My family has always had a special interest in helping Holocaust survivors because we are descendants of survivors. In researching the various simcha projects that different charitable organizations offer, my mother and I came across one that seemed perfect for me to work on as I prepared for my becoming a bat mitzvah.
There is a joint Simcha Project between the Anne Frank Center and The Blue Card, where children becoming bar and bat are teamed up with Holocaust survivors to learn more about the Holocaust. The Anne Frank Center is a non-profit organization located in New York that is connected to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Holland. The Blue Card is a charity also located in New York that directly supports Holocaust survivors who live throughout the country, by providing them with some of life’s essentials, including paying for rent, medicine, and even dental work. Money raised through The Simcha Project is divided between the two charities.
The first step of the project was to meet with Maureen McNeil of the Anne Frank Center and George Wolf of the Blue Card to discuss the background of the Holocaust and what they hoped I would learn during this process. My family and I watched a video about the war and saw a lot of photographs about the Holocaust. George spoke with us about the lives of people who perished in the Nazi concentration camps and those who survived. They told me about Anne Frank, a young teenage girl who hid in an attic with her family during the Holocaust until she was sent to a concentration camp to die. Maureen presented me with my own copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. She told me that millions of copies of the book have been read by people all over the world to understand what it was like to live in hiding.
The next step was being matched up with Rena Wallach Bernstein. Rena was a child in Poland during the Holocaust and was hidden by a non-Jewish family in the forest so that she would not be killed. Rena’s parents survived by being hidden in a very small pit underneath a workshop only a few yards from an army headquarters; if they were discovered, they would have been killed. Rena and I met a few times to discuss her experiences. She also came to my school and spoke to my entire grade about the Holocaust and what it meant to be a Jew during those terrible years.
As part of my learning for this project, my family and I traveled to Holland to visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Maureen arranged for my family to have a private tour of the secret parts of the house where Anne Frank lived with her family for two years. I was surprised to learn about how similar Anne was to me. She liked movie stars and put up posters of famous celebrities of her time, just as I have posters of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez in my room. I realized how lucky I am to be able to lead a normal life of going to school, having friends, and not being afraid, while Anne was not able to leave her attic and lead the normal life of a teenage girl.
I am very happy that I decided to work on this project because I got to meet with an actual Holocaust survivor, learn more about an important but sad time of the Jewish people, and donate money to needy survivors. I asked my guests to make donations to the two charities and I donated a portion of the money I received as gifts. Last year my grade read The Diary of Anne Frank, and my teacher was constantly turning to me as the “resident expert!”
And for a peek at another Simcha project, click here.