Remembering and Celebrating the Yoms Through Zoom

The+Guitar+Ensemble+performing+Cuado+El+Rey%2F+Ve%27+David+on+Yom+Haatzmaut.

The Guitar Ensemble performing Cuado El Rey/ Ve' David on Yom Haatzmaut.

Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Haatzmaut are known to be some of the most meaningful days on the Ramaz calendar. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Upper School faculty and administration were faced with the challenge of how they would unite the community online. The school had to figure out how they would commemorate the lives of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust, honor soldiers who put their lives on the front lines to defend Israel, and celebrate the 72nd year since the establishment of the State of Israel. 

Yom Hashoah Zoom Webinar held by KJ/Ramaz.

On Yom Hashoah, April 21, the Ramaz Upper School along with Ramaz seventh and eighth graders logged onto a Zoom webinar to remember the Jews lost during the Holocaust. The virtual event was led by Shira Stoll, a specialist at the local Staten Island newspaper, The Staten Island Advance. She created and directed the film “Where Life Leads You: Stories of Staten Island’s Holocaust Survivors,” which presents the painful and inspiring stories of ten Holocaust survivors. Although Stoll did not have family who survived the war, she shared that throughout this project, she felt she was honoring her late babysitter, Helen Freibrun, a Holocaust survivor. Stoll added that she had never recorded Helen’s story, and since then, she has made an effort to record as many survivors’ stories as possible before it is too late. In 2019, she won a New York Emmy Award for her film. 

After showing the video, Stoll introduced the audience to Arthur Spielman, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor featured in the film. Stoll and Mr. Spielman had a loving relationship, much like that of a grandfather and granddaughter, which came through during the live interview. Mr. Spielman spoke about his pre-war life in Poland, his bar mitzvah in a ghetto, and his journey to escape the Nazis. Mr. Spielman and his cousin left Poland, stopping in Slovakia, and finally reuniting with his family in Hungary. He finished, saying, “Life is precious. I wish everyone long life, good luck, health, and that we will get through the coronavirus.”

This program was led by Ramaz parent Julie Kopel and the rest of the KJ/Ramaz Holocaust Education Task Force. Ms. Kopel explained that she met Stoll through a mutual friend and thought, “It was so cool that someone in their twenties was so interested and invested in Holocaust revival and recording these stories. The work Shira is doing is so important because this is the only way that future generations will be able to learn about what happened in the Holocaust.” The feedback from the presentation was positive. Sam Ostad ’23 said, “I liked how there was both a video and a live interview with a survivor. It really brought the assembly to life, even though it was online.”

A week later, on April 28, Ramaz saluted those who sacrificed their lives for Israel on Yom Hazikaron. Before online classes began, the school held an assembly to commemorate this meaningful day. Rabbi Albo began by speaking about the importance of this day and the dedication of those who were killed. Then, students watched a video of the siren sounded in Israel to commemorate the day. The assembly included a second video with a list of the names of the Israeli soldiers who were killed in battle and acts of terrorism this past year in Israel. Rabbi Slomnicki challenged students to think about what it means to give one’s life for the State of Israel. Isaac Silverman ’21 said, “It is important to commemorate those who died protecting Israel, and even though we are all separate at this time, I felt that the program we had brought us together again. We all have a connection with Israel and our brothers and sisters who gave their lives for it.” 

That night, the mourning turned into celebration with the start of Yom Haatzmaut! On Wednesday morning, students joined KJ for a festive Zoom tefilla. Rabbi Lookstein led Shacharit, and Chazan Berson led a musical Hallel with his guitar. Beth Kahn ’20 said, “Davening was a really nice start to the day. I especially loved joining all the KJ members, and it brought a nice sense of community during this difficult time.” After the davening, David Broza, an Israeli singer and songwriter, spoke about his connection to the land and performed for the Upper School students. 

Moadon Haatzmaut is an Israeli performing arts presentation “for students by students” led by music teacher Mr. Elisha. The event, moderated by Ella Rabbani ’21 and Yonah Taragin ’21, featured a variety of performances including songs sung by the choir and smaller groups of students as well as performances by the guitar ensemble and the dance team. Rabbani stated, “I felt more involved with Yom Haatzmaut because I was part of putting it together.” 

Students had to figure out how to record their performances as a group without being physically together. In order to stay on beat, the choir sang with a guide track, keeping them on pace. The guitar ensemble played their parts the same way. According to Mr. Elisha, “While this was obviously not ideal, it was great that a kid can sit down by himself and record his part. We always prefer in person, but there is a certain intimacy where everyone is talking to you from their bedrooms. In its own way, that is just as awesome as performing on a stage.” Rabbani ’21 added, “The guitar ensemble could have lost touch during this corona situation, but this Moadon helped brighten our spirits and bring us together.” The dance team also struggled with how to perform online. While the captains initially wanted to create a Mossad-themed dance, they realized that this would be impossible with the current situation. So, instead, they reconfigured the RamJam dance to new music. Despite this, Michal Seinfeld ’21 commented, “The dance was amazing!”

Throughout the day, there were optional shiurim led by Tanakh and Talmud teachers about the importance of Israel. To conclude the day, Ishay Ribo, an Israeli musical icon, performed for the Ramaz community. In Ms. Rahimzada’s introduction, she said, “When I saw the post that Ishay was performing, I literally almost lost it…Ishay Ribo is my favorite artist hands down!” The performance brought happiness to Ramaz students. Kahn said, “I love Ishay Ribo! It was an amazing way to end the day.”

There is no doubt that students will remember the way Ramaz dealt with the punches of coronavirus and excelled in representing these days through Zoom.