In this “Heard Round WexWorld” collection for Yom HaShoah, we note the possibilities that new technology offers for global connection, sanctification and authentic private reflection. WGF alum Charlie Schwartz (Class 18) recorded an ELI Talk about the theological questions and raw anguish that emerge when coming across your own name while reading a list of the murdered at 4 AM to an empty room on Yom HaShoah. Using video and posting his story online makes the experience of hearing names less rote, more immediate and intimate. WHP alum Stephen Grynberg (Los Angeles 09) created a digital candle lighting ritual that has gone viral, offering a virtual worldwide space for reflection, even amidst our complicated lives. To view Charlie’s ELI Talk, click on the video link above; to participate in lighting a digital candle, click the Illuminate link in Stephen’s story below:
As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I have always wrestled with remembrance. At times, it has been the unwanted companion, at times, a trusted guide. My Wexner experience opened me to a deeper embrace of my birthright, one with an unburdened sense of purpose and obligation. I graduated asking: How do I keep this history relevant to my children and their children? And with our survivors in their later years, what can I do to keep their memory alive when the touch of their hands has slipped away?
Three years ago, I sat in a synagogue in Boca Raton on Yom HaShoah. I was a stranger. Traveling for a funeral, I wanted a place to commemorate. The large sanctuary was packed as the rabbi asked the few survivors in the room to light candles. Then he asked the children of survivors to come forward and I joined 15 others in surrounding the precious elders. Then the rabbi asked for grandchildren of survivors and 25 kids came to join us. Standing in front of this congregation, with the 45 candles burning between us, was an incredibly profound moment. It comprised within it the power of being seen and honoring lives that came before, the painful reminder of time passing, the promise of youth and future and the great healing power of community. It also contained the seed of what has now become Illuminate.
Illuminate is a web-based initiative to increase the engagement of Holocaust remembrance. It centers on three ideas: first, that by entrusting people with the name of one victim from the Shoah, a more personal connection to our history can be created. Second, that through a digital candle lighting ritual a meaningful space for reflection can be forged in our complicated lives. And finally, by showing up on a map, other people around the world, who have been similarly entrusted with a name and similarly moved to light a candle in their honor, understand viscerally through seeing that there is a global community committed to bearing witness and learning from our darkest acts.
On this Yom HaShoah, more than 2,300 people joined the initial commemoration of Illuminate and began what I hope wil be a long and meaningful journey together. Last night, in my synagogue, we wrapped the evening around a communal virtual and real candle lighting ceremony, with everyone holding up their phones and lighting their Illuminate candles and reading out loud the names that they had been given. Rather than fear diminishing human connection, we can use technology in an explosively “transplatform” way that enhances education, involvement and a sense of global family — what better way is there to ensure “never again.”
Stephen Grynberg, a Wexner Heritage alum (Los Angeles 09), is an independent filmmaker. He wrote and directed his first feature film, the critically acclaimed Love From Ground Zero, in 1998. Since then he has worked as a writer, cinematographer and director in documentary and narrative films. Stephen’s last film, the feature-length documentary A Life Ascending, about the life of an acclaimed mountaineer, won 11 international film awards. Stephen is currently editing his newest film, Sacred Names, continuing a personal cinematic exploration into his relationship to the Holocaust as the son of a survivor. Stephen also teaches writing and film and is a founding member of the Men’s Leadership Council of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. Stephen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlie Schwartz, a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alum (Class 18), is a nationally-recognized educator focusing on technology and Israel and the founding director of Not-a-Box Media Lab, creator of PocketTorah and The AlephBet App. He was named to the New York Jewish Week’s “36 Under 36” as a leader helping to reshape the Jewish community. Charlie has served with distinction as a squad commander in the airborne battalion of the Nahal infantry brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. He received rabbinic ordination and a master’s degree in education from the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was a Wexner Graduate Fellow. A native of Portland, Oregon, Charlie lives in Cambridge with his wife Dr. Andrea Wershof Schwartz, their children Maayan and Aviv and their sousaphone. He can be reached at email@example.com.