Preserving The Past, Looking to The Future

In IBC Names, Not Numbers Course, Students Become Holocaust Documentarians 

On April 26, Yeshiva University hosted a screening of “Names, Not Numbers: A Movie in the Making at Isaac Breuer College 2016-17” in the Weissberg Commons on the Wilf Campus. The film, produced by students in the Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies (IBC), documented the stories of five Holocaust survivors.

Created by Tova Rosenberg, director of Hebrew language studies and Israel exchange programs at Yeshiva University High Schools, the Names, Not Numbers (NNN) program transforms the testimony of the Holocaust by taking it beyond traditional classroom walls and turning it into an interactive, creative and empowering educational lesson.

For the last 13 years, NNN has been taught at the high school level. However this year Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, associate dean of the undergraduate Torah studies program at YU, decided to adapt it for his college students: “What Tova and I decided to do from the beginning was to take a course that in the past had been taught in a high school setting and bring it to the next level, to add aspects of halacha [Jewish law] and emunah [faith] and build a curriculum that looks beyond the history, beyond the past, and looks at the present and the future.”

Martin Greenfield, left, is one of the five survivors interviewed by IBC students as part of the Names, Not Numbers program.
Martin Greenfield, left, is one of the five survivors interviewed by IBC students as part of the Names, Not Numbers program.

The survivors featured in the students’ film are Dr. Moshe Avital, a well-known speaker and author, most recently of Hope, Faith and Resilience (the interview was conducted by Bar Alluf, Aaron Goldmeier and Shlomo Bajtner); Rabbi Dr. Manfred Fulda, chair of the division of Jewish studies and associate professor of Talmud at YU (interviewed by Daniel Tamir and Isaac Mirwis); Martin Greenfield, a world-famous clothier (interviewed by Amiel James, Elliot Greenberg and Gabriel Baratz); Ludwig Bravmann, vice chairman of the YU Board of Trustees (interviewed by Jason Hourizadeh, Avi Kohanzadeh and David Siegel); and Rabbi Jacob Jungreis, a well-respected lecturer on the Holocaust (interviewed by Eli Profeta, Michael Kirschblum and Aaron Siegel).

Rabbi Jacob Jungreis (left) and Ludwig Bravmann

In addition to Rosenberg’s guidance, the students learned interviewing skills from journalist Cathryn J. Prince and Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a renowned Holocaust scholar, Emmy winner and consultant in the conceptual development of museums and historical films. Filmmaker Michael Puro ’00YC taught the students the mechanics of filming and editing, helping them whittle down one and a half hours of material into a tight 15-minute presentation.

The students also had the benefit of learning about the causes and context of the Holocaust from renowned YU scholars and thinkers, such as Rabbi Dr. J. J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought (whose father, Herschel, was first U.S. Army Chaplain to enter and participate in the liberation of Buchenwald); Smadar Rosensweig, a professor of Bible at Stern College for Women; Dr. David Pelcovitz, Gwendolyn & Joseph Straus Chair in Jewish Education; and Rav Moshe Weinberger, mashpia at YU.

The experience made an enormous impact on the students. Aaron Siegel said that he had never before met a survivor and that doing so made NNN “the most amazing experience.” Eli Profeta felt that “the bond that we created as a class and with our teachers made this truly unlike any other Jewish history class in this school. We were able to delve deeply into the topics and relate them back to our own lives, which I believe made us stronger Jews.”

Left to right: Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, President Richard M. Joel and Tova Rosenberg
Left to right: Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, President Richard M. Joel and Tova Rosenberg

Rosenberg’s goal in teaching NNN at IBC was “to teach the students about the Holocaust through their making an oral history film documentary that allows the students to come to know the face and the heart and the spirit of an individual eye-witness. The IBC students are continuing the pledge made by the children of survivors 36 years ago at the first world-gathering of Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem, which said, in part: ‘We pledge to remember. We pledge ourselves to the oneness of the Jewish people.’ ”

After the showing of the film, the students presented their interviewees with the gift of a DVD of the complete interview along with a picture of each team.

President Richard M. Joel lauded each of the interviewees for being willing to participate in such an important experiment. “The lesson you shared with the students is that you gave them ownership of your stories, and they take away the lessons that you teach about always looking to the future and always having faith and remembering that we are a people of destiny. Those events and those lessons are now theirs.”

Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky (second from left) join the student documentarians from Names, Not Numbers.

To date, 5,000 students have interviewed and filmed 1,500 survivors and World War II veterans throughout the US, Canada, and Israel.  All of the 150 documentary films have been accepted into the archives of the Jewish National and University Library of Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  In addition, they are being archived at Yad Vashem and the Gottesman Library at YU.

NNN is generously supported by a prominent national foundation. It bequeaths the memories, stories and lessons of the Holocaust to students and inspires future generations to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and intolerance.