Resistance and rescuers: Holocaust books for kids

When children approach their parents with inevitable questions about death, divorce, homosexuality or how babies are made, adults often turn to books to find the right words to start the discussion. The same is true of another sensitive subject that defies simple explanation: the Holocaust. There are a few thousand memoirs, biographies and novels for young people on the Holocaust published around the world, and surprisingly, more than 100 picture books, too. It is clearly a popular subject.

The first foray into the delicate topic in picture-book format was successfully attempted by the distinguished children’s author Eve Bunting with her 1980 title, “Terrible Things.” Although the author states it is about the Holocaust, she presents an allegory depicting forest animals that are carried away, one species after another, by an unseen evil force. She quotes Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who long ago noted, “[T]hen they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” Librarians and teachers complained loudly when this book went out of print, and since the 1989 reissue, it is often used as a jumping-off point to discuss any 20th century genocide. 

The second oft-used picture book was published the following year by noted author and survivor Gerda Weissmann Klein and titled “Promise of a New Spring: The Holocaust and Renewal.” (The title is now out of print.) It is also allegorical, this time using images of nature and nature’s renewal after a forest fire. But this slim book was the first to contain a few stark black-and-white photos and other images of the Nazi era. It took a few more years, but in 1987, David Adler, another popular children’s author, who has since written many more books dealing with the Holocaust, published “The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm,” which is still in print today and serves as the single easiest access introductory book for children under 10 years old. This moving, photo-illustrated 28-page story tells of a young girl who notices a tattooed number on her beloved Grandpa’s arm that he has been attempting to keep hidden from her. She simply asks, “What’s that?” The girl is 7 years old, and her grandfather imparts just enough information to answer the question properly, but not enough to frighten her. The book ends on the comforting photo of the relieved grandfather finally allowing the number on his arm to be in full view as he does dishes in the kitchen.

So how does one access information about horrific events if one is a child? The 100-plus picture books are simply a beginning. (About 80 have been published in North America.) Some of them are in no way appropriate for grade-school children and are considered to belong to the genre librarians call “Illustrated Books for Older Readers.” They are useful when read aloud to middle and high school students as introductions to Holocaust studies and for discussion starters. These many titles can be separated into a variety of different categories, such as allegories, biographies or historical fiction, but by far the most populous category is the one extolling the virtues of rescuers or resistance fighters. This subset of the literature is full of heroes and heroines, Jewish and non-Jewish, who defy the evil in their midst and leave readers feeling hopeful after their first confrontations with the reality of genocide.

In fact, titles from dozens of children’s book publishers include books about various non-Jews harboring secret Jews in basements, French resistance fighters celebrating a Passover seder, nuns rescuing Jews, Muslims rescuing Jews, Danes rescuing Jews and even Jews rescuing other Jews in astonishing and historically accurate ways. “Rose Blanche,” by Italian artist Roberto Innocenti is the most widely known book dealing with the subject of Righteous Gentiles, and it has been translated into many languages, including Chinese. This is due to the depth and detail of Innocenti’s remarkable paintings that follow an innocent young German girl who stumbles upon a concentration camp near her village. In the book leaf to the 1991 American edition of Rose Blanche,” Innocenti wrote, “I wanted to illustrate how a child experiences war without really understanding it. After drawing the first page I chose Rose Blanche’ as its title because of the significance of the name. Rose Blanche was a group of young German citizens protesting the war. They had understood what others wanted to ignore. They were all killed. In this book fascism is a day-to-day reality. Only the victims and the little girl have known its real face.”

Coincidentally, the year 2011 saw the publication of two illustrated books for older readers about the Polish Catholic social worker Irena Sendler, a woman who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, gave them false identity papers and placed their true names in jars under an apple tree in a neighbor’s backyard. In 1943, she was imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, but she refused to betray either the children or any associates who had helped her. She died in 2008 at the age of 98, after receiving numerous honors. The books, “Irena’s Jars of Secrets,” by Marcia Vaughan, and “Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto,” by Los Angeles author Susan Goldman Rubin, are both 40-page biographies of this courageous woman, richly illustrated with dark oil paintings. Both authors are to be commended for including extensive author’s source notes and resources for further reading, including Web sites and other media. Vaughan’s book contains less text and simpler vocabulary than Rubin’s, and would therefore be suitable for a younger audience. She also includes a useful glossary and pronunciation guide. Both books would serve as an admirable entry into the difficult subject of the Holocaust for any child in fifth grade and up.

The Sydney Taylor Book Award for the best book for Jewish Children is announced each January by the Association of Jewish Libraries. This year, two excellent nonfiction Holocaust books for older readers have been awarded prizes: “Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust” and “His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II,” by Louise Borden. Both books prove that more can be said about this subject in new ways. These are not picture books. Each one is meticulously designed and researched, showing that nonfiction can be compelling and readable. Borden chooses an unusual prose format that may be off-putting to some but quite appealing to others. She presents Wallenberg’s biographical story through numerous historical photos, limited text and much white space. The text reads more like the lyrical styling of poetry rather than straight-out narration. It is divided into 15 chapters that highlight the Swedish diplomat’s commitment to rescuing Jewish people in Budapest during the war. Sydney Taylor Book Award committee chair Aimee Lurie commented that “ ‘His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg’ shows how the courageous actions of one person, despite tremendous obstacles, can make a difference. Louise Borden’s well researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression.” (In 2006, Borden’s “The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margaret and H.A. Rey” also won a Sydney Taylor award.)

Teen readers can say goodbye to the suggestion that Jews went silently to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter. Doreen Rappaport’s 240-page book for young adults, “Beyond Courage,” honors the memories of Jewish victims through 18 separate absorbing accounts of Jewish resistance. Some names, like Abba Kovner, Mordechai Anielewicz or Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, may be familiar. Most are not, and some have never previously been written about for teens. The appealing design, placement of maps and photographs, deliberate organization and well-written text show the immense amount of research and skill Rappaport brings to this six-year-long project. Her introduction previews the types of stories she ably relates throughout the book: “Jews refused to renounce their religion and celebrated their holidays in secret, improvising essential ritual objects. They set up secret schools, giving their children hope for the future. They collected diaries, testimonies, art and photographs so the rest of the world would have a record of what had happened. They became expert forgers, providing other Jews with new identification and ration cards so they would not starve. They devised ingenious plans to smuggle children out of danger, to find hiding places for them and to take them across mountains and through barbed wire to safe countries.”  

This is not a book to read in one sitting. “Beyond Courage” has been highly praised throughout children’s literary circles from the moment of its publication. Receiving starred reviews in major publications (Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly and more), it was often mentioned as a possible contender for the Newbery award, the highest children’s literature honor awarded by the American Library Association. (It did not win.) The value of all this publicity is that libraries and schools across the nation acquired this important title, and now Holocaust sections everywhere include these factual and significant stories of Jewish resistance under Nazi occupation. 

Another multiple award winner, “Hana’s Suitcase,” is one of the most celebrated Holocaust books for young readers and was recently reissued by Second Story Press.  In 2002, it won the Sydney Taylor Book Award and then went on to garner nine more literary honors, including the National Jewish Book Award and the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year. It tells the remarkable true story of a battered suitcase sent by curators from the museum at Auschwitz to a small Japanese Holocaust museum in Tokyo. The haunting presence of the suitcase (discovered to have belonged to Hana Brady, a young Czech girl murdered by the Nazis), brings together a group of present-day Japanese children, a heroic Japanese educator and a Holocaust survivor in Toronto, who turns out to be Hana’s brother.  It is suitable for ages 10 and up. 

This book has been published in 45 countries, produced as a play and made into three different documentaries. Its author, Karen Levine, along with Holocaust survivor George Brady and Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center director Fumiko Ishioka, have traveled to many of those 45 countries in the past 10 years, comprising what Levine calls “a remarkable decade.” They retell the life story of young Hana Brady, the suitcase from Auschwitz with her name on it and a young Japanese woman’s relentless search for answers. The new 2012 edition, titled “Hana’s Suitcase Anniversary Album,” serves as a compelling addition to the original text. The first part reprints the original book, and the additional album material contains more than 60 new pages of pictures and stories of what happened after the initial publication. There is also a section called “Things You Can Do” and a chapter simply named “Reflections,” consisting of songs, poems and pictures written by kids in response to their first hearing of the story. Tucked into the back of the book is a documentary CD produced by Levine for Canadian Broadcasting Radio One. This beloved true story, artfully assembled in this new album format, is again ready to impact a new generation of readers. 

The survivors are aging. Young people today may never have the opportunity to meet someone who lived through those horrifying years, so it is gratifying to know that excellent Holocaust books for youth with positive messages are still being published. Children will eventually learn more details of the atrocities if they so choose. But this type of Holocaust literature enables children to read compelling, heroic aspects of history, in addition to the stories of other courageous individuals who risked their own lives in the face of truly “terrible things.” 

Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library and the president of the Schools, Synagogues and Centers division of the Association of Jewish Libraries.

Tragedy in Sudan Spurs Local Action


On Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) gave a sermon on the tragedy of Sudan and what the Jewish community needs to do about it.

His proposed remedy: Start the Jewish World Watch (JWW), a commission of caring men and women that will monitor atrocities around the world by organizing educational evenings with international relations experts and raise money to help societies being ravaged by genocide.

“We wish to be educated, to know what atrocities lie out there and where they are,” Schulweis said in his sermon. “We wish to raise our voice, because we global Jews know that silence is lethal and meekness is inexcusable.”

After the sermon was publicized, clergy from different congregations, such as Sinai Temple, Kol Tikvah and Stephen S. Wise, contacted Schulweis and asked if they could get involved, too.

The result was the Inter-Synagogue World Watch Council, which is co-sponsoring JWW’s first event — a talk by Jerry Fowler, chair of the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., on “Genocide Emergency Sudan: Who Will Survive?” Fowler is an expert on Sudan who has traveled there several times.

In addition to the speech, JWW is also raising funds to build a medical clinic in Chad for Sudanese refugees. The clinic is expected to cost about $45,000 to build and will also serve as a rape counseling center and a food distribution center. After that, the JWW will raise money to dig a well in Chad, which is expected to cost about $3,000.

“The fact that it costs so little to build [the clinic] is probably a statement on the economy, as well as the medical conditions there,” said JWW Chair Janice Kaminer Reznik. “It’s a small amount of money for such a huge impact.”

Currently VBS has 100 of its members involved in JWW. In addition to raising funds and organizing functions, they have initiated letter-writing campaigns to the United Nations, which they say is ignoring the tragedy in Sudan; established a youth division that will provide speakers to youth groups; and started the sale of green ribbons to be worn as a symbol of solidarity with the people of Sudan. They are also planning a trip to Chad in 2005.

“This whole project was born out of the notion that ‘never again’ is supposed to mean ‘never again,'” Kaminer Reznik said. “But there have been other genocides since [the Holocaust], and it seems it just went over our heads. One of the main objectives of JWW is educating people in our position that there is this terrible thing happening that we can’t separate ourselves from, and that is what being Jewish is all about.”

Fowler will speak on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Skirball Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.

For more information about Jewish World Watch visit or e-mail


Yeshiva Spy Kid Videos Find a Niche

Eight-year-old Sruli Slodowitz from Pico-Robertson likes dressing up as his favorite hero; no, it is not Batman, Superman or even Harry Potter — but Agent Emes, “an ordinary kid with an extraordinary mission” who is the 11-year-old protagonist in a new mystery adventure video series for Jewish children.

Agent Emes (from the Ashkenazic pronunciation of the word emet — truth in Hebrew) learns in yeshiva by day and battles the forces of evil at night. As a yeshiva student he wears black pants, a white shirt and a yarmulke — at night, as Agent Emes, he dons a trench coat, fedora, mustache and sunglasses and he heads down to the Tov Me’od (Hebrew for very good) Headquarters by way of a revolving bookcase and foils the evil plans of Dr. Lo-Tov (Hebrew for no good).

The “Agent Emes” videos are the latest attempt to do what some educators and Jewish producers say is absolutely necessary in this visual age — to give children Jewish content in a language they understand: the media. While the Christian community has managed not only to entertain their own, but infiltrate the mainstream children’s video and film markets with funny series like the 3-D animated “Veggie Tales” series, which teaches theology and values to kids, the Jewish community is still struggling to find the money and vision to produce videos, DVDs and television shows that Jewish children will watch because they want to, not just because they have to.

“Jewish educational videos and DVDs for use in schools, camps or in Jewish homes are a very important complement to the other kind of learning that Jewish children engage in,” said professor Sara S. Lee, director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. “I think that the Jewish videos are good, but they can’t compete with the millions of dollars that are invested [in children’s shows] for PBS. That’s unrealistic.”

But people like Leibel Cohen, the Pittsburgh filmmaker who produces the “Agent Emes” series, or Jay Sanderson, the CEO of the Jewish Television Network (JTN) and the executive producer of JTN’s “Aleph… Bet… Blastoff” puppet series, which is broadcast on public television and sold as videos, think that the Jewish community can produce programming of which they don’t have to be embarrassed.

“I wanted to create something that was done on a professional quality level,” Cohen told The Journal. “What was out there until now [in Orthodox children’s entertainment] was very inexpensively produced, and recognizable as being subpar to the other programs that are out there. Within our obvious budget limitations, the ‘Agent Emes’ videos are well acted and professionally lit, and the sound is good and the writing is good.”

So far there are two episodes in the “Agent Emes” series: “The Fish Head,” where Agent Emes makes the world safe for shofar blowing by preventing Dr. Lo-Tov from creating rotten rams horns, and “Rabbi Napped,” where Agent Emes retrieves his kidnapped rebbe (teacher). Cohen’s son, Sholom Ber, plays the title role.

Cohen produced the videos for $20,000 each, and though they have a certain corny sweetness to them, it’s possible that children raised on visual diets of gargantuan budget productions like “Finding Nemo” or “Toy Story” will be unimpressed. Nevertheless, the nascent series is fast becoming a hit in Orthodox homes across America, and Cohen is hoping to market the series to Conservative and Reform homes and schools, as well.

Orthodox parents contacted for this article said their children watch the videos repeatedly, and the Agent Emes Web site guestbook has myriad testimonies from people all around the world who profess their love for the videos.

While “Agent Emes” is at the mid- to lower-budgetary scale of Jewish children’s entertainment and primarily aimed at Orthodox households, the “Aleph… Bet… Blastoff” series, which costs JTN about $100,000 per episode to produce, is on par with a program like “Sesame Street” and is specifically aimed at children who are less educated about their Jewish identity. In these videos, the Mitzvah Mouse sprinkles the puppet children with magical matzah meal and takes them on journeys to meet famous Jewish people, like Abraham and Maimonides, and teaches them lessons about why it is cool to be Jewish. Sanderson estimates that the shows have been watched by millions of children, and he thinks that the community should be producing more of them.

“Strong Jewish programming has a particular value, because it makes Jewish children feel like they are a part of something,” he said. “The Jewish community seems to have unlimited resources to spend on education, but it’s the same old, same old. Generally, the Jewish community just wants to build another day school, but 75 percent of Jewish kids are not even going to consider going to those schools. Who is going to reach those kids who sit in front of a TV? The Jewish community has been afraid and reticent to speak the language that kids want spoken, which is media and which will make them feel like their identity is important.”

For more information on Agent Emes, go to For more information on the Jewish Television Network, go to .

Hebrew, Anyone?

If you thought Hebrew school was just for bar and bat mitzvah students, think again. This fall, tens of thousands of Jews around the United States and Canada are learning to read and write Hebrew through Read Hebrew America/Canada. The campaign, which is made possible by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), a New York-based organization that provides Jewish educational opportunities, is now offering its annual free Hebrew crash course in Los Angeles and other cities across the country during the month of November.

“Hebrew is the language of the Jewish people, yet in America we don’t know if more than 20 or 25 percent of Jews can read it,” said Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, NJOP’s program director.

The organization created Read Hebrew America/Canada 16 years ago with hopes of combating this trend and helping Jews feel more connected to Judaism and Israel.

Classes are taught by volunteers, rabbis and Jewish educators and are being offered at more than 30 different locations around the Southland. The Level One Hebrew Reading Crash Course consists of five 60- to 90-minute classes. Each student receives a free textbook and is encouraged to practice at home for 15-20 minutes each day. Teachers use simple tactics like mnemonic devices to help readers memorize letters and sounds.

Additional Read Hebrew America/Canada classes include the Level Two Hebrew Reading Crash Course, the One-Day Review and the Hebrew Writing Crash Course.

“The idea is that this will make people feel better about themselves and more comfortable in synagogue,” Rosenbaum said. “If you can’t read Hebrew, you feel closed off from it.”

For information on local Read Hebrew America/Canada
classes and locations, call (800) 444-3273 or visit .

Taking the Chazan Home

When Josh Sharfman started tracking the number of hits on his year-old educational Web site,, he was struck by how many people were visiting the site on Shabbat.

It turned out that people who were shut-ins or who lived far from a shul were using his digitized voice to lead in-home Shabbat services. One man brought the recordings to his father’s hospital bed, while another woman used the site to learn the tunes so she would feel more comfortable in shul. A student in Florida taught himself the "Kol Nidre" and will lead campus services.

"There are e-mails and correspondence and gifts from all over the world," said Sharfman, senior vice president of products at LRN, which legal compliance and ethics training to large companies worldwide.

Sharfman’s passion, and the reason he founded the site, is the perpetuation of nusach, the traditional melodic themes that identify prayers with times of the year and times of the day.

"Nusach is the tradition that links us back in time and creates a real sense of holiness, of kedusha," said Rabbi Micha’el Akiba of P’nai Or in Long Beach, who collaborated with Sharfman on the site.

Few traditional shuls employ cantors and services are often led by ba’alei tefilah — lay people who lead prayers — and Sharfman, who leads High Holiday services at B’nai David-Judea Congregation on Pico Boulevard, hopes his site will help them understand the importance of nusach.

At the urging of his uncle, Renewal Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Sharfman teamed up with Akiba, a former musician, to record hours worth of prayers sung in the traditional Western European nusach, available to download off the site.

The site includes a list of the ba’al tefilah’s parts for all of the davening from throughout the year, as well as Torah readings and other songs.

Sharfman and Akiba funded the startup, and don’t charge for any of the services, including sending out CDs. But donations from users have begun to support the site. The two hope others will eventually contribute their talents so that can include other nuschaot, such as Sephardic or Eastern European.

Of course, those not planning on leading prayers can just listen for the pleasure of Sharfman’s rich baritone enunciating each word and each note — a good way to get in the mood for whatever the upcoming holiday may be.

Bringing Caring and God to the Sick

"So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom…." (Psalm 90:12)

Truth be told, there are no "soft issues" in medical ethics, unless by "soft" we mean the human issues, the matters of the spirit that so influence people’s capacity to heal and even (as research seems to be showing more and more) their ability to be cured. "Soft" is the "how" dimension of medical ethics, a critical complement to the "what" decisions that are often its salient province or overriding focus.

Perhaps the best place to start is to ask, "What are the psychosocial needs of people going through serious medical experiences?"

Let it first be acknowledged that the needs of these people are not unlike everyone else’s — just, perhaps, more so. People who are suffering, or struggling, or facing mortality — and those who care for them — need what we all need, if more urgently, boldly, unavoidably.

These universal needs include: a restoration of connection, a new relatedness — to a sense of self, the community, creation, God, the big picture; transcendence, growth, meaning, affirmation of their total identity (including but not limited to their diagnosis, condition or illness), an expanded sense of hope and possibility; re-empowerment, striking a balance of dependence and independence, taking charge and letting go; tools to integrate major losses or fundamental life-disruptions into their life-narrative.

Jews who are suffering, and those who care for them, similarly need and deserve resources of guidance, strength, insight, comfort, solace and hope — and, for centuries, have looked to Jewish tradition and the Jewish community for these resources. In diverse host cultures and civilizations, Jews developed a very strong tradition of bikur cholim (reaching out to those who are ill and those who care for them). This mitzvah was understood as a basic and far-reaching commandment that requires and enables us to emulate God’s own care and concern, indeed, to partner with God in making that care and concern manifest and tangible. Bikur cholim was highly developed through our treasured, evolving corpus of both narrative and legal texts.

"The essential feature of the mitzvah of visiting the sick is to pay attention to the needs of patients, to see to what is necessary to be done for their benefit, and to give them the pleasure of one’s company. It is also to customary to pray for mercy on their behalf." (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193:3).

What a cogent summary of what folks need. Practical and individualized help, social and interpersonal connection and intercession/dialogue with God in echoing or amplifying the patients’ needs, wishes and prayers.

The good news is that these efforts, at least in my experience, are on the rebound in our community. More and more synagogues, Jewish community centers, day schools, healing programs, family service agencies, and other Jewish organizations are developing or revitalizing bikur cholim efforts, sometimes called G’mach for gimilut hasidim (deeds of loving kindness or caring committees). More than 200 bikur cholim organizers and volunteers, from more than 75 different sites in all corners of the Jewish community, took part in the November 2002 15th annual Bikur Cholim Conference in New York City. Jewish chaplaincy, long the terribly underfunded and neglected professional field in our community, is experiencing a growth in recognition, support and status. Rabbis, cantors and Jewish educators are devoting more time in training and continuing education to expand their skills and enhance their effectiveness in reaching out to the ill and their families and professional caregivers. And materials that help Jews hope and cope are multiplying.

Yet, so much remains to be done. We live in a society that desperately seeks not only to avoid disease and pain at all costs but also to deny vulnerability, aging, disability and mortality — and the Jewish community is not immune from these biases. Though it is somewhat more comfortable than it was in recent decades to utter the "c" word — cancer — Jews, like everyone else, recoil from serious illness, and we need to strategize how to restore illness and death to their natural and important place in our lives.

There are many ways to bring about the reintegration of illness and death into communal life. School curricula, youth group projects, film series, concerts, art exhibits, public programs where people tell their stories, rabbinic sermons and bulletin pieces can all work to undo the denial of suffering and death and enable Jews of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations to share the vulnerability and burdens of disease and disability. In these and other ways, we can reach for a time when Jews will feel freer to let others know of their challenges, more secure in asking for help and less constrained in offering it.

Complementing these educational and cultural innovations and communal change ought to be substantial advocacy efforts that work for a more humane and holistic approach to pain, suffering and healing. Convention resolutions are fine, but we must do more to "walk the walk." Synagogues, schools, service agencies and JCCs must join in challenging the current health-care systems that render so many suffering people alone, confused and despairing. Practical efforts directed at changing legislation, policies, and managed-care companies must go hand in hand with the one-on-one, direct support and service provision.

Our generation, as those before and after us, will be judged by how we listen and attend to those who are sick and vulnerable and to those who care for them. In the end, there is actually no "them"; there is only "us."

Reprinted from the Journal Sh’ma, a service of Jewish Family & Life!

Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub, a certified social worker, is rabbinic director at the National Center for Jewish Healing/Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York.

Community Briefs

Prime Minister ToutsMuseum

If there was any doubt that the Polish government is takingseriously plans to build a Museum of Polish Jewish History in Warsaw, they wereput to rest Feb. 5 in Beverly Hills.

That’s when Leszek Miller, prime minister of Poland, metwith about 100 area Jews to reaffirm his commitment to the long-plannedproject. “We want to reach beyond the image of Poland as a place of martyrdomfor the Jews,” said Miller in his brief prepared remarks. “The museum will be agreat educational project, and a symbol of our new approach to the history ofthe Jews.”

Miller’s appearance before the gathering of Jewish religiousand communal leaders, including Holocaust survivors and elected officials, wasorganized by the Consulate General of Poland in cooperation with the AmericanJewish Committee (AJCommittee). It took place during the first visit by aPolish prime minister to the West Coast, according to Consul General KrzysztofW. Kasprzyk.

Miller announced the establishment of the Museum of theHistory of the Polish Jews in Warsaw last January. The multimedia museum, to bedesigned by Frank Gehry, is to be completed in 2006.

Polish officials, who say that as many as 80 percent of Jewsacross the world can trace their roots back to Poland, hope the museum willspur Jewish tourism to their country. They are also hoping that Jewish donorsabroad will help fund some of the museum’s estimated $63 million cost.

Among other exhibits, the museum will recreate the homes andstreets representing 1,000 years of Jewish civilization in Poland. The Naziinvasion and deportation to death camps claimed the lives of the majority of Poland’s3.5 million Jewish population, which had been the largest in Europe.

Miller said the museum is part of an agenda ofreconciliation between Poland and world Jewry that includes the restitution forJewish property, restoration of Jewish cemeteries, commemoration of victims atdeath camps throughout Poland, and increasing ties between young Jews and Poles,and between Polish and Jewish entrepreneurs. The museum itself will demonstrate”how important a place was occupied by Jews in the history of Poland,” saidMiller.

AJCommittee Los Angeles chapter President Peter Weil saidMiller’s appearance, amidst high level visits with high-tech entrepreneurs anda previous state visit with President George W. Bush, was a clear indication ofthe value the Polish government places on its relations with world Jewry.

Along with Miller and the consul general, guests heardremarks from Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, AJCommittee’s West Coast regional director;County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Adrien Brody, star of “The Pianist,” andmuseum director Jerzy Halberstadt. 

For more information the Museum ofPolish Jewish History in Warsaw, go to . — Staff Report


Media “Blitz”New Israel Fund Cuts Back

The New Israel Fund will centralize and scale back its U.S.offices in the hopes of pumping $1 million more toward peace and social justiceefforts in Israel. The Washington-based group, which promotes peace and civilrights programs in Israel, will close regional offices in Los Angeles, Bostonand Chicago, and expand hubs in New York and San Francisco, the group announcedFeb. 6.

For the three-person Los Angeles staff who will soon faceunemployment as a result of consolidation, the recent news brings mixedreactions.

“I still strongly believe in the importance of theorganization and the value of its work in Israel, and I understand that theinternational board that made the decision took a lot of issues intoconsideration in reaching its conclusions,” said Los Angeles New Israel FundDirector David Moses. “At the same time, I’m deeply disappointed in the closingof this office. We’ve had 4 years of continuous growth and increased visibilityin the Los Angeles Jewish community and I’m very proud of what we’veaccomplished here.”

The move was aimed at lowering the group’s overhead andconsolidating operations, and should largely fund the additional $1 million for Israel, officials said. The fund said it has awarded $120 million to 700Israeli groups since 1979. — Rachel Brand, Staff Writer

Community Briefs

Bringing the Military Back toMaccabee

Putting a new spin on Chanukah celebrations, the U.S. Marine Corps Marching Band will perform at The Calabasas Shul’s annual menorah-lighting ceremony to honor the men and women of the United States armed forces.

Local musician Brad Schachter and the Kadima Hebrew Academy Children’s Choir will also perform at the latkes-and-sufganiyot party.

A 16-foot model of a Navy battleship and one of the Air Force’s new jet fighter, the Raptor, will be on display, along with other equipment representative of the four military branches.

“Chanukah is a celebration of heroes and victory,” said shul leader Rabbi Yacov Vann. “We are proud to dedicate this event to the heroes of freedom and to send our prayers and support for those in the U.S. armed forces.”

The celebration has a special meaning for event chairman Neil Yeschin — his 20-year-old son, Steven, is serving in the Marine Corps. Steven Yeschin will be the Marine’s delegate for the menorah-lighting, but it doesn’t stop his father from worrying about the future.

“He was in college and after Sept. 11 he dropped out and joined the Marines,” Yeschin said. “He just went through desert training, civil-unrest training and will be deployed, but who knows when or where?”

Yeschin said the various branches of the service have been enthusiastic about their participation in the Chanukah event and plan to provide giveaways of pens and other goodies for the children.

The event will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 4, from 6-8 p.m. at The Commons at Calabasas, located on Calabasas Road, south of the Ventura Freeway, between Valley Circle Boulevard and Parkway Calabasas. For information call (818) 591-7485. — Wendy Madnick, Contributing Writer

Shoah Opens Archives to Educators

Staff, volunteers and supporters of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (VHF) gathered last month for the dedication of the Tapper Research and Testing Center at the foundation’s Studio City headquarters. The Tapper Center ushered in a new phase of educational outreach for the foundation.

The Tapper Center, which allows students, educators and researchers to access the VHF’s archive for academic and creative purposes, features six computer workstations equipped with a cutting-edge software applications developed by the VHF. The software allows users to search the VHF’s digital Visual History Archive, in which nearly 52,000 eyewitness testimonies — documented through video and text documents — are comprehensively categorized and cross-referenced.

Among those in attendance: Shoah Foundation President and CEO Douglas Greenberg; Tapper Center namesake Albert Tapper; Deborah Dwork, Rose professor of Holocaust History and director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University. Shoah Foundation founder Steven Spielberg could not attend because he was in Japan for the opening of his film, “Minority Report.”

In 1994, Spielberg established Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation as an afterthought from his experience directing “Schindler’s List” in 1993. Since its formation, the VHF has interviewed, videotaped and catalogued more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors, hailing from 57 countries, in 32 languages.

With its goal quota of testimonies recorded, Greenberg said that the VHF will now move into a new phase that will preserve and provide access to its archives, further its educational programs and develop educational products, such as the foundation’s line of interactive CD-Roms, based on the data gathered.

The Ambassadors for Humanity dinner, benefiting thesurvivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation will be held at 5 p.m. onThursday, Dec. 5. Tickets start at $1,500. For information, call (818) 777-7876.To learn more about the Shoah Visual History Foundation, visit . — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Israel on the Agenda

When Jewish educators from around the country met for a five-day institute this summer at the University of Judaism, leaders at the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life did the only thing they could for their daylong slot of teaching. They scrapped their usual plenaries and workshops on topics such as the power of ritual in family or educating Jewish parents and spent the day talking about how educators could help families in America deal with the situation in Israel.

"It was very heavy and yet an uplifting, spiritual day — spiritual and educational. It reverberated throughout the week," said Ron Wolfson, a vice president at the University of Judaism. "We knew as a staff that to ignore the situation would have been a terrible mistake."

Over the past two years, Israel has replaced nearly all other issues as the center of Jewish concern, whether at a family simcha, singles events or adult education classes. High Holiday worshippers can expect to hear at least one, if not more, sermons on Israel and for prayers to focus on healing and peace for the Jewish State.

It is a significant change for American Jewry, which over the past decade had trained its communal lens on domestic issues. At the same time, the decline in the numbers of people visiting Israel — especially youth — is sure to have long-lasting effects on this generation’s commitment to Judaism and Israel.

Now, as the two-year anniversary of second intifada nears, what were once seen as emergency measures and temporary shifts are proving to be more permanent alterations of the American Jewish landscape.

In this High Holiday season of cheshbon hanefesh, accounting of the soul, professional and lay leaders are asking how the crisis has changed our communal personality, what the long-term effects will be on our programs and institutions, and what we can learn from our own reactions.

To some, it may seem frivolous to consider the effect the matzav, the situation, is having on the faraway cousins of the true victims — the Israelis themselves, who have been battered physically and emotionally. But it is akin to the long-term illness of a family member, where the rest of the family’s physical and spiritual health must be maintained, so that they in turn can provide the support their ailing loved one needs to survive.

"We can’t really have a community that is going to be connected to Israel in times of need unless it is a community that identifies with its Jewishness and with Israel," said Beryl Geber, director of the UJ’s graduate program in nonprofit management and national chair of the United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) renaissance and renewal division.

Community leaders are working to find the right balance between doing everything possible to support Israel and not ignoring ongoing needs within American Jewry.

"I think the crisis in Israel has really catalyzed a lot of attention on Israel that was probably somewhat dissipated over a number of years," said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. He noted that throughout the ’90s the continuity agenda focused community attention on local issues such as revitalizing synagogues and strengthening Jewish education for youth and adults. "The domestic agenda has been to some extent subordinated in terms of the urgency with which issues can be dealt with. It’s a question of resources — human and financial," he said. That is not to say that community development has halted, Fishel noted. He points to the New Community Jewish High School in the West Valley that opens this week with 37 students. The school started its development process two years ago, simultaneously with the second intifada.

But while some programs continue, anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that community creativity has slowed.

"I do feel that a lot of very important issues are completely off our agenda — which is right, since we do need to focus all of our energies on supporting Israel every way we can," said Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of Congregation B’nai David Judea. Kanefsky said that tikkun olam programs like bringing groups to sing at nursing homes and a tree-planting project on Pico Boulevard have been "squeezed out of people’s attention." Board meetings are now dominated by talk of Israel action programs and shul security.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, director of UCLA Hillel and a lifelong Zionist, has seen the success of the continuity agenda on campus. He fears what will happen if the community reverts to focusing on victimhood and anti-Semitism, rather than promoting positive Judaism.

"People are going to start questioning if having innovative Jewish arts programs is important when the chief focus is survival. We cannot afford to lose programs intended to sustain a rich Jewish life," he said.

"The physical survival of the Jewish people has been assured," Seidler-Feller added. "The real question is, will the spirit of the Jewish people survive? Will the values of the Jewish people survive? Will a meaningful expression of Judaism that captures the imagination of the Jewish people survive?"

David Myers, professor of Jewish History at UCLA and an Israel activist, said there may be some benefits to the interruption of the continuity agenda, leaving time for reassessment and striking a balance.

"The crisis in Israel leads to a rechanneling of the stream of support back to Israel," he said, after the last decade, when it was funneled toward strengthening U.S. Jewry. "It may well be healthy to have constant movement back and forth between these two sources of support, rather than remaining static."

Myers sees an additional benefit in that the crisis has forced involved and committed Jews to reassess a relationship with Israel that he believes was one-sided and too often taken for granted.

A relationship where American Jews sent money to Israel and sometimes visited, and where Israelis had no real interest in American Jewry or their opinions proved to be weak and insufficient.

"There can’t be a sustained and deep commitment to Israel unless it rests on the principle of partnership, in which there is reciprocity," Myers asserted. "American Jewry needs to be a proactive partner with its own ability to say what is best for Israel, as a close relative would do."

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills sees the crisis as "a moment of opportunity, because the American Jewish community suddenly realizes how important Israel is to it."

Geller just returned from a summer in Israel at the Hartman Institute, where she spent days in chevrutah, study partnerings — a metaphor she would like to see extended to the Diaspora-Israel connection.

"We could imagine ourselves as a chevrutah, locked in this intimate relationship where each of us is different because of that relationship, and the tradition is different because of the relationship."

She sees The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership as a good example of that reciprocity, where students, professionals, leaders and artists from each city visit the other to build connection and learn from each other.

She also plans to shore up Israel education.

"This is a moment for people to really try to understand why Israel is important to them, to really take responsibility for educating themselves about Israel and really understanding its history, so that every American Jew has a sophisticated understanding of what is going on," she said.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City said that despite the growing interest in Israel and the successful fundraising, the crisis has exposed just how weak the connection to Israel is for many Jews.

"I believe that Israelis feel that American Jewry has abandoned Israel in its time of need," said Muskin, who this summer canceled a tour he was leading in Europe and instead led a mission to Israel. "It’s not enough just to fundraise. They need to see us there and to feel that we are part of the experience."

While some youth programs continue with diminished numbers and several shuls, including Young Israel, Sinai Temple, Beth Am and B’nai David, are sending or have sent missions, many Americans have opted to stay out of the Jewish State.

But if Israel’s economy and morale suffer now from that withdrawal, it is American Jewry — specifically today’s teenagers and college students — that will suffer later.

"We have a number of cohorts of kids who are not going to be familiar with Israel and are not going to have the opportunity to experience it and enjoy it," said Beryl Geber of the UJC’s renaissance and renewal commission. A part of this generation will miss out on "the idea of a worldwide Judaism, of historical context and continuity in time and space. I don’t think it’s shattered, but it’s attenuated, and the more cohorts that we have that don’t develop that connection, the more fragmented we become as a community."

John Fishel said Federation has been exploring what to substitute in place of the Israel trip to inspire and connect young people.

"We’re committed to putting energy, as well as time and money, into things that will help solidify bridges in the long term," he said. "We’re trying to look beyond the present situation, and saying we can’t just assume that when this crisis is past we’ll pick up and start to run with it where we left off."

Part of what Fishel hopes to capitalize on is the sense of unity the crisis has inspired. The Jews in Crisis Campaign — among other campaigns to support terror victims in Israel — has raised money from all segments of the community. He points to a meeting of a diverse group of leaders held with the Los Angeles Times editors as an example of an unusual willingness to work together. But others worry that the galvanizing force of crisis mode cannot be sustained indefinitely.

"This mentality of crisis that we’ve built up has to give way to a different mentality of a long process," said Rabbi Edward Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom. "The problem is that crisis is like a drug, and when the drug leaves, you have withdrawal, and you come crashing down just as quickly as you went soaring upward."

That leaves people with bitterness and despair — a dangerous state of mind, Feinstein said.

"It leads you to say, ‘Let’s get rid of these Arabs’ … or it leads you to a utopian, messianic mentality of ‘Let’s give them everything they want and maybe they will stop hurting us.’ One is immoral, and the other irresponsible," Feinstein said.

Feinstein, like many rabbis, will use these holidays to offer congregants messages of hope in a depressing moment of Jewish history.

"I feel that everybody is confused and heartbroken and distraught in some way, and as a rabbi I need to be able to both acknowledge their pain and fear and bring it into a spiritual context, even if the only answer I have is that it’s really important never to give up hope and never to disconnect from the one web of the Jewish people," said Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Syangogue.

Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob said he has been encouraging his congregants to utilize a bad situation as an opportunity.

"Once the world defines us as Jews and as Zionists, lets take that brand of being a Jew and find the positive. What does a Jew stand for? What does a Jew represent, and how does a Jew think? How does a Jew relate to God? How does a Jew relate to humanity?" he said.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky said he encourages congregants to view the entire scope of Jewish history, which is filled with a cycle of despair and redemption.

"Jewish literature is filled with the call not to give up and not to despair. In the whole trajectory of Jewish history, we are promised ends with great glory and joy. We need to remind ourselves as often as possible that we are a big-picture people, and our hope and our faith in a brighter day is unshakable," Kanefsky said. "We have to be able to step out now and then, and hold on to his larger vision."


Patriots Owner Scores Big Among Jews, Too

Robert Kraft, Jewish businessman and philanthropist, nearly leapt through the glass window of his skybox at the Superdome in New Orleans as the clock ticked down and the 20-17 victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams brought the team he owns, the New England Patriots, its first Super Bowl title. Along with his wife, Myra, Kraft has been heavily involved in Jewish and non-Jewish projects throughout New England, New York and Israel. The Krafts, in collaboration with Combined Jewish Philanthropies, sponsor the Myra and Robert Kraft Passport to Israel Fund, which has helped thousands of children involved in Jewish studies take an educational trip to Israel sometime between their sophomore and senior years of high school.

In addition, Kraft is the primary shareholder of Carmel Container Systems, Israel’s largest packaging plant.

In 1999, Kraft brought his love of football to Israel in the form of a Kraft Stadium, at the northern end of Sacher Park in Jerusalem, used to accommodate the Jerusalem-based American Touch Football in Israel league.

Kraft’s father, Harry Kraft, was a highly respected leader in the Jewish community of Brookline, a Boston suburb.

Myra Kraft, a 1964 Brandeis graduate and the daughter of Boston philanthropist Jacob Hiatt, has been a trustee at Brandeis since 1988.

Kraft’s Jewish identity has even occasionally trickled into his position as owner of the Patriots.

On Sept. 22, 1996, he asked that the kickoff of a game between the Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars be changed to avoid a conflict with Yom Kippur, which started at sundown that evening. — Jacob Horowitz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Virtual Shabbat

Within minutes of my opening the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) Virtual Shabbat CD-ROM, people gathered around my desk. Klezmer music was coming from my computer, and kitchen cabinets, appliances and refrigerators were all dancing on my screen.

After an introduction by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, founder and director of NJOP, I clicked on a picture of a kitchen and started this lively revue; other choices could have been a dining room, a synagogue or something labeled Hebrew crash course.

You can’t help but be intrigued by this interactive multimedia product. Click on one of the cabinets, and its doors open and out fly dishes, rimmed in blue; a drawer with blue-handled flatware opens simultaneously, while a voice-over explains that a kosher kitchen has separate utensils for dairy, for meat and often for pareve (neutral). Clicking on other spots prompt similar visual and verbal lessons about kashrut and the Shabbat kitchen.

Playing around reveals a few quirks. There is no foolproof way to know what will open when you click on it; the prompter arrow sometimes changes when you are over something to open and sometimes doesn’t. The person who does not know what points are relevant might miss significant information.

Those criticisms noted, I wax more enthusiastic each time I pop in Virtual Shabbat. The CD-ROM covers no topic in depth, since its intended audience is unaffiliated and marginally affiliated Jews, but its breadth is impressive and it includes an admirable bibliography for anyone who wants to explore more deeply. (Click on the bookcase in the dining room for a literary menu.) The CD-ROM packet includes a paperback bentscher — a book that includes prayers and songs, with explanations and transliterations, to be used on Shabbat, holidays and other special occasions. With information provided on where to find each song in this particular bentscher, which is published by the National Council of Young Israel, a user can follow along and see how the Hebrew words fit in each tune.

For the person with some Hebrew skills but not much fluency, the CD-ROM offers a way to practice the prayers and zemirot with an infinitely patient teacher. For the person with no Hebrew, it provides a crash course on reading Hebrew. A motivated user can improve synagogue and home-observance skills dramatically with Virtual Shabbat. And with that added proficiency can come the confidence to “turn Friday night into Shabbat.”

To preview the CD-ROM, go to or call 1-800-44-TORAH. The cost is $19.95, with discounts for some NJOP program participants. — Deborah N. Cymrot, Washington Jewish Week