May 5, 2020
Newfound friendships in isolation
While many Holocaust survivors are feeling isolated right now, the Sydney Jewish Museum has launched a Pen Pal Project to connect students and Holocaust survivors with one another through letter writing during these uncertain times.
The conversations that have unfolded between young and old are heart-warming, and the support that our elderly survivors have received from their new pen pals has brought many of them renewed purpose at a time when concerns about mental health in isolation are at the fore.
Before COVID-19 forced the Museum to temporarily close its doors, 40 Holocaust survivors would share their stories of survival and lessons from the Holocaust frequently with school students and museum visitors. Holocaust survivors established the Sydney Jewish Museum in 1992, and 28 years later, they are still the beating heart of the Museum.
At the point when non-essential services started closing and people were urged to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, our survivors had already been in self-imposed isolation for two weeks. With many school kids now learning from home, the Museum team saw the perfect opportunity to connect the younger generation with our survivors as pen pals. We assumed that receiving and sending an “old-fashioned” handwritten letter would be a new and novel way to fill the students’ leisure time.
The idea for the project was born out of a group chat with a Museum Educator and some year 8 mothers at her daughter’s school. Quickly the idea caught on, and within 24 hours 63 students from various schools in Sydney expressed their eagerness to connect with Holocaust survivors.
From politics to Holocaust remembrance, young pen pals have written the most mature and inquisitive insights to their new friends…
And in return, the survivors have offered poignant reflections and valuable life lessons in this time…
Watching friendships blossom between pen pals in the face of social isolation and physical distancing brings excitement for when restrictions are lifted. We look forward to a time when these unlikely new friends can finally meet.