Stetson’s Holocaust Remembrance Day Reflects on ‘Our Roots As a Jewish People’

Stetson University Hillel House

The Oct. 7 attack on Israel has caused many in the Jewish community, including Stetson Hillel Program Director Reed Barkowitz, to reflect on the horrors of World War II, especially with the approach of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated yearly on Jan. 27, the date Jews were liberated from the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Poland. This year marks the 79th anniversary of their liberation.

Stetson Hillel Program Director Reed Barkowitz

“As we head into a new secular year, there is a part of my heart that still feels stuck in October 2023, one that swells in fear and anxiety whenever I introduce myself and what I do for work,” Barkowitz said. “It is a reminder of the importance of safe Jewish communal spaces on college campuses, spaces that I am eager to foster here at Stetson.”

But Barkowitz embraces the resilience of fellow Jews in the hopeful message of a religious Jewish holiday known as Tu B’Shvat, a celebration of trees commemorated from the evening of Jan. 24 through Jan. 25. 

The holiday marks the season when early-blooming trees awaken from winter dormancy and prepare to bear fruit. Jews often celebrate by eating fruits grown in Israel such as figs, olives, dates, pomegranates and grapes. 

The holiday also holds metaphorical significance for the Jewish people as a representation of lives lost, as well as new life, according to Barkowitz. 

“In the outskirts of West Jerusalem, there exists the Forest of the Martyrs, a forest of 6 million trees commemorating the 6 million Jewish individuals who died during the Holocaust,” Barkowitz said.

Planting began in 1946 and gained speed after Israel was declared a nation in 1948. According to Barkowitz, planting trees “is one way that the Jewish people have connected to Israel for many years, with the Jewish National Fund’s Plant a Tree Initiative and other efforts to increase the number of trees in Israel and connect further with the land.”

For Barkowitz, the two diverse holidays share a common thread: “I am reminded of the beauty of new life created from the lives of those we have lost, and I am reminded of the importance of remembering our roots as a Jewish people.”

Stetson’s First Shabbat Dinner of the Semester

Hillel will observe both holidays in its first Shabbat Dinner of the semester, scheduled for Jan. 26 at the Hillel House, 246 E. Florence Ave. in DeLand. All are invited. The event will allow attendees to “remember our past, celebrate our present, and look toward the future,” Barkowitz said.

RSVP here

-Cheri Henderson