An Evening with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute

The USC Shoah Foundation Institute is a very special place to me.  My years working there were the highlight of my professional career, but it was so much more.  It is where I went through a divorce, raised my son, became a phenomenal mother, landed on my feet, embraced my faith, defined my relationship with God, and fought my demons.  It was my home.

In 1994, after completing the film Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg established the Shoah Foundation to collect and preserve the video testimonies of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust.  Steven envisioned that the eyewitness accounts could have a profound effect on education, and survivors could be teachers of humanity.

My first job at the Institute was in the Quality Assurance Department.  I supervised interviewers in New York, Canada and Israel, making sure they allowed the witnesses the best opportunity to tell their stories, in their own words, in an environment that made them feel safe.  It was a remarkable job that allowed me the honor of watching many testimonies.

When I started there were 5000 interviews conducted, and when I left there were over 50,000, in 34 languages, from 57 countries. By the end of my time there, I was the Director of Special Events and oversaw the fundraising and special events for the organization.  I travelled the world and met people who are still a part of my life today.

I did not know a lot about the Holocaust when I started my job at the Institute, but by the time I left, the Holocaust had shaped my life.  The work we did back in the beginning was remarkable and I reflect on all we accomplished with both pride and amazement.  I have a connection to faith that I don’t think I would of gotten had it not been for that job.

Last week I went to the Shoah Foundation Institute’s fundraising gala and it was a night I will not soon forget, for a lot of reasons.  The work they are doing goes beyond the Holocaust.  Their mission is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry – and the suffering they cause – through the educational use of the Institute’s visual history testimonies.

That one man had this vision, and has taken it to the place it is now, is nothing short of a miracle.  I am very proud to have played a role in Steven’s vision.  Proud as a mother, a Jew, and a human being.  There is still suffering in the world and the Institute is a living memorial of what was, what is, and what must be looked at and stopped.  Now.

I encourage you all to visit the USC Shoah Foundation Institute online and learn about what they are doing.  You do not need to be a Jew, but you do need to have a compassionate heart and a desire to change the world.  I am not only a former employee, but also a member, as is my child.  It is my honor to be a part of the legacy that began so long ago.

The event last week was fabulous.  The décor was elegant and the food was divine.  The honoree was Bob Iger who was gracious and charming. The host for the evening was Jimmy Kimmel, who was hilarious but appropriate. The entertainment was provided by Mary J. Blige and there are simply no words for her. Mary was perfection and I loved her performance.

The evening moved quickly and was entertaining, inspiring, thought provoking, and important.  It was lovely to be included and my dedication to the mission of the Institute has been renewed.  From the words of Steven Spielberg, to those of Stephen Smith, the Institute’s Executive Director, you could not be in the room and not want to make a difference.

2014 will mark the 20th anniversary of The USC Shoah Foundation Institute.  It is amazing how fast time has flown by and also how much the world has both changed and stayed the same.  The Institute reminds us to put aside our differences and focus on what unites us.  We must be decent, kind, tolerant, and aware of each other.

As a mother I have raised my child to know about the history of our faith and while important, it is not enough.  It is my obligation to teach him what is happening in the world, and for him to know that while our life is blessed and happy, our greatest joy will come in making change, remembering our history, and working to allow those in pain to keep the faith.