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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

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Survivors celebrate their prom decades later

Tags: News
Freda Peck and her granddaughter Courtney Peck [Cara Edell photo]

TORONTO — It was better late than never when almost 300 Holocaust survivors celebrated their prom last week along with more than 100 young adults.

Chaired by Elise Kayfetz and Sara Lefton, the Senior Prom: An Intergenerational Celebration of Life, was held June 20 at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue.

The evening featured a beauty bar where survivors could have makeup applied, prom pictures against a special backdrop, a four-course dinner by Uptown Catering, a raffle with prizes, music by the Joe Star Band and Yiddish singer Mitch Smolkin, and dancing.

The event was presented by the Yellow Rose Project and supported by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Community Connect, Baycrest, Circle of Care, Bernard Betel, the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, Jewish Family and Child Services, March of the Living and JUMP.

The Yellow Rose Project helps promote intergenerational relationships between Holocaust survivors and young adults, ages 16 to 40, through programs such as the Senior Prom.

Other programs include young professionals visiting survivors one on one, young people calling survivors on the phone, and small groups of young adults meeting with survivors so they can pass on their stories.

Kayfetz and her friend Andrea Rowan first created the prom experience in 2005 for residents of Shalom Village, a seniors home in Hamilton, Ont. Kayfetz, who is also a gerontologist, held a second one in 2007 at Baycrest.

“The prom is now an annual event that gives survivors the chance to get dressed up and dance the night away with younger generations,” Lefton said.

“So many Holocaust survivors did not have a chance to enjoy large parts of their youth and certainly did not have a chance to go to their senior prom or high school dance. The Senior Prom is an opportunity for them to step back in time and experience the innocence of youth.”

Kayfetz said many survivors who attend the prom live in isolation. “It’s important for them to know we care about them. Holocaust survivors are getting older and passing away, so while they’re here, not only should we be dancing with them, we also need to remember them and their stories.”

The event gives survivors “the opportunity to celebrate life while spending time with younger generations who will be able to carry their stories on in the future,” Lefton said.

“I think that Franka Kon, one of the survivors who attended the prom last year, summarized the meaning of the event to survivors when she said, ‘I used to be designated with a yellow star, but now I am celebrated with a yellow rose [her corsage].’ This how the Yellow Rose Project got its name.”

Lefton said she got involved with the Senior Prom because the cause hit close to home.

“Like many in the Jewish community, my family was directly affected by the Holocaust, and the idea we could give survivors a night to celebrate and enjoy life was very exciting to me. We are running out of chances to honour this generation and I think we all wanted to do our part.”

For more information on the Senior Prom and the Yellow Rose Project, visit

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