JSU hosts Holocaust survivors at ‘One Day Starts Today’ event


After being rescheduled three times, the event–One Day Starts Today– is permanently scheduled for Dec. 11. The Jewish Student Union (JSU) is  hosting the event to raise awareness about tolerance.

This event will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium and will feature speakers such as AP Language teacher Shyana Hron, JSU president sophomore Sami Kuperberg and holocaust survivors Genia Kutner and Gerald Biegel. They will discuss an array of topics ranging from anti-semitism at Oviedo High School to current events and a first-hand experience from a Israel Defense Forces soldier.

Hron said that, although she and JSU members will be speaking at the upcoming event, the two survivors are the focal point.

“[The survivors] are really the important part,” Hron said. “We are merely explaining to everyone why it’s relevant that they are there to speak to us, but this is their platform to share their stories–stories that we are not going to be able to hear first-hand ever again. It’s so very important, especially for the student body, to understand what people went through and dealt with during the Holocaust.”

Kutner and Biegel will delve into their personal stories of their time during the Holocaust–a time in history when Nazi Germany annihilated six million of the Jewish population in concentration camps.

Although 72 years have passed since this period in history, Hron said people of the Jewish faith are still facing opposition and oppression, which have fueled this upcoming event.

Recently, many school districts–including Seminole and Orange counties–stopped recognizing Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as school-free days. Just in this past year, during January, a total of 48 bomb threats were issued in Jewish Community Centers (JCC) across the nation, according to the Washington Post; in 2014–according to a report published by the FBI–57 percent of religious hate crimes were targeted at people of the Jewish faith.

According to members of the JSU and Hron, the school’s Jewish population is also familiar with this country-wide epidemic.

“Especially last year, and still into this year, we’re having a bit of an issue with anti-semitism, [yet] people don’t really see it as a big issue; a lot of people take it to be a joke, and it’s not something to be taken lightly,” Hron said. “A lot of things that have happened at our school could fall under race crimes because Judaism is a race; it’s not just a religion, and it is distinctly discrimination against people who are Jewish.”

Last year, there were students who experienced racial slurs, and swastikas were written on nearly all of the JSU informational posters. Hron stated that she found a swastika drawn on a slip of paper on her car windshield. One student was even hit in the head with a water bottle, kicked and pinned down to a desk while other students drew the Nazi symbol all over her body.

Despite last year’s tribulations, the JSU refused to back down and toiled to get the word out about the formation of their club to thwart the issue at hand.

This year, JSU member senior Seth Pisano said he has found that the incidents of anti-semitism have decreased drastically.

“It’s definitely gotten better; now that we’ve gotten our name out there and we’re kind of a bigger name than last year, it’s stopped, and that’s good for us,” Pisano said. “I think people are more aware. After having our event posted on campus about having holocaust survivors come in, automatically having that word ‘survivor’ shows that somebody had a struggle, and making jokes about someone’s struggling can make someone realize they that joke isn’t funny.”

JSU’s goal of spreading awareness and stopping hate has been transformed into this upcoming event.

Because of these recurring events, and inspiration from Lake Brantley High School’s JSU club–which has hosted two Holocaust-related events in the past two years–members of the OHS JSU concocted the idea to hold this event “to build a community where unity is [a] priority” and strive to inspire “a world with no walls dividing” people any longer, according to their event flyer.

“The whole purpose of this event is so that we can educate people on why the swastika is seriously inappropriate to ever mark on anything; we also still have a lot of people who believe the Holocaust never occurred,” Hron said. “Personally, teaching Night to 10th grade, I’ve had numerous students who have [said] ‘this is such a joke; this never happened,’ and that was really eye-opening to me.”

Hron also said other organizations have offered donations to support the production of this event, but most importantly, the school district and administration have been in support of their event.

“The incidents that occurred last year were reprehensible,” Hron said. “It’s so important that the school board, our community and our school are completely behind this event.”

Despite JSU’s dream forming along the horizon, widespread feelings of concern as to the number of people who will attend the event has become a pressing matter for JSU members.

“There were a lot of people who showed up and all the hate [at Lake Brantley] either slowed down or stopped, so it was very impactful; we hope that can happen here as well,” Pisano said.

Along with a large crowd turnout, Pisano hopes that by attending this event, the student body will receive the same effect he acquired when he first became immersed in the Jewish culture; Pisano was unaware of Jewish culture until his girlfriend–who is of Jewish descent–introduced him by involving him with her family.

“Ever since I’ve been dating [my girlfriend], her family integrated me into their lifestyle and I’ve learned a lot about their cultures and their traditions; it’s been an awesome experience,” Pisano said. “I think, depending on the amount of people that show up, the student body will be more accepting of other religions. I’ve noticed there’s a lot of Christmas-themed things here, and there’s not really [huge appeal] to all religions, such as people who are Jewish or Muslim. It’s more of one holiday.”

Other members share this aspiration, while also holding their own.

Hron hopes that more awareness, understanding and education will be brought to light, which will ultimately alleviate the issues Jewish followers have been experiencing, while Kuperberg specifically hopes for the treatment of members to improve.

“I hope this creates a change: so someone who sees [hate] happening and doesn’t stop it, will take a stand and [so that] someone who is doing it themselves will realize the importance of their words and try to make a change in themselves for the better,” Kuperberg said.

Hron also hopes that attendees will better understand empathy.

“Their stories are something that you just don’t hear, you feel them; you feel those stories,” Hron said. “If you can understand fully another’s experience, you take that knowledge, apply it to your own life and you pass that down to your children. You realize that people go through a lot in life, and I think it makes you not so focused on yourself–it makes you focused on our world and how to make it better.”