May 27, 2020 – Like all organizations and schools, when Houston shut down for the Stay Home, Work Safe order, the Federation’s bustling program schedule abruptly stopped and shifted focus to online virtual programs to keep the community connected.
Each year, for Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Federation hosts Zikaron Basalon or “Memories in the Living Room.” This unique program usually takes places in various home throughout the city. Each house features a different survivor or second-generation family member who shares their story.
This year, the Federation made a quick pivot to a virtual program to still provide the community with a shared way to learn and remember. Our Israeli Shlicha or emissary, Hadas Levy, coordinates the program.
“I saw how important this event was last year and I felt so honored and privileged to bring it to Houston. When COVID-19 hit, we had speakers lined up, we were ready to go. Once we realized we couldn’t host Zikaron Basalon in people’s homes, we had to rethink the event. We still wanted to create the sense of community that Zikaron Basalon offers. That’s the real benefit of the program, it’s not just listening to the story, but something is created in that room with that group of people and we tried to mimic that feeling,” Levy said.
Levy’s biggest challenge was finding a survivor who could handle the technical issues that come with a virtual event. With the help of Holocaust Museum Houston, Levy connected with Dr. Anna Steinberger, who was able to share her story via Zoom on April 20.
“It’s such a blessing to be able to host the event virtually and continue to share Survivor Stories with the public. Anna was amazing as always and what a great turn out! Even my sister-in-law, who lives in Hawaii, was able to tune in and she was blown away,” said Holocaust Museum Houston’s Corporate Relations Officer Rocio Rubio.
More than 165 Zoom accounts logged on to listen, many with multiple participants.
While technical problems persisted and participants were only able to hear Anna instead of see her, it remained unique and special event.
“Given that this was the 4th year that Houston has hosted Zikaron Basalon, it was easier to create a virtual program because it was not brand new to people. By hosting it virtually, we could see all the faces of those who joined us, and we got to expand it even further—we had people joining us who lived miles, and some hundreds of miles, from Houston. To see all these people come together was really incredible,” Levy said. “I don’t know if ‘better’ is the right word, but it ended up being so much broader than we imagined. We were able to share it with so many more people. They were engaged with the Zoom chat feature so they could interact, ask their questions, and thank and acknowledge Anna. Some Houstonians who knew Anna separately, said this was the first time hearing her story.”
Steinberger was thrilled to be asked to speak.
“I couldn’t believe we had more than 160 people. When we started to talk about Zikaron Basalon online, I thought no one would join, but I didn’t mind even if only one person joined. I was so honored to be the one to talk, share my story and I was very happy that we had younger people who heard it as well,” Steinberger said.
Liz and Rob Shoss who participated virtually from their home said they enjoyed the experience.
“Thank you for bringing such an amazing event and speaker into our homes! While we hope the virtual event was a one-time thing, you all did a great job despite the circumstances. Dr. Steinberger’s memory is incredible. We hadn’t heard her speak before and we were so very impressed,” the Shosses said.