Each year, eighth-grade students from the North Shore Hebrew Academy conduct a series of interviews with Holocaust survivors and those who played an instrumental role in the liberation of the Jews from the Nazi reign.
On Thursday, state Assemblyman Tony D’Urso (D-Port Washington) stopped in and shared his experiences with students.
The program, called Names, Not Numbers, allows students to conduct hour-and-a-half-long interviews with five to six Holocaust survivors and people whose lives were directly impacted by the oppression of the Jews during World War II.
Students, advised by several faculty members switch roles throughout the process, going from an interviewer, camera person, and audio monitor.
Once the interviews are completed, students edit down their interviews into roughly 15-minute segments and will loop everything together before their presentation of the documentaries in June.
“Projects such as this one are so important, now more than ever before,” Hebrew Academy Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Jeffrey Kobrin said. “With all of the hate and anti-semitic acts that are ravishing our country, having our students hear stories of people combatting hatred and oppression is a program we feel is a necessity here.”
“With the dwindling amount of survivors left, the program is so important to have their stories carried on for more generations to come,” Middle School Principal Rabbi Adam Acobas said.
The program was first started eight years ago by Tova Rosenberg, is done by schools throughout the country. The academy’s program head, Lisa Guggenheimer, stressed the experience of having a student see the raw emotions of a survivor come out during the process, and how they teach students to cope.
“For a lot of these students, it could be the first time they see an adult really breakdown and show their true emotions,” Guggenheimer said. “We coach students through any instances that could happen, or if they start to get emotional as well. It’s always encouraged that nobody holds back what they feel in the moment.”
In the case of D’Urso, the assemblyman shared stories of how his family aided several Jewish families in their escape from Nazi soldiers who invaded his hometown near Naples, Italy.
D’Urso said his first memories began on Sept. 4, 1943, when the war migrated to his hometown, forcing him and his family to evacuate.
“That was all I knew about life for years,” D’Urso said. “When all you see is violence, and running away from soldiers, that’s what you think life is.”
D’Urso went into detail of the terrors that the Nazi forces conducted upon the Jewish people, and how his family stood together to combat them.
From looking out over the mountains to alert the family when soldiers were incoming, to sheltering Jewish friends and feeding them when his family already had scarce amounts, D’Urso said he would do it again if it meant he was doing the right thing for a race of people.
With the help of former Great Neck Vigilant Firefighter Michael Weinstock, D’Urso was able to reunite two families his family helped save in Naples in 2017.
“What you’re all doing here is remarkable,” D’Urso told the group of students interviewing him. “This is how we are able to carry on the legacy of people who have left us physically, but not spiritually. All we can do is live our lives and tell the stories of their bravery to prevent acts of intolerance and hate from happening again.”
The documentaries will be shown in June, where those interviewed, family members, and the entire public is welcome to come and watch.