Holocaust Museum to Reopen Doors

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMH), dubbed the “Wandering Jew of the Community” by one survivor, has lost one more rented home, found interim shelter in another, but is dreaming of a permanent place of its own.

Led by a self-described “quixotic” physician as chairman and a feisty executive director, the museum is fighting tenaciously for its survival and insists that it fulfills a needed mission in Los Angeles and in Holocaust education.

The odds facing the hard-pressed LAMH include its proximity to the high-profile Simon Wiesenthal Center-Museum of Tolerance, diminishing financial backing from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and declining involvement by the Holocaust survivors who founded the museum.

Yet, there are hopeful signs. Executive Director Rachel Jagoda has sent out a flurry of grant proposals and has been rewarded with a $100,000 check from the Annenberg Foundation and lesser sums from three other foundations and a German bank. Best of all has been a $3 million pledge from highly respected Holocaust survivor, who wishes to remain anonymous, earmarked as the building block for a permanent museum.

It is the dream of Jagoda and chairman Dr. Gary Schiller that the structure might rise on city-owned land in the midtown Pan Pacific Park, next to the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument.

The museum had its beginning in 1961, when a group of survivors donated artifacts from their concentration camp experiences and founded what was then known as the Los Angeles Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust.

The first home was a single room in The Jewish Federation building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. In 1978, the museum took over an entire floor of the building, and the space expansion allowed it to add extensive exhibits and photo displays, archives and a resource center, in addition to initiating tours and programs for the public and students.

As space in the building became tighter, the museum moved to various other floors, each time to smaller quarters, Jagoda said. In the late 1990s, when The Federation had to temporarily evacuate 6505 to repair earthquake damage, the museum and the community library rented a small separate building on Wilshire’s museum row.

There the museum staged a number of well-received displays, most recently an exhibit on the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, which attracted 5,000 visitors.

The staff and volunteers also expanded the mentor and educational programs at about 60 public and private schools, mostly in the inner city, involving about 2,500 middle and senior high school students.

Early this year, the landlord announced that he was converting the museum building to condos and evicted the tenants. Left homeless, the museum was forced to close its doors March 1 and put the exhibits in storage.

After much frantic scrambling, LAHM signed a lease to take over the street floor of the ORT Building at 6435 Wilshire Blvd., next to The Federation headquarters. There, the redesigned museum is expected to open in June or July.

In the past few years, as annual Federation support for the museum dropped from $189,000 to $120,000 to the current $60,000, relations have soured.

Now facing annual expenses of $400,000 for operations, rent and a three-person staff, the museum leadership has its work cut out. Schiller pins some of his hopes on the Hollywood community, with whom he is planning a major fund raiser.

However, the museum’s support from survivors, its original base, keeps going down. Except for the $3 million pledge, “they haven’t stepped up to the plate,” Jagoda said.

Dr. Samuel Goetz, a survivor and chairman of the museum board from 1995-1999, countered that many of the most active survivors have died, and that others have become frustrated by the museum’s lack of continuity.

A more fundamental question is whether at a time when giving to Jewish communal institutions is flat and demands in Israel and at home are rising, if support for the Holocaust museum is money well spent.

Schiller vigorously answers in the affirmative. The 40-year-old hematologist and oncologist at the UCLA Medical Center, and a noted researcher in leukemia and bone marrow transplants, draws on his own practice for an analogy.

“I am frequently asked why we should spend money to save the life of a 60-year-old cancer patient, when there are millions of kids who haven’t been vaccinated,” he said. “I answer that it’s not one or the other. We have the financial resources to do both.”

As cities with much smaller Jewish populations have shown, there is enough money for a first-rate Holocaust museum, community centers and other needs, if the whole community is involved, rather than relying mainly on a handful of big-time philanthropists, who are hit up for every cause, Jagoda argued.

Nor does Schiller believe that the Wiesenthal Center, whose work he admires, obviates the need for a community Holocaust museum.

“The Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance are nonsectarian and deal with universal discrimination and genocides,” he said. “We are focused purely on the Holocaust. We have strong relationships with schools and colleges, and we reach out to parts of Los Angeles nobody else reaches.”

For information, contact Rachel Jagoda at (323) 651-3704or visit www.lamuseumoftheholocaust.org .

Dream a Little Dream

Joseph’s life is linked to dreams from his youth, and the way in which he responds to dreams reflects the level of his maturity.

As a boy, he delights in using his dreams to torture his brothers and triumph over them. While he never interprets these dreams, their meaning is so clear as to need no expert reading. Indeed, everyone who hears him relate these dreams knows he is using them to raise himself over others.

His next dream encounter is in an Egyptian jail where he tells Pharoah’s chief butler and baker the meaning of their dreams. Here we find a maturing, but not yet mature, Joseph. He says to them: "Do not interpretations belong to God?" (Genesis 40:9) This is a statement reflecting newfound humility. He realizes that dreams come from God and that only God can reveal their meaning. Having said this, however, he then says, "Relate it to me," as if he were God! While realizing the need to go beyond ego, Joseph is not ready to actually do so.

When Joseph is brought before Pharaoh and asked to interpret the king’s dreams, however, he does so from a very deep and spiritually mature place: "That is beyond me; it is God who will respond to Pharaoh’s welfare." (Genesis 41:16) There are two points that must be made regarding this text.

First, to be able to say "that is beyond me" is the key to spiritual life. It is the affirmation of the surrender that is needed if we are to realize God and godliness in our lives. It is the equivalent of Jacob’s "God is in this place and I did not know." (Genesis 28:16) These are both expressions of surrender. Joseph’s "I cannot do it" and his father’s "I cannot know it" are reflections of a level of spiritual awakening that reveals the limits of self and the limitlessness of God.

Second, to recognize that "it is God who will respond to Pharaoh’s welfare" is to realize that even when we seek to do good, we must realize that we are merely vehicles for God. Thus, we should take no pride in doing good, for that is why we were born. The Torah is not saying that we should ignore the needs of others and let God take care of things (Joseph certainly does not do this), but rather that even as we go about caring for others, we should not let that feed our ego. We should let it envelop us in a greater gratefulness that we are privileged to serve. We are not caring for others. Rather, God is caring for them through us.

Here, then, is the key to living spiritually: Knowing what is beyond and allowing God to respond. The first puts the ego in its proper place; the second allows it to be used for the proper purpose.

But we would be remiss to stop here and not take up the issue of dreaming itself. The talmudic sages tell us that prophecy is a small component of dreams. They come from God and speak to godliness, though they do so in a manner that is far from prophetic clarity. Where do they come from? What do they mean? How shall we use them?

Some dreams are simply the mind processing the day’s events. Others are the cold pizza you ate during Letterman or Leno. These dreams are most often nonsensical. They do not stay with you. Yet, there are other dreams that you cannot dismiss no matter how hard you try. These dreams come from the soul.

There is a game children play where one child closes his eyes and tries to find a ball the other children have hidden. As he moves closer to the goal they call out words of encouragement, as he moves farther away from it they call out words of despair. Dreams are like this. The goal is God. When you are moving closer to God in your thoughts, words and deeds, the dream sends word of encouragement. When you are moving further away, the dream shouts out words of warning.

No one can tell you for certain what your own dream is saying. All you can do is carry it with you and ask God. If you do this sincerely and humbly, you will know. If you do this sincerely and humbly, your very asking of God will move you closer to God. Your response to the dream will make the dream a voice for good.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is director of The Simply Jewish Foundation,