Shamor V’Zakhor Brings Students Together For Holocaust, Shabbat Learning

By Adam Grobman

Students from across Harrisburg’s Jewish education centers are building community and learning together through the new Shamor V’Zakhor program.

The course bridges Holocaust education with learning about Shabbat for about thirty 7th grade students from The Silver Academy, Gesher School, and Temple Ohev Sholom Religious School, and aims to teach children about these two major topics in Jewish life, while introducing them to their fellow learners.

 “Our 7th graders needed more interaction and opportunities for socialization and to get to know other children in the community,” says Mandy Cheskis, Gesher Director of Lifelong Learning . “We felt it was important to have a learning community that was social, experiential, and transformative.”

The program, currently in session, brings students together for eight 2-hour sessions, with the first hour exploring the progression of the Holocaust, with a concluding, in-person trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The Holocaust unit is instructed by Lillian and Jenna Rappaport using materials developed by Yad Vashem.

“It’s difficult content, but it’s really important and it’s carefully done in a way that honors the lives of those lost, those who fought, and those who stood up,” says Samara Sofian, Silver Academy Head of School.

Each session also features an hour focusing on Shabbat, with lessons including an overview of “The Shabbat Table” and candle lighting, culminating with a Shabbaton, Havdalah, and karaoke party with BBYO’s help. The series is aimed at bringing children of the community closer through one of Judaism’s central observances.

Jason Graf, Ohev Religious School Principal, says that the pairing of Holocaust and Shabbat learning is natural as each is crucial to learning about and practicing Jewish life.

“Both are monumental ‘times’ which have impacted the way we practice and think about Judaism,” he says. “One of the goals of the program is to help our 7th graders meet the other Jewish kids their age -we hope the relationships they form in this program will carry through to youth groups and beyond.”

The name of the program comes from the two versions of the Ten Commandments, one which says that Shabbat should be observed, and another stating that the day should be remembered.

“The program is designed to understand the past and what sustains us as a people,” Mandy continues. “It gives the students facts so that they have a voice and an understanding of where our people have come from and what they survived, and provides hope for the future.”

The Shamor V’zakhor program is sponsored and fully funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Central PA through its Sonya and Eli Glick March of the Living Scholarship Fund and the Lipsett Philanthropic Fund.

“It’s going to have a big impact on the students in the future – you can already see the bond being created with the group,” Mandy says. “The hope is that these students will stand up to injustices in the future – they’ll stand up if they see bullying, or stand up for themselves in moments of antisemitism – and learn from this and know that they are not alone.”