In her welcoming letter to an international community of Holocaust scholars on our campus, Fern Zagor–tireless and devoted Chair of the Wagner College Chai Society–wrote of “...the courage of the spirit, daring to believe in the future against unfathomable, indescribable odds.” Fighting for social justice and to protect those less fortunate has always been a part of Fern. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Fern has dedicated herself to teaching others the lessons of the Shoah. Holding a Masters Degree in Social Work, Fern has worked for many other causes and organizations on Staten Island, many devoted to helping vulnerable children and families suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. In 2012 she became the CEO and President of the Staten Island Mental Health Society, and following its merger with the Richmond University Medical Center, its Director. She now provides her experience and insights as a consultant.
Fern’s mother, aunt and grandmother survived the Warsaw Ghetto and Majdanek extermination camp; her mother, Frieda Aaron went on to earn her PhD. in comparative literature and to become an eloquent scholar and writer on the poetry of the Holocaust, authoring the critically acclaimed Bearing the Unbearable: Yiddish and Polish Poetry in the Ghettos and Concentration Camps (SUNY Press, 1990). Her father, Sol Aaron, fought as a partisan in the Lithuanian forest beside the legendary leader Abba Kovner. For our 2023 Yom HaShoah v'Hagevura program Fern will speak about her mother, aunt and sister and how their fierce love contributed to their miraculous survival against all odds. Over the years, she has spoken about her parents’ experiences at Wagner College Holocaust Center, at I.S. (Youth Stand Up to Hate) and in other venues.
Since becoming the Chair of the Chai Society, whose mission includes the commitment “...to educate continuing generations on the ramifications of prejudice, antisemitism and racism in order to promote openness to all,” Fern has been a hands-on leader of vision and action. She lives in the Rockaways with her husband, David, whose guided tours at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC have illuminated many Wagner College students in Holocaust education over the years. Fern has participated in many significant events of the WCHC, including one program building bridges of Jewish and Black communities. In April 2022, she spoke poignantly at the opening of the Holocaust Education and Action Gallery at Wagner College. Fern gives of her time generously, whether to help plan and run a major event, to offer valuable feedback on grants, or to brainstorm future directions for the WCHC and Jewish Life at Wagner College. On behalf of Wagner College, we offer our deepest congratulation to Fern on her nomination for the L’dor v’dor award. The award is named in honor of the first woman president of the Staten Island’s JCC’s Board of Directors, Nancy Avis, mother of long-term Chai Society member and former devoted Chairs, Dr. Victor and Kim Avis.
We are truly fortunate to benefit from Fern’s wisdom and leadership.
Fern Zagor visiting the WCHC Holocaust Center with Judy Batalion, author of Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos (Deckle Edge Press, 2021).