Ma’ayanot Book Day Commemorates the Legacy of Elie Wiesel

On Thursday, March 16, Ma’ayanot dedicated a full day of learning and reflection to honor the legacy of Holocaust survivor, author, scholar, and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who passed away on July 2, 2016 at the age of 87. The day began with a video presentation, as well as break out sessions to discuss Wiesel’s essay, “This I Believe.” Drawing on that essay, the Book Day incorporated three major themes relating to Wiesel’s legacy: Human rights and social justice; Holocaust studies; and Jewish identity. The program was organized by Mrs. Shalvi Isseroff and Mrs. Chani Rotenberg, Co-Chairs of Interdisciplinary Studies at Ma’ayanot.

“Book Day is meant to be uplifting and inspiring,” Mrs. Isseroff told the students. “It is a day to reflect on the past but to also contemplate our futures.”

Based on the themes that most interested them, students selected sessions presented by faculty members on a wide array of interdisciplinary topics. For example, science teacher Mrs. Esther Slomnicki taught a class called “Hitler, Darwin and the Holocaust: How the Nazis Distorted the Theory of Evolution.” Mrs. Enid Goldberg, an English teacher, led a memoir-writing workshop. Ms. Rebecca Mintz, a math and science teacher, led a session on “Jews and Refugees: Past and Present.”

More than a dozen other relevant topics filled the students’ schedules. “There was something for everyone,” said Sheindl Berger, a freshman.

After the sessions, students chose to watch one of three films: “Denial,” “Hotel Rwanda,” and “Life is Beautiful.” The films were followed by a book fair, complete with a reading nook, cafe, and doodle boards for students to draw and express themselves. Students were given options to choose one of seven books relating to the themes of the day. A committee of 21 students pre-read the books and presented their reviews to their peers.

“Elie Wiesel had a legacy beyond his experiences in the Holocaust,” said Mrs. Rotenberg. “That’s why we included books about social activism, as well as book about preserving Yiddish culture and Jewish identity.”

Many students chose to read Wiesel’s “Night.” Shalhevet Abenaim, a junior, also encouraged her peers to read “I Am Malala,” by Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. “I’ve always been passionate about equality, and this book reaffirmed my beliefs,” said Abenaim.

Miriam Fisch, a sophomore, promoted “March,” a graphic memoir by Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis. “He learned to be a speaker by preaching to his chickens!” Fisch exclaimed. “He helped make so many people’s lives better.” After completing the books, students will follow up with a writing assignment.

The day concluded with wrap-up sessions that allowed students to ask questions and reflect on the lessons of the day. “The students came away with a very positive and hopeful outlook,” said Mrs. Rotenberg. As Wiesel once said in a 2006 interview with TIME magazine, “Camus said, ‘Where there is no hope, one must invent hope….Even when it seems hopeless, I invent reasons to hope.’”