Event participants
Event participantsOhad Kav, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

A special event took place last week at the United Nations along with an inauguration of an exhibition in collaboration with the Israeli Delegation to the United Nations, KKL-JNF and the Jewish Property Restitution Organization

Participating at the event, at which an exhibition and a special book to mark International Holocaust Day were inaugurated, were dozens of ambassadors from all over the world who came to light a memorial candle and to hear firsthand accounts of Jewish heroism and choosing life after the inferno.

The "We are Still Here" event and exhibition, which focused on the stories of Holocaust survivors who demonstrated exceptional resilience and rebuilt their lives, were especially important this year in the wake of the massacre that took place against the population living near the Gaza border on October 7th, once again, only because they were Jews.

The exhibition includes 34 unique photos that tell the story of the Holocaust survivors' victory for life. The photos were chosen out of a collection of about 400 photographs that were taken by 320 international photographers from 30 different countries. They are part of a project initiated by the photographers Jim Hollander and Rina Castelnovo, which will be bound in a special book produced by KKL-JNF in memory of the Holocaust survivors. The pictures in the exhibition emphasize the Holocaust survivors' victory for life.

During the event, Natan Shafir, himself a Holocaust survivor, gave personal testimony. A short documentary film that depicts Holocaust survivors who survived the October 7th horrors and told their personal story was screened.

KKL-JNF World Chair Ifat Ovadia-Luski with Nathan Shafir, a Holocaust survivor
KKL-JNF World Chair Ifat Ovadia-Luski with Nathan Shafir, a Holocaust survivorOhad Kav, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

KKL-JNF World Chair Ifat Ovadia-Luski spoke at the event: "When the gates of the concentration camps were opened at the end of World War II, great numbers of Jews found themselves facing a world that had been destroyed. They were standing at the absolute lowest point of history. It was at this point that they discovered an opportunity for being reborn. But the chronicles of the Jewish people are not the history of pogroms, they are the history of rebirths, the history of growth, of shaking off the dust and hope for the future."

She noted that " Whoever reads the unique book we are launching here today will see this hope through the eyes of the Holocaust survivors. On every page, the lives that that these amazing people created shine brightly. They created new families, built new communities and founded the state of Israel. This is the real victory of the Jewish people over the Nazis".

From the exhibition
From the exhibitionOhad Kav, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

KKL-JNF CEO Yuval Yeini emphasized that "at the event that KKL-JNF initiated to mark International Holocaust Day at the UN Headquarters in New York, an album that was especially produced for this event was displayed, with approximately 400 recent pictures of Holocaust survivors who were photographed over the past years. It focuses on life and the personal triumphs of survivors from throughout the world. This very unique event is adjacent to the exhibition."

He went on to say that "KKL-JNF does not wait for Holocaust Day to initiate an important event. During the entire year, we carry out activities for the benefit of Holocaust survivors. The KKL-JNF Education and Community Division organizes tours all over Israel for the survivors, in addition to meetings and tours during national holidays month, which are all very important and meaningful for the survivors. We also distribute food packages for Passover and Rosh Hashanah to the survivors, mainly by means of young volunteers."

From the exhibition
From the exhibitionOhad Kav, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Esti Goldwasser, Director of the KKL-JNF International Relations Department at the Resource Development and External Affairs Division, noted that "the initiative for this event was the idea of KKL-JNF vice chairman and head of its Holocaust Survivors Assistance Committee David Yaari, who initiated contact with the Israeli Delegation to the UN in order to hold an event that is particularly important at this time at which antisemitism is on the rise."

In her remarks, Goldwasser emphasized that "we thought that the UN, with the participation of ambassadors from dozens of different countries, would be an excellent venue to increase awareness of the struggle against antisemitism, and we are very proud to be part of this important event. Over the years, we at KKL-JNF have been very active for the welfare of Holocaust survivors and also to commemorate the memory of the victims of the Holocaust."

Goldwasser went on to describe KKL-JNF's extensive commemoration work: "We plant forests in memory of entire communities that were decimated, including Martyrs Forest, which is dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust. The first people to plant this forest were Holocaust survivors in the 1950s, and since then, six million trees have been planted in this forest in memory of those who perished. The forest also has a giant memorial entitled "Scrolls of Fire" that was designed by Nathan Rappaport, an artist who is a Holocaust survivor himself. One can also find the "Anne Frank Memorial" in this unique forest. In addition, memorial ceremonies are also held in various forest groves all year long, especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoa) in Israel."

In addition, KKL-JNF also organizes excursions for Holocaust survivors throughout the year, with the participation of municipal authorities from all over Israel. This initiative enables comprehensive tours and activities for Holocaust survivors, led by KKL-JNF Education and Community Division guides with the goal of connecting participants to values related to Zionism, love of the land, nature, tradition, the environment, and more.

Odeya Bilig, who is responsible for community initiatives and new immigrant and special needs populations at the KKL-JNF Education and Community Division, described how the initiative was born: "During the period of the Corona pandemic, and as a result of the difficulty senior citizens experienced in coping with loneliness, we began holding many activities for Holocaust survivors, with the purpose of providing them some respite from the solitude and to provide them with an experience of "being together", by connecting them to their friends and to values related to the land of Israel. Every year, we organize many tours for Holocaust survivors that are entirely subsidized by KKL-JNF. They include visits both to nature and central heritage sites that tell the story of the land of Israel."

She added that "alongside this, we also organize Tu Bishvat events and other activities during national holidays month throughout Israel, in cooperation with other organizations that work on behalf of the Holocaust survivors. Additionally, twice a year, in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah and Passover, we distribute about 2,000 food packages to Holocaust survivors from Israel's social and geographical periphery. We are assisted by young volunteers, for whom this project has educational value, with the goal of creating an intergenerational meeting, which creates great happiness for the survivors."

Bilig sums up: "We receive very moving reactions from Holocaust survivors about our activities. They tell us how much it strengthens them and improves their lives. During a Tu Bishvat tour, one of the Holocaust survivors told us that although the forest saved them in those dark days, he still remembers it in a negative manner, but now, the KKL-JNF tours have enabled him to have a positive experience of the forests, very different than how he had experienced them in the past."