materials to Federation.
Rabbis/Educational Directors may identify candidates. In cases where candidates volunteer to Twin With a Survivor, the Rabbi/Educational Director must agree and add a signature to the contract.

Minimal considerations should include:

  • Is the student knowledgeable about the Holocaust?
  • Is the student stable and mature?
  • Does the student have a respectable GPA?
  • Will the student have parental support for this project?
We recommend that students read Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom (Doubleday, 1997) and/or Salvaged Pages by Alexandra Zapruder prior to engaging in the program.

Student must sign a contract. In addition, the student must obtain signed parental consent.

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You may adjust the contract and consent forms to fit the particular needs of the student. We must receive the signed forms before we can proceed in assigning a Survivor to the student.

Although we don’t anticipate that either the Survivor or student will be tongue-tied, we recommend that the student approach each of the interviews with a set of guideline questions that explore different aspects of the Survivor’s life. Students should realize that three sessions is hardly enough time to learn someone’s history. The guidelines will ensure that the most important aspects of the Survivor’s story will be addressed. Should the pair decide that they want to spend more time together, the Survivor will be able to elaborate on the individual aspects. Otherwise, the students should present the Survivors with a list of questions for each particular interview so that the Survivor can gauge how much ground he/she will have to cover in the given time.Minimally, the students should ask:

  • Place and date of birth. This should be followed up by consulting an atlas to get a geographical sense and an encyclopedia for a historical perspective of that Survivor’s particular country.
  • Lifestyle of the Jews in general and the Survivor’s family, in particular.
  • Detailed knowledge of parents, siblings, and grandparents, with specific anecdotes. Anecdotes about extended family and childhood friends.
  • Religious, social, educational, and economic life of the surrounding Jewish and non-Jewish community.
  • Details of the Survivor’s life from earliest recollection to point of transition (1930’s)
  • Transition to 1945: oppression, ghetto, hiding, concentration camp experience, partisan activity, and emigration to sanctuary.
  • Liberation, return to home, D.P. camp, wait to emigrate to America or Palestine
  • Life in a new land

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      Suggested Questions
    • When did you arrive in the United States?
    • Did you arrive by ship or plane?
    • What was your first impression of America?
    • Why did you choose to settle in New Jersey?
    • Describe the town or city as it appeared to you when you first arrived.
    • Did it in any way remind you of your home in Europe? If yes, how?
    • Did you feel welcome in the United States? If yes, what particularly made you feel welcome? If you were made to feel unwelcome, please explain.
    • Please describe your employment history: first job and subsequent ones.
    • Please describe your first and subsequent homes in the United States.
    • Did you attend night classes to learn English? Please describe that experience.
    • Did you send your children to area schools and colleges?
    • What do you consider the best thing about living in New Jersey?
    • What are your thoughts on life, relationship with others, prayer, Judaism, religious observance, children, and grandchildren.

Additional Suggestions and Information

    • We recommend that the student bring a camera to each interview to make her/his own photographic record.
    • We suggest the student ask to see photographs and documents of the Survivor’s pre-war and post war life.
    • It would be a good idea to participate in a shared activity, perhaps to watch a Holocaust movie together and discuss it, or visit a museum.
    • Some Survivors have heavy accents. The students should not hesitate to ask the Survivor to clarify any remarks that he or she does not understand. Students should feel free to ask the Survivors to spell out the names and places they mention in the course of conversation.
    • If, for whatever reason, the student finds him/herself uncomfortable with the Survivor at any of interviews he/she should report it immediately to the Rabbi or Educational Director and/or should contact the Holocaust Council of MetroWest.
    • We hope that the parents of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah will plant two trees in Israel in honor of this occasion, one for their child’s simcha and one for the Survivor.
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