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Facebook taps Holocaust survivors, Israeli celebrities for remembrance project

‘Sharing Memories’ initiative, now in 2nd year, brings together survivors and influencers for series of Instagram Stories geared toward younger audiences on Yom Hashoah

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

Meta/Facebook in Israel produced a series of Instagram Stories together with Holocaust survivors and Israeli celebrities and influencers ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) in Israel, April 2022. (Screenshots)
Meta/Facebook in Israel produced a series of Instagram Stories together with Holocaust survivors and Israeli celebrities and influencers ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) in Israel, April 2022. (Screenshots)

Facebook (Meta) in Israel is partnering with a group of Holocaust survivors and Israeli celebrities and influencers, for the second consecutive year, to launch the “Sharing Memories” project (Ma’alim Zikaron in Hebrew) ahead of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday.

The annual day of commemoration, known in Israel as Yom Hashoah, honors the memory of six million Jews murdered during World War II. It begins this year on Wednesday evening and ends on Thursday evening.

For the project, the Israeli celebrities will each run a series of Instagram Stories (Instagram is owned by Meta/Facebook) based on meetings and interviews with Holocaust survivors to tell their tales to their respective social media followings. The Stories, a popular Instagram feature in vertical format that allows users to upload videos, photos, emojis, and animations, will begin running on Wednesday evening and will be available throughout the next day.

The digital project is meant to expose younger audiences — over half of Instagram’s one billion or so global users are between the ages of 13 and 34 — to the real stories of Holocaust survivors, raise awareness about Holocaust remembrance, and shed more light about the living conditions of many survivors in Israel, some of whom live below the poverty line. The project is run in collaboration with Israeli aid organization Latet, which supports some survivors through its Aid for Life program, an initiative that provides medical, physical, and emotional support specifically for Holocaust survivors.

Israel is home to about 165,800 Holocaust survivors, of whom about 50,000 receive supplemental income from the state, according to the latest data by the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority, a department of the Ministry of Social Equality.

Celebrities and content creators participating in the “Sharing Memories” project include singer and online personality Anna Zak, Israeli model and actress Yael Shelbia, pop stars Static and Ben-El (Liraz Russo and Ben-El Tavori), and Israeli-American actress and writer Noa Tishby, recently tapped as the country’s first-ever special envoy for combating antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel. A number of organizations will also take part, like the digital operations of radio station Galgalatz and those of the popular nighttime TV show Hazinor.

Last year, the project garnered 3.1 million views overall and raised NIS 500,000 in donations for Holocaust survivors, Meta Israel said.

Screenshots from the Facebook-produced ‘Sharing Memories’ initiative, a Holocaust remembrance project bringing together survivors living in Israel with Israeli celebrities for Holocaust storytelling on Instagram.

Maayan Sarig, head of communications at Meta Israel, told The Times of Israel in a phone interview Monday that the idea is to expose younger generations to the stories of Holocaust survivors.

“We always say ‘never again,’ but we also have an obligation to pass these stories on, and we need to engage younger generations to do so. To them, the Holocaust is a historical event they learn about in school,” she explained.

While the campaign targets Israeli audiences, and particularly teenagers and young adults, and is being rolled out when Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day, Holocaust education generally and for younger generations specifically is of particular concern.

A 2020 survey in the US conducted by the Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among American adults under 40 years of age. The report said that 63 percent of all national survey respondents, aged 18-39 did not know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and 36% thought that “two million or fewer Jews” were killed in World War II. In addition, 48% of respondents “could not name a single one of the more than 40,000 concentration camps or ghettos” set up by the Nazis and local collaborators across Europe during World War II, according to the report.

The same survey found that about half of respondents said they have been exposed to Holocaust denial or distortion content on social media and elsewhere online.

A separate 2020 study by the Pew Research Center also found that half of American adults were unaware of basic facts regarding Nazism and the Holocaust, including the number of Jews who were killed and how Nazis came to power.

With the rise of antisemitic incidents in recent years, and 2021 dubbed “the most antisemitic year in the last decade” by the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency, Jewish leaders have been voicing concern over whether the lack of adequate Holocaust education and awareness.

Social media platforms, and chiefly Facebook, have no small role to play. Though Facebook finally officially banned Holocaust denial from the platform in 2020, the Anti-Defamation League said late last year that there were significant “cracks in enforcement” that allows deniers to disseminate hate speech.

A view of the new notification Facebook will use to combat Holocaust denial. (Facebook via JTA)

The organization urged the social media giant to do more — in the wake of a number of scandals — including one last year based on whistleblower testimony that said Facebook prioritizes its own interests like making more money over the public good, fuels division, and harms children.

Sarig said Meta/Facebook was committed to removing Holocaust denial content from its platforms and has developed “accurate policies” for doing so. Over the past year, the company has been directing people who search for information about the Holocaust toward accurate third-party information, using the same approach it has taken to combat misinformation about elections and COVID-19.

At the same time, “we want to amplify the positives too with projects like ‘Sharing Memories,’ so we are always looking for that balance,” she said.

In Israel, where Sarig grew up, “there used to be no ‘escape’ from Holocaust remembrance; it was on TV, we met Holocaust survivors on our schools, etc. Today, in this digital age, there is just so much available content of all types, so difficult subjects like these can be avoided,” she explained.

“So we wanted to reach young people on the platforms they are already on. Influencers have the audience, survivors have the heroic and important stories to tell, and we wanted to combine the two,” said Sarig, who was also behind a separate but similar campaign late last year against cyberbullying and violent political discourse in Israel.

Maayan Sarig, head of communications, Meta in Israel. (Pazit Oz)

Sarig said both the celebrities and the survivors have given very positive feedback on the project, as have social media audiences.

“A lot of these creators are also very young, so to meet and spend time with survivors, that’s also a form of education,” she said, adding that moments of levity included many survivors asking their celebrity partners who exactly they were and watching them having to explain.

“Many of these people can’t even walk down the street without people coming up to them, so it’s very humbling,” said Sarig.

For the survivors, she said, “they just want to talk, and to tell their stories, and answer questions, and talk about their lives now.”

Sarig described how it was important for all parties involved to also highlight the present. “Yes, they talk about the past, and give facts about what happened to them and their families, but there were also conversations about mutual interests, singing, dancing, and so on, to show the full person.”

Sarig said all the separate Stories, about 20, have been edited into mini-features and will be screened in Israeli high schools this week.

Eran Weintrob, executive director of Latet, said the project was a “triumph in three dimensions – it’s an innovative way to actualize the memory of the Holocaust and heroism; it raises awareness and activates people on behalf of survivors who are living among us in distress and want; and it makes the subject accessible to young people via Instagram and opinion leaders on the social media.”

“Sharing memories of the Holocaust, aiding survivors in need and building a connection with young people are especially important goals during these years when the generation that lived through the Holocaust is fading away. Israeli society now has a narrow window of opportunity to do what’s needed to create continuity for the memory of the Holocaust among young people and to mobilize them to work for those who still remain and are in need of assistance,” Weintrob added.

Israelis stand next to their cars as sirens mark a nationwide moment of silence in remembrance of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Yom Hashoah is one of the most solemn dates on the Israeli calendar. A number of national commemoration ceremonies are typically held throughout the day including at Yad Vashem. A closing ceremony for the day is held at the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum in Kibbutz Lohamei HaGetaot.

On Thursday morning, a siren will sound for two minutes at 10 a.m., which typically brings Israeli outdoor life to a standstill. Pedestrians stand in place, buses stop on busy streets and cars pull over on major highways, their drivers standing on the roads with their heads bowed.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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