Posted by Samara Hutman
Tonight is mid-stream Chanukah and Thanksgiving is behind us. In the end, I'm not sure the confluence of the two birthed any physical or spiritual properties for my family or me.
What tugs at me tonight, as the sixth candle has done its job on window sills and in kitchens and dining rooms around the world, is the grand canyon between the mid-stream Chanukah story and the mid-stream communal conversation sparked by the Pew Study.
Surely computer screens are still burning bright tonight and a simple search will turn up countless interpretations of this effort to quantify and predict the possibly ineffable trending of American Jewish Identity.
The Chanukah story has always held great power for me, especially the interpretation that highlights the borderline foolish optimism that allowed the Hasmoneans to go for broke and use the week's oil ration on the first night, trusting and believing that scarcity would somehow be trumped by plenty.
And they were rewarded. Not only did they get eight nights, they also got to encounter the sublime. The presence of G-d, the almighty, a miracle of beneficence and bounty, a rebuttal to the scarcity model, and a confirmation that their optimism was not, in the end, foolish at all, but saturated to the core with a belief in what is possible when you allow your heart to trump and transcend data. This much oil. Only lasts so long. Will Only Burn Until.... But no, actually.
Sometimes the greatest moments in life outrun stats and astound us, actually move us to our core. And these are the stories that recruit us to enlist in this great story and find our part to play. What are we called to? What are we called for? What part will we play in the story of this complex and beautiful and troubled world? Who are we as human beings and as Jews, as women and as men.
I am a product of intermarriage and it pained me to sit in my synagogue and listen to a sociologist unravel the data only to feel that somehow I was understood to be part of the problem and not part of the solution. Whenever the intermarriage conversation comes up, I find myself wondering if "they" know any of "us" are in the room.
So, as we move toward night 7, I want to join those oil-spendthrift optimists and imagine a future that is not supported by current data but by the ancient story of the Jewish People, a people of stories extraordinary in their teachings, their offerings and their luminous windows on human possibility and endeavor. A future where the children of intermarriage have a role to play as they offer themselves up to be a part of the story.
This Chanukah, I hope the metaphoric essence of this magical oil might drip a drop or two onto the crisp white pages of this new study and sully it just enough to add a bit of glistening Midrash in the margins and with it a luminous teaching.
And in those oily smudges, the encrypted message might be:
Look far, far back,as far back as we can see, and reckon with the fact that the Jewish people have oft, actually always, been up against it, facing persecution and struggle that has taken many forms. Sometimes from the outside in and sometimes from the inside out. Oppressions of such magnitude that on reviewing the "data" it seems impossible that the Jewish people continued but at each juncture, from hardship to degradation to near successful attempts at all out erasure, we have astonishingly, not only survived but emerged with our humanity and our soulful tenderness intact.
Look at the way the droplets of oil make golden parchment of plain white paper, shiny illuminated windows through which we can see the light of Chanukah miracles advertised.
Look at the way the Chanukah oil could soften the hard data as it does an onion skin. First, hard, crisp and opaque. But touched by the oil, it can be softened, sweetened and made translucent and porous. A document with windows that expose the light and encourage us to tell our real story to the world. Not one of "the end" predicted by statistical analysis but one of endless beginnings after events that would, and should, by sheer data, have been the end, over and over, since the beginning of time.
12.4.13 at 4:33 pm |
2.25.13 at 10:59 am |
2.4.13 at 4:25 pm | The world needs to RSVP the power of one—plus. . .
1.25.13 at 3:03 pm | My father Sam’s Yahrtzeit falls between January. . .
12.25.12 at 2:01 pm | Samara Hutman was recently appointed Executive. . .
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2.4.13 at 4:25 pm | The world needs to RSVP the power of one—plus. . . (3)
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February 25, 2013 | 10:59 am
Posted Ashley Gleitman Waterman
“Man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
- William Faulkner, speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1950
As soon as I walked through the large double doors with my grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, we were overwhelmed by a flood of friendly faces. “Irwin, how are you doing this week? I haven’t heard from you in a few days,” asked Eva, another survivor, and one of my grandparents’ best friends with whom they speak almost every day. But as soon as I gave Eva a hug, my grandma Freda was already busy shuttling me in a different direction, exclaiming, “You remember Gita – we were two of seven Holocaust survivor women who were finally bat mitzvahed at the age of 64!”
My grandparents truly feel at home in this community of survivors who have experienced the worst atrocities ever committed by mankind. As I witnessed the expressions of joy and happiness around the room, I felt bubbling within me the greatest of all human emotions – that of hope. Even the horror of the Holocaust had not vanquished the human spirit. The faces in the room bore testament to the fact that man has not merely endured, he has prevailed.
On this day, we were celebrating the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) 20th anniversary at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California. A special ceremony of the flags of the US Army liberating divisions was performed to honor World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors. During the ceremony, the Director of the USHMM announced that there were 250 survivors in attendance, and she promised the survivors that the museum will always be there to preserve their memory. After asking my grandparents how they felt about the ceremony, my grandfather remarked, “After liberation we were told to forget about what happened. It took decades before the Jewish people in the United States recognized and accepted what survivors went through and what we lost. I’m grateful that they finally acknowledged our experiences and built a national museum to perpetuate memory.”
My grandparents’ hope is that generations of Holocaust survivor descendants will ensure that such an important chapter in human history is never forgotten. The survivors’ hope, courage, and will to prevail have moved me to take action. Under the aegis of Remember Us and as a PresenTense Fellow, I am developing a project called Tell and Retell that will train third generation Holocaust survivors to share their grandparents' stories with children and teenagers in the Los Angeles area. Through gatherings, professional development, and mentorship from writers, artists, and those experienced in transmitting life stories, a community of grandchildren of survivors will be given the opportunity to share their grandparents' experiences and help sustain the legacy of Holocaust memory.
As a third generation survivor, I recognize how challenging it will be to educate my children and grandchildren about the Holocaust when my grandparents’ generation is no longer with us. That is why I am so compelled to do my part to create skilled and passionate Holocaust educators who will be around in the absence of the survivor community. At the USHMM 50th anniversary, there may not be any survivors left in the room, but I hope that we, the descendants will be there to carry the torch.
Ashley Gleitman Waterman is a Board Member of Remember Us. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education & Spanish Literature from Emory University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Columbia University. Ashley currently works at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. Her previous professional experience includes working at a non-profit for patients with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, leading HIV prevention programs in Togo, West Africa and in Harlem, New York, participating in a Fulbright teaching Fellowship in Spain, and creating a documentary on grassroots media during Apartheid in South Africa.
February 4, 2013 | 4:25 pm
Posted by Cece Feiler
The world needs to RSVP the power of one—plus one. Even Sir Richard Branson has acknowledged that the success of his Virgin brand comes from working with others--the "We" factor. Granted, individuals can have great ideas, but they become real with the partnership of others. Which leads me to Remember Us and The Righteous Conversations Project. We are committed to partnering with all organizations who understand the importance of Holocaust survivors passing on their stories to the next generation and the power of the "We“. We have been able to reach a larger audience by working together. One great example of this is when we invited Hope for Heroism to bring ten Israeli soldiers visiting Los Angeles to one of our events.
My mother Helen Freeman, a 91-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, was at the event. When the soldiers met her they all hugged her and with tears in their eyes began to sing Am Yisrael Chai. This brought tears to my mother’s eyes and she said, "I lived to meet you, to thank you for protecting our Jewish State.” One of the soldiers shared with her that his grandmother who recently passed away was also a survivor of Auschwitz and had never shared her stories with him. He was so grateful and moved to talk to my mother about her experiences, something he felt had been missing from his own Jewish narrative.
Who would think that a few weeks later I would have an e-mail forwarded to me from that same Israeli soldier. He wanted my mother to know how much it meant to him to meet her, and how much she inspired him. He wrote about when he was back in Israel and went to a hospital to visit a survivor there. When he looked for her he found her sleeping on a bed in the hallway, barely covered by a thin blanket. He tried to arrange a private room for the woman. He covered her with more blankets and made sure she was comfortable. He learned that she had no family, and from that moment on he made a commitment to continue to visit her. He now felt that he had a new meaning in life--to learn her story and ensure she would never be forgotten. Survivor of the Holocaust to injured veteran of Israeli war, finding a reason why they are alive.
“We” reached out and as a result impacted our community, and now the Israeli community. We must actively connect to be partners in our work; to honor the survivors and their stories, to battle intolerance, and to give support to victims of hatred in the present day.
Cece Feiler is the current Board President of Remember Us and Co-founder (with her daughter Jamie and a small group of Harvard-Westlake students and mothers) of The Righteous Conversations Project. She holds an MA from USC in Counseling and Psychology and was a practicing Marriage and Family Therapist for over 15 years. She is now a member of the newly formed Resnick Neuropsychiatric Board at UCLA. Feiler is a longtime active supporter of The Jewish Federation, including the last 14 years as a Lion of Judah. As the child of Holocaust survivors, and in their honor, Cece has been passionately involved in passing the history, the relevance and the important lessons to the next generation.
January 25, 2013 | 3:03 pm
Posted by Samara Hutman
My father Sam’s Yahrtzeit falls between January 27th, the International Holocaust Memorial Day adopted by The United Nations in 2005, and Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day established in 1951 by the Knesset. For 49 years I thought my father died on the 9th of February, 1962, but learned last year when my cousin emailed me a picture of his grave that he had died on the 11th. I was born on the 9th of November of the same year, and it had always felt meaningful to me that I was born exactly nine months after his death. I now know it was nine months and two days, yet the meaning still holds.
Nine months: the accepted gestation of a human life that shows its presence as an electric beat even before there is a heart to hold it. The fact that I entered the world as a beat without a heart just as his heart stopped beating has always filled me with a sense of the relay of life. We’re here to make meaning in the short time we’re given, and at the end of our passionate sprint and just as we are running out of steam we hand the baton to the next person who is waiting expectantly, pure nascent longing to burst out and into their own stretch clutching the baton. I remember the intramural games in grade school. What it felt like to know that there was someone up ahead waiting for the baton, your teammate, your kin, waiting to rip the baton out of your hands and take it home to the exhilaration of victory or, if not, at least the satisfaction of an effort, in community. And, too, what it felt like to wait for the baton to arrive, how you could feel your feet running even as you stood stock still in wait as you watched your fellow sprinter run toward you with all their might and hope, and next, how you could feel the baton in your own hands before you even touched it just by connecting with your teammate’s fast approaching gaze.
We live at an important time in post-Holocaust history. In Los Angeles, the second largest Holocaust survivor community in our country and the fifth in the world, we live, we Jews and Christians and Buddhists and Muslims and atheists, with our heartbeats as common ground. We live among and aside an extraordinary group of elders—those who can, if they choose to and are able, speak to us in real time about this chapter in modern history that is unprecedented and lifetimes later still equally incomprehensible and heartbreaking.
And it is they who hold the baton now, some standing still in wait of the right invitation to reveal for the first time, and others more seasoned who hit the roads from morning to night, from museums to classrooms to meetings. They carry with them totes that contain their material evidence—a document, a newspaper clipping of their story, a book they have written, and if they are lucky, a photo or two. They do this with one goal in their heart, as child survivor Eva Brettler who paraphrases Elie Wiesel explains, “to speak for their family members and friends and neighbors who cannot speak for themselves.”
This year, in the days around January 27th and Yom HaShoah, reach out to hear the voices of legacy and offer up your heart and your conscience to be changed and emboldened. At the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and The Shoah Institute, at The Museum of Tolerance and in synagogues and churches, at colleges and universities, and at local libraries and community centers. Find your place in this story.