Ariella Livstone is one of those teenage girls who is wise beyond her years. “When I hear the word Holocaust, I think of WWII, concentration camps, six million Jewish victims, and I start to cry.” Following her older brother Yoni’s lead, Ariella sought out a way to honor a Jewish victim of the Holocaust during her Bat Mitzvah through the Remember a Child project. A subsequent series of uncanny coincidences drew an eruv of living memory around the soul of one little girl who perished in the Shoah.
The Remember a Child project began 30 years ago when a group of survivors from the Washington, D.C., area sought to honor the children who perished in the Holocaust. What began as a project to honor their own pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah relatives who had been annihilated, grew into a decades-long mission to honor every Jewish youth who perished. Since so little information is often available about these children, recipients who are matched traditionally wrap a tallit around an empty chair that sits on the bema in their honor and their names are incorporated during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service.
Originally Ariella requested a child from Schedrin, the home of her great-grandfather Lloyd Livstone. When no child from Schedrin could be located, Ariella wound up being paired with Lucie Nicole Lipstein from Antwerp, Belgium. Ariella’s mother, Danna, explained that the coordinator at Remember a Child reasoned that “Livstone (an Americanized surname) and Lipstein sounded relatively alike, and since very few children from Belgium and Holland were ever requested, they thought it would be a special mitzvah.”
The mitzvah was special, indeed, as Ariella was only about to find out. Along with a photograph of Lucie, Ariella was given the contact information of the Leighton family who signed Lucie and her brother, Andre Robert, into Remember a Child. Along with an invitation to her Bat Mitzvah, Ariella sent a letter to the family patriarch Ed, now living in Arizona, explaining that she would be “sharing” her Bat Mitzvah with Lucie and requesting more information about her.
Upon receiving her letter, Ed Leighton (formerly Lipstein) was filled with joy:
When I received Ariella Livstone’s Bat Mitzvah invitation and lovely note, identifying “Remember a Child,” and advising she would be honoring the memory of Lucie Nicole, I was so touched that such a program existed and that, after all these years, another young lady would figuratively and momentarily not only bring that little girl back to life in front of a Hebrew congregation, but Lucie would continue to have soulful continuation of life within Ariella’s memory.
A 45-minute phone call to the Livstones ensued during which Ed shared the Lipstein clan’s heartbreaking story. Years before Nazi occupation, Ed’s father happened to take a job in New York’s diamond district. His tenure at the position afforded him the ability to obtain American citizenship, something he ironically was able to take advantage of years later after returning to Belgium, starting his family and confronting Nazi rule. Lucie, her brother and her parents, unable to escape, all perished at Auschwitz. Lucie was less than 10 years old.
During the course of the conversation, Ed and Danna realized they had both attended Stuyvesant High School in New York, 31 years apart. The connection didn’t end there. When Ed’s wife Jayne shared the invitation and story with her work colleague, Larry Packer, he was amused to learn that his childhood friend, Jay Kornsgold, would be the rabbi officiating Ariella’s Bat Mitzvah. When the Livstone family followed up with their Remember a Child matchmaker, their story was shared with the organization’s board. Danna soon learned that one board member, Dena Hirsch, was her old college friend.
Along with sending a typed narrative of Lucie’s story and several family photos for Ariella to share at her Bat Mitzvah, the Leightons gifted Ariella a delicate silver Magen David necklace to wear at the ceremony. It’s something so classic you can only imagine Lucie would have worn much the same thing had she been given a Bat Mitzvah of her own.
The story of Remember a Child is the story of how one young woman’s compassionate heart drew an embrace around the memory of a young Holocaust victim that stretched from East Coast to West. Ariella Livstone’s simple act of goodness illustrates that “Never Forget” is more than a mere slogan in the Jewish world. It is a commitment that revives old connections while forging new ones. “When you learn the name of a single Holocaust victim and learn her story,” Ariella commented, “it lets you focus more on the individual human being. Something about the photo allowed me to feel connected to Lucie in a special way. When I have children, I want them to participate in the Remember a Child project as well. I will request the name of Andre Robert Lipstein, Lucie’s brother.”