Resplendent Cruise Catering to Holocaust Survivors Lauded as an Event to Remember
by M.C. Millman
Wednesday, May 31, marked a whole new level when it comes to demonstrating to our most precious Holocaust survivors the level of respect and honor they deserve to have lavished on them with the first-of-its-kind Holocaust Survivors Cruise.
The two-hour cruise was sponsored by Boro Park JCC and United Task Force. It started with door-to-door service for survivors and a guest to the dock. Upon arrival, the survivors were escorted onto the red carpet for gourmet refreshments until it was time to board the ship, where the Asher Ringel Orchestra created the emotional ambiance and a gourmet catered repast was served.
"It was gratifying -- no, enthralling -- to see so many survivors of so horrible a time enjoying the cruise, and, most importantly, each other's company," Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, shares exclusively with BoroPark24. "There was the happy buzz of conversation throughout. It was a wonderful testimony to the spirit of resilience and perseverance that defines Klal Yisrael."
Yoely Lebovits, renowned badchan, who was flown in from Miami, not only entertained the 200 guests during the afternoon but spoke to the hearts of the nearly 100 Holocaust survivors on board.
Remembering, Rebuilding, and Renewing was the theme for the afternoon, where Lebovits told survivors, "You are the builders, the construction workers, of the next generation. It was your decisions that made this generation who were are today. You could have just given up, but you never did."
"This cruise was all about creating a special moment for our precious Holocaust survivors," says Avi Greenstein, BPJCC CEO. "We wanted to create not just an event but an indelible memory - something that would stand out like the sacrifices these amazing individuals made during their lifetimes. Planning an experience like this cruise gave us an incredible amount of nachas because it was all about our survivors and creating something that would reflect in some small way the tremendous feelings we have when we think of what they went through to survive to see this day."
"I must tell you," Yoely shared with BoroPark24, "this is an event I will remember forever. It was so warm and beautiful. It was a group of people who've seen so much in life, and at the same time, what united them all were memories that hadn't been touched for sixty, seventy or even eighty years- memories from when they were a child. I sang songs their mothers put them to sleep to, and some even came over to me afterward and said, 'My grandfather sang that song to me,' We were dancing (sitting dancing for some) and clapping. It was very emotional."
The shared stories were inspirational, each in their own right, including one woman who recounted how as a very young girl, when her family was ordered to go to the train station with the rest of the Jewish community, her mother realized as they were waiting to board that it was Erev Shavuos. "At the very least, we have to at least bentch licht before we go," she told her daughter, and they left the train station and hurried home to light candles. When they got back, the train had already pulled out, and they were saved from the terrible fate of the rest of the town.
"This cruise is just a small downpayment for all of the horrors we experienced," a survivor shared during the cruise.
"It was an honor and a privilege for us to be able to host this cruise and to spend time with the survivors, bonding with them and hearing their stories," Rabbi Labish Becker, Executive Director of Agudath Israel of America, and Executive board member of United Task Force recounts. "It was incalculably moving, one of the most emotional moments of all of our lives. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'm so glad that we did it. These are our heroes who kept Judaism alive under incalculably difficult circumstances, and we can never do enough to demonstrate our hakaraas hatov."
"I want to commend Avi Greenstein," shares Legislator Aron Wieder, "for arranging this incredible experience. And Yoely Lebovitz for his holy work touching hearts with all his soul. What to me was the most moving moment of the cruise was when we sailed by the Statue of Liberty. Seeing that look of awe on the faces of every survivor as they looked out allowed me to feel in some small way the feelings they must have experienced way back when they were immigrants and saw that statue for the first time."