It’s all in the Journey: reflections on founding ShadowLight

It’s been 75 years since the liberation of the concentration camps and the number of survivors and witnesses is rapidly dwindling. It is crucial to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to future generations. 

Holocaust education is key to making sure we never forget the atrocities the Jewish people experienced. It also teaches us how we hold the power and responsibility to create a brighter future, which is why I founded Shadowlight.

Since launching the non-profit organization ShadowLight in 2017, I have become aware of the most wonderful truth: that young people are not only extremely passionate but well prepared to ensure future generations are educated on the Holocaust. 

It was a long process of little steps to bring ShadowLight and it’s exhibit, “The Cattle Car: Stepping In and Out of Darkness” to life. 

Photo courtesy of Jordana Lebowitz.

When I went on March of the Living in high school, each camp I visited made me feel like I was grasping a long chain of links connecting me to my ancestors. I realized their stories did not end in the gas chambers and neither did anti-Semitism. Just as a single Nazi could destroy the lives of thousands with the acts he set in motion, conversely, all we need is one person to stand up for what is right. We stand at a critical point in history as anti-Semitism is on the rise, and Holocaust survivors are becoming scarce. Therefore, the opportunity and responsibility to make a difference lies with the next generation. 

In my first year at the University of Guelph, the former bookkeeper of Auschwitz, Oskar Groening, was on trial in Germany, which I wanted to witness. By contacting several people—including the judge in Germany and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre—to support my trip, I managed to witness the trial first-hand. For two weeks, hearing from a Nazi brought the past, present, and future into focus. More than anything, it warned me of the dangers of silence and filled me with gratitude for our survival throughout history. 

Lebowitz talking to Mayor John Tory on the exhibit in Toronto.

This trial spurred my desire to educate my peers on the Holocaust in a meaningful and immersive way. One of the traumatic events of the Holocaust that stayed with me was how a hundred women, men and children were forced into cattle cars, enduring inhumane conditions for days, cramped in a small space. This brought on the idea to bring a full-sized cattle car to campus, to visually show how Jewish people were dehumanized. Though we will never truly understand the experiences of those transported in cattle cars, by hosting the exhibit we offer a glimpse into the victims’ world. Through the support of Hillel and the hard work of fellow students, we accomplished the seemingly impossible. When the cattle car arrived on campus, I started to slowly see my idea come to life. 

The cattle car had a deep impact on students and faculty and I started getting calls from other universities to go on tour. It was then that I decided to make sure this exhibit could reach as many people as possible. I strongly believe that the next generation need a richer Holocaust education experience. 

I immediately approached a film student I already knew from my time at CHAT, Sagi Kahane-Rapport, to help me build this exhibit.

We created a 360-degree multimedia immersive exhibit with eight projectors running simultaneously. Actors and survivors are projected to life-size scale inside the space. Though we experienced challenges in fields we were just getting to know, we stayed the course because the mission was too important to abandon. 

Photo courtesy of Jordana Lebowitz.

This passion project has brought people from every background, religion, age-group and field together. We pushed ourselves beyond our limits and succeeded. It would not have been possible without each and every person. 

Our exhibit does not replicate the experiences of the survivors in the cattle car but connects visitors and especially students to the survivors themselves. I hope that each spectator leaves with a deeper understanding of what happened, and shares the experience with their peers.

Our actions will determine the impact and legacy the victims of the Holocaust have on future generations. The survivors have taken it as far as they can; now it is our turn to make sure their stories live on. 

Header image courtesy of Jordana Lebowitz.

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