Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation Hosts Seminar for Gorham HS To Introduce Students to Jewish Culture, Religion, and History

By Eileen Regen

    Over 50 Gorham High School students presently engaged in the study of the Holocaust visited the Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation (BHC) Synagogue on March 20 for an informative seminar covering Jewish history, culture, and religion. The seminar included presentations by Holocaust survivors and children of survivors. Presently, the students are engaged in classes to study the Holocaust with English teachers Rob Hamel and Lee Anne Lapointe.    

     BHC President Dave Goldstone welcomed the group with an introduction to the nearly 100-year history of the present-day Jewish community in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Board Member Eileen Regen followed with a brief overview of Jewish history and customs throughout the world, and described how Jewish religious observances, holy writings, customs, traditions, cuisine, and home and synagogue symbols adapted to cultures around the world since the major Diaspora that began in 70 CE.

     One of the synagogue’s Torah scrolls was displayed, and Goldstone explained how a Torah is written and the requirements for the Torah reading service.  He demonstrated the Torah reading experience by chanting the opening lines of Genesis, and everyone was invited to view the opened scroll close-up.  

     In the second session of the seminar, Holocaust survivor Michel Adler, and children of survivors Judith Felsen, Jack Karp, and Gail Robinson spoke about experiences in escaping, hiding, survival, rescue, and memories. Adler described his family’s escape from Austria to France to Switzerland; Karp told the history of his parents’ escape from Poland into Russia where they worked and survived in the Gulag until the end of the war when they were sent to a displaced persons’ camp in Germany.  Robinson told the story of her excitement at finding her mother’s handwritten diary filled with her descriptions of life as a 12-year-old sent out of Austria to live with cousins. She held the precious book in her hand as she described the value of this possession to her family.  Felsen explained the long term effects of survivors and their children. A prolific poet, Felsen read three of her poems: one focused on childhood nightmares filled with terrors, the second with thoughts of an aunt she never knew, and the third focused on the recent incident in Middlebury, VT in which a swastika was painted on the door of a Jewish group.

     Following these presentations, students were divided into three groups to meet and discuss questions with the speakers. At the close of the meetings, visibly awed and inspired students joined BHC members to mingle over refreshments and share more questions and answers about Jewish life and culture. They viewed displays of maps, a timeline of Jewish history, and propaganda techniques and samples from throughout history and into the present time, and outcomes of propaganda campaigns.

     This is the third year that the students have traveled from Gorham to Bethlehem to participate in the program built to add to the students’ basic understanding of Judaism and Jewish culture.  The students’ Holocaust unit includes a review of the historical events starting in the early 1930s which led to the Holocaust, and their studies include “Night” by Elie Wiesel and “The Sunflower” by Simon Wiesenthal.

     This program is open to middle and high schools. Arrangements for this or similar programs may be made by contacting Martin Kessel at martink1937@gmail.com or Eileen Regen at e.sregen@roadrunner.com .