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Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Descendant Profile








    I was born in Plainfield, NJ in 1969 to Harold and Seldi Ruchlin.  I was the girl they wanted after having three boys.  My family moved around Europe when I was young for my father’s job, and we settled in Bridgewater, NJ in 1975, where I grew up until I left for Ithaca College in 1987.  After college, I moved to Chicago for four years, and then headed back to the East Coast and attended Penn State College to get my Master’s Degree in Communication Disorders.  I currently live in Somerville, NJ with my husband, Michael, and son Evan, and work as an Early Intervention Speech Language Pathologist in Somerset County.  My life has been blessed with an amazing family and friends.


    Who is a Holocaust Survivor?

    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum currently defines a survivor as “any persons, Jewish or non-Jewish, who were displaced, persecuted, or discriminated against due to the racial, religious, ethnic, social, and political policies of the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945.” Yad Vashem defines survivors as “Jews who lived for any amount of time under Nazi domination, direct or indirect, and survived.” Defining and identifying Holocaust survivors is not straightforward. Experts agree on one thing: there is no single definition of who is a Holocaust survivor.

    Discovering my mother is a Holocaust Survivor

    It wasn’t until very recently that I considered my mother a Holocaust survivor.  As a Jewish child growing up in America with all the freedoms we enjoy and all of the security we feel we have, I was taught about the Holocaust by my family and my synagogue.  I watched movies and read books, both fictitious and historical.  I don’t know how old I was when my mother first told me that she was born in Germany, and that she and her family all got out in 1940 because of “what was going on,” but I knew that she was only three years old at the time, and neither she nor any of her immediate family, thankfully, were sent to a labor or death camp. She grew up in America .  What did she survive? As is true of much of her generation and her parents’ generation, personal stories and what they went through was just not talked about.  

    As an adult, I learned more about the Holocaust, and I became more aware of what was happening in the world. In doing so, I began to think more about my mother and her immediate family and what they went through. My mother was born in a country on the brink of war, in a country in which SHE was the enemy – that adorable little girl you see in those photos – for no other reason than she was and is Jewish.

    My mother’s Story

     My mother was too young to remember a lot, which I think I am grateful for.  Her siblings, especially her brothers who were young men at the time, I’m sure went through more physical and emotional hardships than she did. Neither of her brothers or her sister are alive, and I have lost the opportunity to talk to them about their experiences and what they remember. As I’ve put the timeline together in my head, I realize that they were in Germany for Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938).  My grandfather had a business, probably a storefront which would have certainly been destroyed on that terrible night.  They were all amazingly fortunate that the entire family were granted visas and that they were able to get to the United States together, just one month after Kristallnacht.  If that had not happened, and it did not happen by accident, there are many scenarios that might have occurred, none of them good.  She and her family would have likely been relocated to a ghetto.  If they survived that, they likely would have eventually been sent to a concentration camp.  The reality of that is that most of the children her age that were sent to concentration camps were killed as soon as they got there.  The Nazi’s had no use for children.  But my mother is right here – so she is a survivor. She escaped.  She went on to have a wonderful life.  She has four children and six grandchildren.  She taught us all to be kind, loving, tolerant people, despite being born into a world of hate and intolerance.


    The March of the Living (MOTL) Trip, May 2023

       I have wanted to make a trip like the March of the Living for a very long time. The 2023 trip included 12,000 11th and 12th graders from around the world. The MOTL trip also includes both Poland and Israel. Once I learned of the MOTL's existence, I decided I wanted to do it with Evan. I wanted to be a witness, and I wanted my son to be a witness. My hope was that we would come back with not only a deeper understanding of where we came from, but also a resolve to go forward and fight for those who are persecuted where and whenever we can. The trip  exceeded my expectations.  


    Becoming a March of the Living Chaperone

    In early May 2023 Rabbi Dan Selsberg of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, NJ recommended that I attend the March of the Living  as a chaperone. I originally wanted to go on the trip to see the concentration camps for myself and to be able to have that experience with my son, Evan.  I can now say that the entire trip completely exceeded my expectations.  It was amazing and became transformational. I know that as an adult, my experiences and what I took away were quite different from what the teens did.  However, some of the most enjoyable and fulfilling parts for me were watching and helping the teens explore, discover, think about, talk about, learn about, and process the Holocaust and many aspects of being Jewish, as well as enjoying themselves.  This trip not only deals with and teaches about our Jewish history of the Holocaust, but it also explores and teaches about humanity, relationships, politics, overcoming adversity, moving forward and re-building.  Yes, there were parts of the trip, especially in Poland, that were sad, disturbing and sometimes difficult for some to witness.  However, there were also parts, even in Poland, which were joyous and life affirming.  It was amazing to be in a foreign country and be with Jews from all over the world, including tens of thousands of other Jewish teens.  As a chaperone, I saw teens learning about themselves as people and as Jews. I would not classify this as a “religious” trip; however, I believe that the teens all felt differently about their Judaism upon returning. Their horizons were broadened by being outside of the United States and meeting Jewish teens from all around the world.  The Israel portion of the trip was as an integral a part of the trip as Poland.  Going from Poland, where we focused on atrocities perpetrated, and then traveling to our homeland as Jews was exhilarating.  Not only was it wonderful to be in Israel, but we were able to celebrate both Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) with Israeli communities. It was a great perspective of the differences and commonalities of the Jews of the United States and those living in Israel.

    The March of the living trip gave me a visceral perspective of the Holocaust and my own Judaism.  Seeing the Dome of Ashes in Majdanek and the mass graves in the Lopuchowo Forest brought feelings of horror and disgust deeper than I’ve ever experienced.  And being part of the celebration with several delegations in the Synagogue at Tykocin, bringing the Synagogue back to life with Jewish songs and dance, brought me joy and exhilaration beyond explanation. Sharing all that, and more, with my son, exploring our Jewish past and heritage together is a blessing I will cherish always. לְדוֹר וָדוֹר