by Mickey Held
As a member of the Holocaust Commission for 20 years, I have been privileged to witness the impact we have made on our community with our many programs. As I escorted survivors to share their stories, I became transfixed by their journeys and inspired by their courage. We became family, and my life was enriched by their friendship. As my friends shared the horrors and lessons of the Holocaust, I was fortunate to see the changes their stories made in people’s lives.
For more than 10 years, our Commission grappled with, “What will we do when we no longer have survivors to give live testimony?”
We contacted numerous Holocaust Centers, and talked to production companies. In 2010, we struck gold in the talents of two award winning Los Angeles-based filmmakers, Amber Howell and Janice Engel. There was great pride and excitement when Amber, my daughter-in-law, and Janice, her film partner, developed the program, What We Carry.
Fast forward four years, during which time the program premiered in Los Angeles at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and in Norfolk at the Roper Theatre, was featured for two hours on the internationally televised program The J Report, was presented at the 2013 Virginia State Social Studies Teacher’s Conference, and shown live to more than 14,000 people. Our Commission members have presented this program across Virginia and even North Carolina. The impact has been both astounding and rewarding.
This was my first journey.
On Saturday, July 5, my next journey began. What We Carry was selected to be presented at the International Educator’s Conference at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It was another privilege for Elena Baum, Deb Segaloff, Janice Engel, and myself to travel to Israel to present our treasured project, and to share the stories of David Katz and Hanns Loewenbach, (both of blessed memory), Kitty Saks and Dana Cohen.
We met and connected with 450 participants from 50 countries represented at this Conference. We were inspired by world renowned speakers and humbled by the warmth and enthusiasm of all present.
We experienced the joy of Jerusalem and the tension of warning sirens. We were whisked to shelters and witnessed solidarity as we danced and sang when the sirens ceased. Yad Vashem and Israel were on a state of alert, but all the Conference participants stayed.
Missiles were overhead, but we were one. With great pride, we shared our program and relished the accolades. In some small way, we were honoring our survivors and perpetuating their memory. Yes, we were a quartet of intrepid travelers who experienced the danger Israelis live with daily. We survived cancelled flights, little sleep, changed plans, and stressful conditions. But, we found joy in Jerusalem and joy in fulfilling a promise, from generation to generation, let no one forget.