The work involved in commemorating the Shoah has evolved from collecting documents about the victims to telling the stories of the people behind those documents, a director of Yad Vashem recently told a Los Angeles luncheon gathering.
Haim Gertner, director of the Archives Division at Yad Vashem, spoke on the subject of “Does the Holocaust Matter Anymore?” at the March 7 event in the Brentwood office of the American Society for Yad Vashem (ASYV). The son of a Holocaust survivor, who holds a doctorate in modern Jewish history from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Gertner discussed the museum’s efforts to identify, document and provide a name for every victim of the Holocaust.
“So today, instead of only having one piece of information about the death of someone, we are collecting all pieces of information,” he told the small gathering of ASYV staff members. “And by that, more and more, you have pieces that tell the life story of a person. It is a lively, ongoing project. Every month, we add tens of thousands of new entries of information.”
Gertner said that documenting the history of the Shoah in increasingly sophisticated ways — such as using innovative technology to sift through artifacts, data and photos to uncover names for the 1.5 million victims who remain unknown — becomes a greater part of the museum’s mission as the survivor generation dies off.
“In the post-survivor generation, we have to find ways to be relevant to younger people,” he said.
Two moral imperatives frame his work, he said: Collecting material from the Holocaust and sharing the findings with the world.
Attendees at the gathering included Michael Fisher, director of the American desk of the International Relations Division at Yad Vashem; Ron Meier, ASYV’s executive director; and Bill Bernstein, director of institutional advancement for the ASYV Western Region.
During a Q-and-A session following his presentation, Gertner was asked what can be done to address the uptick in Holocaust denial and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
“This is one of the reasons why there is a necessity to use the historical case, this unique historical case of the Shoah, in order to be aware of the fact that things like that can happen,” he said.
Yad Vashem, based in Jerusalem, is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It draws more than 1 million visitors annually. Working with partners, the museum has “collected and recorded the names and biographical details of millions of victims of systematic anti-Jewish persecution during the Holocaust,” its website says.
To date, the museum has collected documentation on more than 4.5 million victims, accessible on a database on the museum website.
“The names of nearly one-and-a-half million victims remain unknown,” the website says, “and time is running out.”
IKAR’s “Stranger Purim” party and spiel, held on Feb. 28 at Busby’s East, a Mid-Wilshire sports bar, was one of dozens of local Purim celebrations to take place over the course of the holiday.
The theme of the party played off the hit sci-fi Netflix show “Stranger Things” while the gathering embodied the progressive, social justice-oriented spirit of the egalitarian spiritual community. During the spiel, attendees used boxes of dry macaroni as groggers, which were then to be donated to the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program operated by Jewish Family Service.
IKAR Director of Community Organizing Brooke Wirtschafter handed out 100 red tote bags filled with Band-Aids, snacks, toiletries, socks, a baseball cap and other items for attendees to distribute on their own time to homeless people. The homeless survival kits were ordered from Los Angeles attorney Albert Cohen, who has been overseeing distribution of the kits as part of a broad Jewish community effort, Wirtschafter said.
The event, which had “Stranger Things” paraphernalia decorating the walls, motivated IKAR clergy to fly their inner freak flags. Chazzan and Music Director Hillel Tigay impersonated Mick Jagger while dancing to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” Associate Rabbi Ronit Tsadok performed a choreographed dance to the music of the Spice Girls and Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous dressed up as a zombie. The nonclergy got strange, too: Local environmentalist Steven Wynbrandt dressed up as Ali G, Noah Schechter came as Charlie Chaplin and Zack Lodmer wore a gorilla costume.
After the spiel, the event organizers cleared out the chairs and the party began as many hit the dance floor, drank and schmoozed. For those not into dancing, there was limbo, a miniature golf course and a photo booth. And there was plenty of pizza, potato skins and corn on the cob to eat.
Other Purim celebrations included a March 2 convening of Yavneh Hebrew Academy students with Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, and a March 1 Megillah reading with Rabbi Berel Yemini of the Chabad Israel Center at the Verizon campus in Playa Vista.
The David Labkovski Project’s second annual Scholar’s Luncheon — held Feb. 25 at the Courtyard Marriot in Sherman Oaks — honored Arizona State University automotive systems engineering major Josh Shane and de Toledo High School senior Gabrielle Vanderlaan.
The two honorees received the Legacy of Hope Award in recognition of their “exemplary contributions to the David Labkovski Project,” said Leora Raikin, Labkovski’s great-niece and the Project’s executive director.
Bernd Wollschlaeger, who at the age of 14 discovered his father was a Nazi during World War II served as the keynote
According to its website, the David Labkovski Project advances knowledge of the Holocaust and Jewish history by introducing students to the artwork of Labkovski, who survived both the Gulag and Nazi persecution.
Some of the late artist’s paintings were put on display from Feb. 12–28 at an exhibition, “Documenting History Through Art,” sponsored by Hillel 818 at Cal-State Northridge.
Big Sunday held its third annual gala on March 8 at Candela La Brea in the Mid-Wilshire district and honored Big Sunday participant Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the classic sitcom “Friends,” and health care provider Kaiser Permanente, a longtime supporter.
“I believe in exponential giving, where one gives to a certain organization, and that gift then goes on to a larger audience, touching an incredible amount of people, who then go on to touch the lives of even more people,” Kauffman said in a statement. “Big Sunday is that kind of organization, one that has grown exponentially and continues to positively impact more and more people.”
Kauffman became involved with Big Sunday — which connects people through volunteer opportunities — soon after the organization launched in 1999.
Today, Big Sunday is one of the largest volunteer-driven organizations in the country. Its annual Big Sunday Weekend, which actually takes place over the course of a month, draws thousands of people to volunteer projects across Southern California. The organization, which started as a Mitzvah Day at Temple Israel of Hollywood and grew under the leadership of David Levinson, its founder and executive director, also offers year-round volunteer opportunities, including school beautifications, neighborhood cleanups and bingo games with seniors.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its 23rd annual Deborah Awards dinner March 7 at the SLS hotel in Beverly Hills.
The event raised $350,000 to help the ADL combat racism and bigotry, and honored four women who have exemplified ADL ideals and values in their respective professions and civic contributions, an ADL statement said.
The honorees were Deborah Feinerman, executive vice president of business affairs and legal at Paramount Pictures; Andrea Fluczynski, executive vice president and chairwoman at Sotheby’s Americas; Jihee Kim Huh, vice chairwoman at Pacific American Fish Company; and Nichol Whiteman, executive director of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation. All the honorees, who shared their personal stories, were either immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants.
The honoress were presented with their awards by Paramount Pictures General Counsel Rebecca Prentice; filmmaker, writer and actress Susan Nimoy; LA84 Foundation President and CEO Renata Simril; State Treasurer John Chiang; and ADL Senior Vice President Sharon Nazarian. Television personality AJ Gibson served as the emcee.
The Deborah Award, which the ADL gives out every year to extraordinary women in the professional and civic communities, is named for the biblical prophetess, Deborah, who was noted for her courage, wisdom and leadership.