(Ehud Amiton/TPS)

While many Israelis attend public memorial gatherings on Holocaust Remembrance Day, others prefer a more intimate experience in a home environment.

As Israel marks its national Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening, thousands of Israelis eschewed the traditional commemoration ceremonies in favor of more personal and intimate encounters with Holocaust survivors and witnesses in their very own living rooms.

Zikaron baSalon ([email protected]) is a social initiative started six years ago by a group of friends who felt they needed a more direct and unfiltered way of connecting with the memory of the Holocaust on the solemn day.

“We were looking for a closer and personal connection to the memory of the greatest disaster in our history,” Racheli Hazon, the Jerusalem coordinator of the initiative, told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).

The group invited an elderly Holocaust survivor to one of their homes, hosted him and listened to his story, later conducting a deep discussion accompanied by musical performances.

What started as a private initiative among friends quickly spread among Israelis young and old, and is now an international phenomenon with similar meetings happening as far away as Seattle.

“The year after this initiative began, the idea was replicated by some of the guests in their own living rooms. It grew, and last year approximately 150,000 individuals participated as guests, hosts, or speakers in living rooms all over the country – and even abroad,” Hazon said.

IDF soldiers stand in formation at a ceremony held Wednesday evening at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

IDF soldiers stand in formation at a ceremony held Wednesday evening at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Now the the Zikaron baSalon is a well-coordinated and organized initiative with a website in which individuals can find an event to attend, to volunteer their own living room as hosts, or register as speakers.

One surprising volunteer this year was the President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who opened the living room of his official Jerusalem residence to 40 guests who came to listen to a heart-wrenching witness account by Meir Ginosr, an 87-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death camp.

Zikaron baSalon in the president’s living room is a remembrance in the living room of every citizen of Israel, symbolically shared by the entire nation,” commented Rivlin on the initiative.

According to Racheli Hazon, aside from having such a distinguished volunteer join their ranks this year, the project also marks the largest event held so far.

“Usually these events can’t fit more than 30 or 40 people. This year, the owner of the Tahrir bar in Jerusalem’s shuk (market) has opened his venue to over 100 individuals,” Hazon said.

Tahrir hosted 85-year-old Yigal Halamit, who spoke about his experience during the Holocaust in Tunisia and the oft-ignored story of the many North African Jews who perished in the Holocaust by the Nazis.

“It is personally important to me to be able to share my story with these people,” Halamit explained. “This is a wonderful forum and a great opportunity for me to tell the story of the forgotten North African victims of the Holocaust.”

“It didn’t happen only in Europe, it happened everywhere the Nazis went,” he added.

“These are the last opportunities we have to have actual encounters with survivors and listen to them directly and hear their stories,” Hazon lamented. “Already there are more participating living rooms than actual Holocaust survivors to speak in them.”

By: Michael Zeff/TPS