This past Sunday I helped facilitate a once in a lifetime experience for over 40 Holocaust Survivors and one of the most impactful moments of my career. 

from Left Rayna Rose Exelbierd, Zelda (seated left), Johnny Daniels (seated right) Anya Bum (standing right)

Sunday was one for the books- literally! All 5 books. A once in a lifetime experience for over 40 Holocaust Survivors because of one message where two new friends are connected through their passions. In this case, Holocaust education, awareness, and preserving those testimonies and experiences for future generations. Thank you Anna Zelig for connecting me with Johnny Daniels and his amazing Survivor Torah project. You are a powerful connector. Let this story be a reminder that sometimes the best things are unplanned, and when the phone rings it may very well be opportunity calling! 

There once was a Rabbi in Poland who asked his farmer neighbor to hide his torah. The torah is the Jewish bible. The Rabbi asked the farmer to hold on to it, to give it him or another Jew who returns for it. The Rabbi was murdered in Treblinka. He never returned for the Torah. 

Many years after the war there were Polish college students interviewing people in the area looking for artifacts. The farmer told them, “I have something, but I can’t tell you what it is because you aren’t Jewish.” So those students called “the only Jew they knew ” and that was Johnny Daniels. 

When Johnny picked up the torah he discovered half of the torah had been damaged. The farmer shared through the years the parchment made a good material for making shoe inserts, his wife a handbag, etc. Johnny took that torah and with the help of a scribe has created the Survivor Torah project. A project where Holocaust Survivors around the world sign a letter in the torah to bring it back to life. Once the torah is complete it will become an official torah of Israel living in the synagogue of the President’s house. 

In the torah there are 613 commandments, according to Chabad the final commandment is signing the torah. A powerful reminder of completing the circle of life.  Anna connected me with Johnny to have my friend and Survivor Anya participate, but through divine intervention Johnny just happened to be in Florida the same weekend the Survivors in Boca Raton were meeting. Instead of meeting just one Survivor, he rearranged his day to meet over 40 Survivors! Each Survivor was asked to say their name out loud, where they are from, and for whom they are signing- it was so emotional. Some of the Survivors don’t have a religious education and didn’t understand why they weren’t signing their name? It was so inspiring to watch some of the other Survivors explain the torah to their friends who had never seen one up close, let alone touched one! Zelda, the Vice President of the group shared, “For many of us, this is our final way of coding we were here. Do not forget us” 

Not only does Johnny have an amazing project, but he is a brilliant speaker and educator running a foundation From the Depths that just turned 10 years old! Please consider bringing him to your communities around the world to empower the last witnesses of history to be reminded “We Will Never Forget and They Will Not Be Forgotten”. 

I share this story because in our lives we all think about opportunities to connect people- whether it be personal or professional. Be an Anna, make that connection! Never underestimate the power of your presence and the magic that can manifest into extraordinary mitzvahs (good deeds) when we follow our heart and instincts. Even though the weather was terrible the turnout was incredible. A real life version of the game telephone as the Survivors who use email were asked to call their peers who do not use email to make sure they attend. 

Don’t ever let challenges or a little rain get in the way of your version of a good day. Sometimes all you need is a conversation or a smile from someone else to feel it. Be the first to say Hello. <3

Holocaust Survivors waiting to sign a letter in the torah with Survivor Torah in Boca Raton, Florida. 2/3/2024