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Written by Yad Sarah volunteer Malka Yahalom with Hagit Shaiovitz, who heads the Life Stories Project, working within the framework of Home and Community Services, directed by Anat Ben Zaken

Yad Sarah's Life Story Project, created two decades ago by Rivka Avihail, has become a significant means of connecting the generations and perpetuating the lives of Holocaust survivors and victims of Nazi persecution. The stories are also stored in the Yad Vashem Archives. We are always searching for additional ways to commemorate the lives of these special people, says Hagit Shaiovich, who heads the Life Story Project in the Home and Community Services Division. Though a beautifully bound book, full of photographs and meticulously designed, is an accessible document that invites the reader to explore the life story of a loved one, video filming - as has already been done in the Life Stories Project at the Netanya branch - helps bridge the gap with the younger generation. The Life Story Project continues to be a work in progress, evolving from a thin unbound volume at the start to a professionally produced book, with photos and graphics to suit each story and its storyteller. Today, the Life Story Project has added video filming to its repertoire, and those who would like to can leave an audio-visual legacy to future generations. A carefully chosen volunteer arrives at the home of a Holocaust survivor or disabled person. Each volunteer is trained to listen to the story with compassion and sensitivity. Though it is the volunteer who records and organizes the story, he is careful to respect the language and tone of the narrator, making sure it is the narrator's story that shines through at the end. More than once, a narrator has died during the course of preparing a book, and it turned out to be the last words of the deceased. Hagit tells me that the Life Story Project works successfully in 22 Yad Sarah branches, from Kiryat Shmona to Be'er Sheva. They are often the stories of survivors and victims of Nazi persecution - but not only. In Isfiya, several senior members of the community participated in the project, and recorded their life stories for future generations. At the rate of about 70 life stories per year, the work is great, but very satisfying. The volunteers derive great encouragement from the positive feedback of the family members, who view commemoration as a positive and important step in understanding its heritage. The storyteller finds himself empowered by the experience of recalling and relating events from the past, events that represent the strengths and accomplishments of a life lived well. The relationship that develops between the volunteer and the storyteller forms the basis for a willingness to share details of the past often kept secret until now. These revelations help the family find answers to questions that remained hidden in the past. These revelations are usually emotionally charged and painful and Hagit explains that her staff trains the volunteers to be sensitive and patient. They also learn how to deal with their own difficult emotions during the interview and writing process. Hagit has been at Yad Sarah for seven years and head of the Life Story Project for four. She brings to Yad Sarah a B.A. in psychology with special training in organizational consulting. Hagit recalls the story of a survivor who had repressed most of the memories of his experiences and had lost contact with a brother who had also suffered greatly during the war. Going through the process of writing his story for posterity helped him face his past and reestablish a relationship with his brother. Hagit looks forward to incorporating more innovations into the Life Story Project in the future, helping to strengthen relationships between the generations.

 
 
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