September 22, 2019 | 77° F

Holocaust survivor shares her story at Rutgers Hillel's remembrance event

Photo by Jeffrey Gomez |

To honor Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rutgers Hillel invited Holocaust survivor Tova Friedman to speak at the organization's annual event.

In memoriam of Yom Hashoah, Rutgers Hillel honored guest speaker Tova Friedman, a renowned Holocaust survivor, on the eve of remembrance. The event featured her first-person account of life in a concentration camp and was followed by a Q&A session at the end of the night.

Friedman was one of 5,000 Jewish children living in the Polish town of Tomaszów Lubelski prior to World War II. At 78 years old, she is one of the youngest people to survive the Holocaust, according to NJJN’s site

Jonathan Brauner, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and education chair at Rutgers Hillel, is tasked with the organization of two Holocaust-themed events yearly. This year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, along with an earlier November date, were both successfully organized by Rutgers Hillel, he said.

“I was privileged that Rabbi Reed connected me with Tova Friedman, and thankfully had a really great turnout where people gained a lot from it. Ms. Friedman spoke very well and everything went great,” he said.

Unfortunately, Holocaust survivors are scarce. Friedman is among the lesser, making it difficult for people to hear these stories. Having such a great turnout ensures that her message is being spread to students that cannot be here, Brauer said.

Events like this challenge conventional conceptions of what is it to be Jewish, Brauer said. Even further, he said these events ask what it means to be human, and remind students that mistakes are only mistakes if we allow for them to reoccur.

Samantha Brandspiegel, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of public health at Rutgers Hillel, said Yom Hashoah is an extremely important day in Jewish history. The yearly Hillel hosted event has included speeches from a number of survivors, all equally powerful and vivid.

“This event is impactful and important. Having so many people come out that have never been to a Hillel event for this just shows what the future of Judaism is supposed to be,” she said.

Throughout Friedman’s speech were subtle moments in which her eyes would shut, briefly reliving the moment being described to audience members, Brandspiegel said. Through the use of storytelling, she was able to convey a message that far exceeds what books and movies can accomplish.

The truth behind a growing scarcity of holocaust survivors is aided in part by a lack of responsibility from the community to seek out these individuals and ensure their stories are told, Brandspiegel said.

Students that wish to better educate themselves on Holocaust history or Judaism are advised to read a book, Brandspiegel said. While a face-to-face recount of the events might be ideal, works of fiction and non-fiction such as “Number the Stars” and “Night” help capture the essence of the situation.

Additionally, students can take part in more interactive ways of learning like museums, Brandspiegel said. There is constantly a flow of events circling major Jewish holidays, easily accessible to students and the general public looking to connect with its history.

“Rather you should learn than be ignorant, and ask questions,” she said.

Tova Friedman said she was greeted by an extremely interesting crowd of students, ready to participate in an engaging conversation with open ears and minds. As a Rutgers alumnus she looks to be as involved with Rutgers Hillel and the community as possible, she said.

Maintaining a sense of community and integrating yourself into one of its many outlets is essential, Freidman said. Having the college experience is the entire point, partaking in it prevents feeling isolated and heightens the time here.

The Hillel experience is one of commitment and enjoyment, growing the community and spreading Judaism in a place where it’s so easy to get lost, Friedman said. The Jewish community at Rutgers provides a combination of religion, culture, and education that it passes onto its students.

“Community is so important, especially if you go to a college so big with campuses everywhere," she said. "A community like this could absolutely be the best thing you do for yourself in college. You meet people and make friends for life because you’re connected."

Christian Zapata is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.  

Christian Zapata

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