By Fran Memberg

Masha Hershkovitz

Masha Hershkovitz of Sandy Springs loves hearing and preserving the stories of her Jewish family’s journey from Eastern Europe and Russia to South America and the United States. She charted a family tree while in high school and hopes to write a book one day about her family history.

Hershkovitz will have a chance to share her stories on April 14 with attendees at Am Yisrael Chai (The People of Israel Live) at Congregation Beth Tefillah in Sandy Springs.

This will be Beth Tefillah’s third annual Am Yisrael Chai program that centers on the lives of families before, during and after the Holocaust. It examines the broad scope of community life, but emphasizes individuals and families.

This year, the program teaches about the Latin and South American Jewish community. The first program in 2008, which included the dedication of a Holocaust Memorial Garden, highlighted Eastern European Jews; last year’s event focused on Sephardic Jews, those of Spanish descent.

Hershkovitz, 46, will be one of a panel of five families. She was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, to parents of Polish and Russian descent whose families had lived in South America since 1935. Even after moving to the United States with her family when she was 9, Hershkovitz heard stories about life in Eastern Europe and about family members who perished in the Holocaust.

Am Yisrael Chai coincides with similar Holocaust remembrance programs in metro Atlanta and Jewish communities around the world. The programs typically are held in the days following Passover, which commemorates the biblical Israelites’ exodus from Egypt to their desert wandering toward Israel. The period is also marked by ceremonies in remembrance of those who died in Israel’s modern struggles for statehood, and in honor of Israeli independence declared in 1948.

Beth Tefillah’s program was the brainchild of a former congregation president, Leslie Rubin, a pediatrician from Sandy Springs. During a humanitarian mission to Belarus with Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta in 2004, Rubin learned what Jewish communities there had been like in their heyday, what the Holocaust had done to them, and how they were being revived.

In 2007, he traveled with a group of Atlanta teens on March of the Living, an international educational program that escorts teens from Polish concentration camps, where they observe Holocaust Memorial Day, to Israel, where they celebrate its Independence Day. In Israel, said Rubin, one sees “the Jewish people alive, energetic – Am Yisrael Chai.”

Teaming with David Feldman, a board member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Georgia, “we conceived an event to examine Jewish communities before and after the Holocaust,” Rubin said.

Marcelo Gerschenfeld, the consul general of Argentina to Atlanta, will speak following a ceremony in the Holocaust Memorial Garden that opens the April 14 program.

The program also includes a keynote speech from a Venezuelan Holocaust survivor, Beth Tefillah member Tomas Lefkovits; a teen presentation about March of the Living; a performance by the Atlanta Jewish Male Choir; and a kosher tapas dinner.

Am Yisrael Chai will begin at 6:45 p.m. April 14. Attendance is free. Related programs are scheduled during April and exhibits will be on display through May 20. Congregation Beth Tefillah is located at 5065 High Point Road, Sandy Springs. For information, call (404) 843-2464 or visit