The Yom HaShoah Vigil is an annual event at the University at Albany, coordinated by the University at Albany Hillel. As this year’s Jewish Life Chair, the event is under my direction. The 24-hour vigil allows the campus community the chance to examine different ways to connect to the Holocaust; I strongly believe that in order to never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust, it is important for each person to find their own way to connect with it personally.
Those who joined us for the vigil had the opportunity to find their own connection through various study sessions that took place, discussion forums, watching movies, volunteering to read Holocaust victims’ names, and of course by using IWitness. This year’s vigil was hugely successful, as we were able to reach more than 2,000 students and staff on campus by handing out our awareness stickers, and getting personalized messages about Holocaust remembrance from those who passed.
IWitness played such an important role in this year’s vigil, as it allowed students to access and personally connect with Holocaust survivor testimonies from the Visual History Archive. There were multiple computers available at the vigil, which the students searched for testimonies in IWitness either by survivor name, topic, or geographic location. This led to students being able to look up lost relatives, topics of interests as them, and survivors who are from the same towns as their families. Through utilizing IWitness students were connecting a face to the Holocaust experience, one that has a connection to them.
I wanted to use IWitness because of the interactive access to Holocaust survivor and eyewitness testimonies. My purpose as Jewish Life Chair for UAlbany Hillel is to connect the university community to Judaism in a relatable way. When I had the chance to make the Holocaust experience relatable to the students through IWitness, I felt it was incredibly important to use this wonderful resource. It has helped me so much in my mission to bring accessible Judaism to our campus, and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to access Holocaust survivor testimonies through IWitness.