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Students explore feelings about the Holocaust through Yom Hashoah Essay and Art Challenge

WORCESTER – The 8th Annual Yom Hashoah Essay and Art Challenge was presented at Worcester’s Yom Hashoah commemoration, held on April 15 at Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester. The Yom Hashoah Essay and Art Committee awards young people in grades 6 through 12 for essays, poetry, music, drama and artwork related to the Holocaust.

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Essay and Art Challenge winners, from left to right, Julia Witmyer, Julie Scharf, and Hannah Mainhart.

“The contributions of our young people now numbers over 240 entries of art, essays, music, drama and dance,” said Larry Cann, chair of the committee. “They all tell us how much they have learned as they have explored their feelings about the Shoah.”

This year, the Challenge was given a new name: The Pinkhus & Rhoda Gurevicz Essay and Art Challenge.

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Senior First Place Essay Challenge winner for her play, “Le hambon Sur Lignar,” Sivan Amir and her grandparents.

“Pinkhus has been our dear friend for over 11 years and has personalized the Holocaust experience,” said Cann, who described the Gureviczs’ ordeal during the Holocaust.

Young Pinkhus left his home and family in Latvia and rode a bicycle East to escape the war. He ended up fighting with the Russians and at age 19 during battle was shot in both the face and the foot. He lost his entire family during the war.

A week after being accepted into a prominent gymnasium and as Nazi tanks began rolling into her hometown of Riga, Rhoda wisely went directly to board a train – declining to go home to gather her belongings – and went from one Russian city to the next to escape the Germans. She lost her parents and suffered from starvation and typhus on her journey.

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Eva Honig, center, the daughter of Pinkhus and Rhoda Gurevicz, after whom the Challenge was renamed. She is flanked by Sherry Cann, left, and Larry Cann, right.

The two met and married after the war, returning to Latvia and raising two children before immigrating to the U.S. and settling in Worcester. Rhoda died in 1998 and Pinkhus, now 90, lives in Brookline.

After sharing their story, Eva Honig, the daughter of Pinkhus and Rhoda Gurevicz, was asked to stand and was acknowledged by the audience.

Also acknowledged was Lisa Thurlow of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass., for all of the work she does annually for the Essay and Art Challenge.

The theme of this year’s Essay and Art Challenge was the people of Le Chambon, France, who saved hundreds of Jews, particularly children, at a great risk to their own security.

“Our goal is to instill knowledge and memory of the Shoah, but alternate each year from those who were solely victims to those who tried to aid those in peril.”

This year’s award winners were:

Senior Essay or Poetry

  • First prize – Sivan Amir – Worcester Community Hebrew High School (WCHHS)
  • Second prize – Julie Scharf – WCHHS
  • Third prize – Hannah Weiner and Tao Lin – both of WCHHS

Senior Art

  • First prize – Hannah Mainhart and Julia Witmyer – both of WCHHS
  • Second prize – Naomi Russo – WCHHS
  • Third prize – Danny Wahle – WCHHS

Junior Art

  • First prize – Rileigh Spaulding – Pardes
  • Second prize – Helena Mantyla – Pardes
  • Third prize – Ryan Conlin – Summit Academy & Ascher MacLean – Pardes

Junior Essay or Poetry

  • First prize – Jacob Boatright – Pardes
  • Second prize – Noah Pins – Pardes
  • Third prize – Samuel Rosenfield – B’nai Shalom Congregation
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