teitelbaum with shtulman
OHDS fifth-grader Saravivia Teitelbaum gives a rose to Boris Shtulman. (Photo/Carly Nairn)

Oakland school welcomes survivors — with roses

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By the end of the afternoon, rose petals covered the floor — and not just because it was Valentine’s Day.

Chalk up the abundant roses to Bloom of Gratitude, an event that brought together local Holocaust survivors and students at Oakland Hebrew Day School to share laughs, stories and somber moments on Feb. 14.

The event at the K-8 school in the Oakland foothills was sponsored by Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay and by the Wish of a Lifetime Foundation, a charitable organization that grants wishes to senior citizens.

“It’s incredible to meet survivors who have lived through the Holocaust,” said Jeremy Bloom, who founded Wish of a Lifetime in 2008 as a tribute to his grandmother.

“A lot of people are very isolated and don’t have a lot of family, or no family at all,” said Rita Clancy, coordinator of adult services at JFCS, in explaining the importance of bringing the seniors to the school.

The event at OHDS featured survivors telling their stories over bagels and sweets, and the students, who ranged from fifth to eighth grade, handing out roses to the invitees.

“I’m very grateful,” said Eva Lukacs, a survivor from Hungary who lives in Walnut Creek. “I’m delighted to speak with the young children.”

Another invitee was Rita Kuhn, who talked about her life in Berlin as a forced laborer during World War II. She was 5 when Hitler took power, but she stayed in Berlin through the war and left for the United States in 1948, a tale the Berkeley resident recounts in her 2012 memoir “Broken Glass, Broken Lives.”

A lot of people are very isolated and don’t have a lot of family, or no family at all

Bathea James, interim head of OHDS, shared her own background in welcoming the visitors. “Over 100 members of my family from both my mother’s and father’s side perished in the Holocaust,” she said. “It’s personally meaningful to have you all here today.”

Brittany Polson, the wish manager at Wish of a Lifetime, said the school was the organization’s third stop for the day. Before lunch, Bloom and his “Cupid Crew” handed out roses to senior citizens at assisted-living facilities.

Polson said Wish of a Lifetime has granted numerous wishes over the years, including activities such as skydiving, balloon rides and visits to war memorials in Washington, D.C., and Normandy, France.

Bloom, 34, said the event at OHDS held particular significance because of his Jewish heritage. A two-time Olympic skier who also was drafted into the NFL after playing college football at the University of Colorado, Bloom is the founder of the marketing software company Integrate.

Beyond all of his sports, business and nonprofit acumen, the Colorado resident said he has gained wisdom hearing seniors tell their stories, and he loves granting them their wishes.

“It’s an honor to surprise a senior,” he said. “It’s usually very unexpected and uplifting, just making somebody smile.”

Tamara Beliak, a Judaic studies teacher at OHDS, said the school tries to have a yearly event with local survivors, usually in the spring. This year, the students were given the option of having lunch with the seniors or going to recess.

“And they are all here,” she said of the 50 students. “I think they recognize the importance of connecting with the older generation.”

Carly Nairn
Carly Nairn

Carly Nairn is a journalist and writer. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mongabay, Guernica, SF Weekly and KQED, among others. She lives in San Francisco.