A cherished memory for me from 1983 was being with my late father, Zyga Allweiss, at the first American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in Washington, D.C. The camaraderie and connection people experienced were incredible.
I didn’t know until recently that survivors and their descendants continue to meet. Learning last winter that the 29th international conference would be held Nov. 5-8 in Israel — which I first visited in 1975 — I made arrangements to attend at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel on Mt. Scopus.
The World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust & Descendants sponsored Am Yisrael Chai 17, in cooperation with Kindertransport Association, Dorot HaHemshech, YESH and Generations of the Shoah International.
This year’s conference attracted 352 people from across the world, including 135 survivors and spouses. The Israel location was especially nice for those with Israeli relatives. Survivor Jack and Miryam Gun of West Bloomfield enjoyed another visit with his cousin, Avi Dichter, chair of the government’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The Guns, 16-time attendees, brought their son, Sam, and grandchildren, Maxwell and Laurel.
Survivor David Kahan, who went to the gathering in Berlin, was joined this year by two sons, Douglas and Jeff.
“The conference location in Israel was important, and we agreed with our dad that it was a good idea for my brother and me to become more involved with this organization,” said Jeff Kahan. The family owns a Troy-based company.
“This conference was extra special, being that it was held in Israel,” said Sandra Silver of Southfield. She’s attended five conferences. “I was able to visit family members, some of whom I haven’t seen in 20 years.”
The daughter of survivors, Silver belongs to the second generation — referred to as 2Gs. They were 154 strong at the conference, while 3Gs numbered 36. Silver is active with CHAIM, a Metro Detroit-based second-generation organization. Founding President Dr. Charles Silow of Huntington Woods, a psychologist, also directs Jewish Senior Life’s Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families in West Bloomfield. At the conference, Silow led a panel of 2Gs from Israel, Mexico, Sweden and Croatia, and another session on the effects of aging on survivors.
CHAIM board members from West Bloomfield, Eva Kraus and Suzanne Sondheimer, with husbands Jerry Kraus and Dr. James Sondheimer, are veterans of multiple conferences. The friendly CHAIM contingent dined with close friends from outside Michigan.
“This conference has become sort of a family reunion, a bond of friendship and community for people of like and common bonds,” said survivor Fred Ferber of Orchard Lake. He and his wife, Miriam, have attended 25 conferences. Their daughter, Annette, and her boyfriend, Gerry, joined them in Israel.
After eating our fill of the hotel’s delicious Israeli and Western-style cuisine, we heard stimulating speakers at the conference plenaries. Our workshops in English or Hebrew sometimes targeted a specific generation. Survivors discussed, for example: “How are my experiences during the Holocaust still affecting my life today?”
During Bella Rubin’s memoir-writing session, my eyes misted recalling the search with Dad for his mother Esther’s remains in Poland.
We visited the Knesset, Israel’s law-making body, where Marc Chagall’s colorful tapestries enhance a spacious reception area. The assembly chamber’s back wall resembles the Western Wall and has a portrait of Theodor Herzl, the Zionist visionary.
Touring Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem was very special. Pages of Testimony submitted for people killed in the Shoah are stored in the Hall of Names. Above us was a rising crescendo of victims’ photos.
The Children’s Memorial is a dark space where mirrors endlessly reflect memorial candles. I thought about Dad’s little sister, Frimcha, who poignantly asked him, “Why do I have to die today?”
Meanwhile, Silver and Eva Kraus were among attendees who had a bat/bar mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel. A festive lunch followed.
“It was above anything I could imagine,” Kraus said.
I enjoyed seeing Israel again and meeting “people with similar backgrounds from all over the country and from all over the world,” as Silow put it.
For Suzanne Sondheimer, “the highlight of each conference is singing and dancing the hora with the survivors.”
That we did!
Next year in Florida.