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Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Descendant Profile








    I am the Vice President for Law School Engagement at the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC).  Prior to joining LSAC, I was the dean of enrollment management at Seton Hall University School of Law. In this role, I was responsible for all aspects of admissions and recruitment for both JD and graduate law programs. Prior to arriving at Seton Hall in 2004, I served as the director of financial aid services for the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA), where I was responsible for coordinating financial aid training, assistance, and advisement for HESAA staff, schools, students, and families. During my career, I have also served in financial aid, admissions, and student services positions at various colleges. I have a BA from SUNY Oneonta and have completed graduate coursework in counseling at Marist College. I have served in a variety of volunteer positions, including serving as a member of the LSAC Board of Trustees.

    Since 2016, I have been speaking to students and teachers in New Jersey schools, Catholic colleges, and synagogues telling the story of my father, Michel Jeifa’s Holocaust experience as a hidden child  in Vichy France. I speak with my spouse, David Joachim, also a 2G decendant, and my survivor father.

    Editor’s Note:

    Michel Jeifa along with his daughter, Gisele donated his historic, Holocaust artifacts to the Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall, NJ. The Institute is the oldest academic institution in the world dedicated to Catholic-Jewish relations. (Refer to Related Media to view a sampling of donated Artifacts).




    Place: SSBJCC Phone Interview

    Date: August 1, 2023

    Interviewer: Nancy Gorrell


    Q: When were you born and where did you grow up?

    A: I was born on December, 17, 1963 and I grew up in Levittown, Long Island. It was a very blue- collar area of Long Island. There were not many Jews in my town or in my public school. 

    Q: How would you describe your early childhood growing up?

    A: Fine.  We were happy. It was an ordinary daily life. Nothing out of the norm. I had an older brother, Bernie. He was three years my senior.  

    Q: Was your upbringing religious? 

    A: Yes. We were reformed Jews. We joined a temple in East Meadow, a town nearby with a larger Jewish population.

    Q: Do you know the name of the Temple?

    A: Yes, Temple Emmanuel. But it is no longer in existence today.

    Q: Did you go to Temple?

    A: Yes. I went to Temple Emmanual with my mom and dad. I also went to Hebrew School and I was Bat Mitzvahed in 1976. 

    Q: Did you have any other relatives? 

    A: My mom was an only child. Both of her parents passed before I was born. She had two cousins who I saw regularly. I had no grandparents on mother’s side. I had no grandparents on my father’s side either. On my father’s side, his sister, Marguerite, was still alive, and she had two sons almost my father’s age that became like his brothers (his sister was 19 years his senior when he was born). Marguerite had lost her husband in the Holocaust as well as her parents (my grandparents). 

    Q: So, the two cousins who you saw regularly and Marguerite’s two sons that became like brothers to your father were the relatives that became your family. Is that correct?

    A: Yes.

    Q: How were holidays spent in your family? 

    A: We were always with my father’s side of the family, those two nephews who were like uncles to me. And they had kids close to my age and we spent holidays together. My mother always hosted Rosh Hashanah and Passover seder. And the seders were always big, sometimes 30 people. After I married, I made my mother stop because it was too much work for her. 

    Q: When did you become aware your father was a holocaust survivor? 

    A: I feel that I always knew. My father always spoke about it. I remember from an early age being in Hebrew school there was always a unit to teach about the Holocaust and I remember being upset by it. They used to show black and white footage of the camps. I felt traumatized by it, irrationally thinking I would recognize a relative in the pictures. My parents had to come and get me at least once. 

    Q: In retrospect, how did Hebrew School affect you?

    A: It was an odd thing the whole Hebrew school thing. It didn’t feel like my everyday life because it wasn’t in my town. I was convinced I was the only Jew in my school in Levittown. That experience spurred me later in life to make sure when I had children to join the Temple in the town where my children went to school. We joined Temple Sholom, in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

    Q: Did your father tell you his complete story when you were a child? 

    A: Yes. He told us his complete story. I think it was not as frightening for us as children since he was in hiding in southern France. 

    Q: But he suffered great losses—his mother and father.

    A: My father did have survivor guilt and it felt heavy to him and it still does to this very day. I remember feeling as a child wanting to alleviate that guilt for him.  

    Q: Did you experience any anti-Semitism in your early childhood? 

    A: I’m sure I did but I don’t remember it. I lived in a very non-Jewish town. I can remember kids saying tropes about Jews.

    Q: Did you experience any anti-Semitism in later life? In college years?

    A: Not really. I have not experienced that. I went to SUNY Oneonta in New York. I found more Jews there. I had non-Jewish friends but I sought out Jewish friends and socialized with them.  I also had spent my younger years going to Jewish summer camps - so I knew what it felt like to have a group of Jewish friends even though that couldn’t be achieved in my hometown.

    Q: How and when did you begin speaking about the Holocaust?

    A: It began in 2006 when I was working with Seton Hall Law School. As my father was aging, he had all these artifacts from the Holocaust in a box under his bed. He would take them out when he was speaking to student groups which he had been doing for many years. He wanted to do something with the artifacts. So, we as a family started to talk about donating them, and we considered USHMM in Washington, DC. But my father wanted to educate people that didn’t know much about Holocaust. Seton Hall had an Institute of Judeo-Christian Studies, and it is the oldest academic institution in the world dedicated to Catholic-Jewish relations. So, we spoke to them about donating the artifacts to Seton Hall’s library for students to view. They are now in permanent exhibition. Once we made the donation, Seton Hall approached me, my brother Bernie, and my dad to be plenary speakers at their annual Holocaust Teacher Education Day in 2018. That was my first public speaking event. After that, I was asked to speak in public schools to students.

    Q: How did you and your spouse, David meet?

    A: David grew up around the corner from one of my father’s nephews and was best friends with my cousin growing up. We knew each other from an early age but didn’t get involved romantically until after college. Since 2018, David and I have been speaking together in schools and synagogues to teachers and students throughout New Jersey as 2nd generation descendants.

  • Sources and Credits:


    The SSBJCC  Holocaust Memorial & Education Center gratefully acknowledges the donation of digital and family photographs by Gisele Joachim and her father, Michel Jeifa at his survivor testimonial events.