When Roger Tilles visited an Israeli Air Force base, he watched as two jets roared by. That’s when he realized why Israel exists. The Jewish people will never be defenseless again.
Tilles, Long Island’s representative on the New York State Board of Regents, took to the stage at the first annual Remembrance Awards Dinner, held by the 1.5-year-old nonprofit Voices for Truth and Humanity.
“These kids don’t know what they’re doing,” Tilles said at the Crest Hollow Country Club on Sept. 25.
Tilles and the nonprofit, headquartered at 425 North Broadway in Jericho, is focused on expanding Holocaust and genocide-related education across New York. To do so, Tilles created a task force, which already started gathering data and information about the lack of this in several curricula.
New York is one of only 11 states to mandate Holocaust education be provided to students in public schools. However, Representative Carolyn Maloney, who represents the 12th Congressional district in Manhattan, introduced the Never Again Education Act, which will “award grants to eligible entities to carry out educational programs about the Holocaust.”
“They’re working on providing ammunition so we can go to Albany and put this on the regents,” Tilles said.
Voices for Truth and Humanity is determined to make a difference in this realm, and has already begun the process of spreading their message.
“We’re advocating in Washington and up in Albany in the last year and a half,” Treasurer Angel Cepeda said. “This is our first event in galvanizing folks about the need to stamp out hate. We are looking to make a difference. This is not only important, but absolutely necessary in our times.”
Throughout the evening, speakers, including Vice President Glen Landow, Tilles and Columbia University student Erica Nieves, a member of Students Supporting Israel at the institution, discussed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which often intimidates Jewish students who support Israel. Students who join the movement often threaten Jews and shout anti-Semitic tropes, such as calling those who support Israel “Nazis” or “occupiers.”
“We can’t exclude BDS,” Cepeda said. “We need to make sure we’re talking about it and we’re informing people to bring out the truth.”
Nieves took to the podium, sharing a horrific story about an event she witnessed on campus. She discussed an event from Holocaust Memorial Day, when the club brought Holocaust survivors to share their stories of survival during the Holocaust. But that’s when Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) protested, shouting at students and survivors.
“The truth about BDS is to help an anti-Israeli movement and not help actual Palestinian people,” she said.
The organization is determined to fight all forms of bigotry, not just anti-Semitism.
At the conclusion of the evening, the nonprofit honored Holocaust survivor Martin Bloch, a man who was part of the Bielski Partisans Resistance, a unit of Jews who rescued other Jews from extermination in Nazi-occupied Poland, even battling the Nazis themselves.
“I’m not being honored,” Bloch said in a firm manner. “They think they are honoring me, but I am bearing witness. I am one of the few Jewish boys who survived the Holocaust. My mission is to make sure the next generation doesn’t forget it because, if they do, they will relive it.”
Bloch’s story of survival is unbelievable. World War II started when he was just 5 and a half years old. To survive, his brother, Sam, and he made a daring escape out of a ghetto. A family, who lived in a forest near the ghetto, hid the brothers before they joined the Bielski Partisans Resistance. Martin was just one of a few children to pick up a gun and fight for his life out of the 1,200 Jewish fighters.
“As a child, a lot of it was about adventure more than fear,” Bloch said about joining the partisans. “The only reason I’m here is because of the partisans. After being in a displaced persons camp for seven years, because no one wanted us, we finally got an international refugee organization to get us visas to come into America.”
Following Bloch’s seven-year journey in a displaced persons camp, which was at the site formerly known as the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany, he journeyed to New York. In the decades that followed the Holocaust, Bloch founded Frequency Electronics, located on the island, creating timing systems used by United States satellites and deep space probes.
Throughout all of Bloch’s experiences, he has a clear message that he wants to the entire world to know. And it is indeed about the current generation of students and teachers.
“We came to realize this generation doesn’t know anything about the Second World War and even less about the Holocaust,” he said. “I assure you, if they don’t learn, they’re going to relive it. The only reason I survived is because my brother escaped to the Partisans.”
To learn more about Voices for Truth and Humanity, visit www.voices4truthandhumanity.org.