Yeshiva students curate their own family stories
Reaching beyond Ocean to explore countries around the world, seventh-graders at Hillel Yeshiva put their families’ ancestral legacies on display in the school’s sixth annual Jewish Heritage Fair.
Culminating a two-month research project into their families’ heritage, the students displayed heirlooms and told stories about their families’ deep and sometimes tangled roots.
“Each of the 46 students researched their roots to find out why they’re here at Hillel Yeshiva learning Torah today,” said Rabbi Daniel Davis, middle school assistant principal. “Understanding their background and the struggles of their ancestors helps give them the courage and support to face their own futures and maintain their identity,”
The event was coordinated by middle school teacher Susan Rishty, who entered the students’ findings on MyHeritage.com, a family tree database at the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.
Among the countries represented at the fair were Mexico, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, France, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Sudan and England.
“Students and families look forward to this exciting annual event because it lends relevance to the students about their place in this world,” said head of school Dr. Ruth Katz. “It’s not just about learning a chapter of science or English or Bible; it’s the whole package.”
Seventh-grader Morris Ades of Long Branch traced his heritage back to 1887, when his great-grandfather was a young boy in Aleppo, Syria. “I learned a great deal about my ancestors’ occupations, how they lived, and how they got to America,” he said. “When I have grandchildren I want them to link onto the chain and add more information to the family tree.”
William Wasser of Ocean, 12, went back seven generations, tracing about 250 relatives from Romania, Hungary, Russia, and Austria. He proudly displayed his findings at the fair, including a Passover Haggada that his grandfather received on his bar mitzva from the book’s author, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Kasher.
“My older brother did this project two years ago, but I was too young to pay much attention to it. Now it was exciting to learn about my ancestors and my heritage,” William said.
Parents said they enjoyed the project as much as their children. “Once my son Saul began delving into it and speaking to his grandparents, it brought up a lot of beautiful memories,” said Sally Tawil of Elberon. “It gives the students a better appreciation for what they have and brings the families closer.”
For student Marc Tammam of West Long Branch, the best part of the project was the tangible connection to his past. In his booth he displayed a 65-year-old camera that a German prisoner gave to his grandfather, who was serving as a guard in an Egyptian prison.
“This is a real thing from the war that connects my grandfather and me,” Marc said. “It makes me feel connected to history by holding something from him.”