Living museum comes to Schechter of Bergen County

Living museum comes to Schechter of Bergen County

The aroma of homemade coffee cake greeted visitors to the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford last week.

Jacob Lewinson displays the shirt his grandfather wore at Dachau. photos by amy levine

"This recipe was my great-grandmother Rose Leventhal’s," said Josh Kauderer, of Englewood, who brought the cake for the school’s Jewish Heritage fair Tuesday, Feb. 5. "She had a big family to feed and not a lot of money, so she used leftover challah dough to make the cake. I also have her recipe for chopped herring, because even though the fish was expensive, it made a lot." Josh was one of more than 40 fifth-graders whose family artifacts — including recipes — turned SSDS into a living museum.

A set of tefillin from Iraq that dated back to 19’0 was Shiran Fatelle’s piece of history. "My grandfather, Aharon Fatal, was part of an organization that smuggled Jews out of Iraq and into Israel," she said. "He gave these tefillin to my father."

Jacqueline Zenou stands by her display.

"This shirt belonged to my grandfather, Jacob Chaim Lewinson," said his grandson, also named Jacob Lewinson. "This and a pair of pants were the only things he got to wear when he was in the Dachau concentration camp, even when it was freezing outside, this was all he had. My family treasures it."

He told how his grandfather would hide bread in his shoes to feed his friends who, he said, needed it more.

"He was a real hero," he said.

Jacqueline Zenou of Glen Rock brought pictures of her great-aunt Lily Friedman’s wedding gown. The real gown has a permanent home in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

From left, Sharon Charish, Schechter lower school curriculum coordinator, and parent Shari Leventhal talk with Ben Iofel.

"She really wanted to wear a wedding dress, but she was in a displaced persons camp near Bergen-Belsen," Zenou said. "Her father made a deal with a former German flier for some cigarettes and coffee beans to get him an old parachute. Then he bartered with a seamstress for cigarettes to turn it into a wedding gown. Seventeen women in the camp also wore the dress."

Beryl Bresgi, the school’s librarian and coordinator of Holocaust studies, had first seen this type of fair at the Moriah School in Englewood. "This is our fourth year doing it here and it has become the beginning of the children’s Shoah education."

The fair is part of the school’s Holocaust curriculum, which began in November when the children took a trip to New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Students learned how to identify significant artifacts and write their own museum cards. During winter break a few weeks later, they were prepared to find their own family artifacts.

"What this process really does is to encourage the children to go back into their own history, talk to family members, and discover the story behind the artifact that they choose for this fair," Bresgi said. "It helps connect them to their past."

Not everything at the school’s exhibit is Holocaust-related.

"We have things from America, South Africa, even Iran," said Amy Levine, director of public relations at SSDS. "The students chose things that were important to them and their families."

Ethan Murad displayed a Tanach passed from his Iranian grandfather to his father.

"In 1978, my grandpa worked with the shah. When he took my father and his family on a vacation to America, there was a revolution and they never went back," Ethan said. "This Tanach reminds my father of the time that he lived in Iran."

Leah Farber was not permitted to go to dental school in her native Poland because she was a Jew.

"She had to move to France and she went to dental school there," said Farber’s great-grandson, Ben Iofel of Fort Lee, who brought a book that contained Farber’s grades.

The fragile tome was passed down to Ben’s grandmother, Eva Wolfson.

Josh Kauderer offers cake made from his great grandmother’s recipe.

"This teaches me that even though it is OK to be Jewish in America, it wasn’t OK to be Jewish in other parts of the world," he said.

Many anecdotes and family treasures were shared — from the shawl that Brett Levine’s great-grandmother brought with her to Ellis Island because her husband had given it to her to the kiddush cup that Ben Forman’s great-grandfather received in 19” for helping sustain the synagogue in Mount Carmel, Pa.

read more: