Sukkot is more than a harvest celebration. It is a time to gather and commemorate our shared history, express gratitude for our blessings and strengthen the bonds that tie us to our heritage. The holiday reflects on the miraculous protection granted to ancient Jews on their post-exodus desert journey from Egypt, with the sukkah symbolizing the impermanence of life and the interconnectedness of generations. It is a poignant reminder of our journey, resilience and the importance of unity.
In the true spirit of Sukkot, Claims Conference agency partners worldwide arranged events to celebrate the holiday. In Lod, Israel, Mifal Hachesed Yad B’Yad hosted a vibrant Sukkot celebration for Holocaust survivors on its grounds. The event included a festive lunch featuring a Hebrew and Yiddish singer, setting the stage for survivors to rise and dance. The Claims Conference team in Israel distributed gifts, enhancing the joyous atmosphere.
Tziona Koenig-Yair, Associate Executive Vice President of Claims Conference in Israel, warmly greeted survivors at the event and expressing gratitude to Yad B’Yad for their unwavering support of survivors: “We are sitting in a very beautiful sukkah built for you here in Lod, and are enjoying the long-term cooperation that we have had for two decades between the Claims Conference and this holy organization … this is the spirit of the Jewish people, that despite all the challenges, all the difficulties and all the problems, our spirit remains strong and steadfast and survives it all!”
Among the event’s participants was Malka Shkolnik, a Holocaust survivor wounded in her youth during wartime. Malka shared her story of resilience and the importance of preserving Jewish tradition. Born in 1940 in Moldova, Malka was carried in her mother’s arms for ten months while on the run from the war. They eventually made their way to Tashkent by 1943, where they built a life for themselves. Malka reminisced about the Jewish life in Tashkent, where there were synagogues and holiday celebrations. She recalled receiving matzah for Passover, her mother fasting on Yom Kippur, and Malka herself happily rejoicing on Simchat Torah, the culminating day of the week of Sukkot.
At the event, Malka expressed she was “so delighted to come to Yad B’Yad,” especially since she had an opportunity to speak Yiddish with Rabbi Gloiberman, the language of her childhood years. She praised the helpful staff “who take care of everyone, making sure that everybody has food to eat and whatever essentials are needed.”
Rabbi Yaakov Gloiberman, founder of Yad B’Yad, summed up the spirit of Sukkot. Also known as Z’man Simchateynu, the time of joy, expressing, “this is the happiest holiday of the whole year, so if you are happy, despite all, you’ll be happy all year long,” he said.
Festivities continued in Germany with multiple events facilitated by Claims Conference partners.
Claims Conference representative in Europe, Rüdiger Mahlo, attended a Tishrei event for Shoah survivors in Berlin. Organized by Tania Koroll from the Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany (ZWST), survivors joined the event to listen to a lecture from Israeli artist Chana Nitzan and enjoy a short documentary film screening.
In Hannover, Germany yesterday, approximately 30 Holocaust survivors gathered to celebrate Sukkot at the “Etz Chaim” community center of the Liberal Community of Hannover. They gathered under the beautifully adorned Sukkah, a collaborative effort beautifully decorated by children of the community’s kindergarten. The center’s organizer of survivor events, Margarita Suslovic, greeted attendees. Afterwards, Rabbi Kovtun presented his newest midrash on the meaning of the lulav.
Touching moments from the event included conversations with 89-year-old survivor Leonid Kaminski. Recently evacuated from Mikolaiv in Ukraine, Leonid shared that the individuals he encounters at the Liberal Jewish Community Centre of Hannover have become like family to him. Similarly, 84-year-old survivor Jelena Lissienko, also evacuated from Ukraine, expressed that the center’s gatherings have become her sanctuary, a home to rebuild her life after losing everything in the war. These poignant stories remind us of the power of connection and the resilience within our community.
In the United States, the Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS) hosted a festive luncheon. Approximately 60 survivors joined the spirited celebration, displaying laughter and shared traditions.
Sonia Pushkina, a survivor who lived through the Leningrad siege, was also at the event and expressed, “I very much enjoyed the event, especially the dancing! I did not expect to dance and all the people here from Westchester Jewish Community Services are wonderful. I wish everyone a happy holiday. We can be merry!”
The Claims Conference thanks its partners around the world for their unwavering commitment to supporting survivors’ emotional and physical well-being. Through our collective efforts, we continue to ensure survivors maintain lives of dignity and purpose.
Sukkot, Z’man Simchatanu, “our time of joy,” serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of the need for support and joy in the lives of Holocaust survivors across the globe. May we continue to enjoy the blessings and joy of celebrating holidays with Shoah survivors around the world for many years to come!