Nirit Bialer, an Israeli expat, speaks with seventh-graders in Berlin as part of the “Rent A Jew” program. Photo by Gregor Zielke

For questions about Jews, just ‘rent’ one for answers

The subject sat there, surrounded by 23 nursing students from the School of Health and Healthcare at the Alexianer St. Hedwig Hospital in the former Jewish quarter of eastern Berlin. They examined her as if she were an endangered species, ready to be dissected. Some had never encountered such an organism before. After all, in Germany, her type had been endangered for some time.

The center of curiosity was Juna Grossman, a 40-year-old Jewish woman born in the former East Berlin. Her grandparents survived the Holocaust, saved by a German family who hid them in southern Germany. With her long, dirty-blond braids and hazel eyes, she sat there, smiling and patient, ready to take questions, as a Jew “rented out” through a German-Jewish program called Rent a Jew.

With its controversial name, Rent a Jew both objectifies and at the same time humanizes what for many young Germans is a novelty: a living, modern Jewish person.

“It’s a bit ironic, but we thought we would embrace the irony in the situation,” said Alexander Rasumny, coordinator of Rent a Jew.

The name, he said, is a provocative description of a speaking bureau of Jews from all walks of German life who are available to German schools and institutions to educate non-Jews about Judaism and to dispel stereotypes and prejudices that have been linked to Jews for centuries.

“We were thinking how to try to change the image of Jews in Germany for the better, and we thought direct contact is the best way to do that,” Rasumny said.

Rasumny co-founded Rent a Jew in 2015 while working as a project manager for the European Janusz Korczak Academy, a Munich-based partner of the Jewish Agency for Israel that seeks to reinforce Jewish identity in German-speaking countries. Rent a Jew has conducted more than 30 sessions across Germany. The 50 to 60 Jewish participants represent a cross section of the German-Jewish population and undergo a screening and training process.

The Rent a Jew website explains its rationale this way: “Talk to us, not about us. We don’t give lectures on Jewish history or religion as experts but talk about what it’s like for us to be a Jew in Germany. Above all, we encourage people to ask questions and yes, voice those stereotypes like: Are all Jews rich? Do they control the media? Or are they really the chosen people? Most importantly, people can talk with Jews instead of only talking about them.”


Photo by Orit Arfa

Rent a Jew is not the first effort to market Jews playfully as a product. A 2013 exhibition on Judaism at the Jewish Museum in Berlin drew criticism when it exhibited “Jew in a Box,” in which alternating Jews sat in a display case to field questions from the public.

Dani Kranz, a Cologne-based anthropologist and expert in Israeli migration to Germany, applauds such tongue-in-cheek attempts to educate Germans about contemporary Jews and Judaism.

“I would say the mere attempt to represent oneself, to take charge, and to communicate as an individual Jew and individual human being is direly needed because Jews are exoticized,” Kranz said. “In some respects, it’s painful to see because it makes the assumed difference between Jews and non-Jews blatantly clear, but it should be addressed.”

And not only for Jews. Kranz, a German-born Jew, said the Arabs and Muslims in her social circle also encounter prejudices and misconceptions.

“There should also be a program for Rent a Muslim or Rent a Palestinian,” she said, although she conceded that the Shoah makes some Germans believe they must handle Jews with special gloves.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, half a million Jews lived in Germany, more than 150,000 of them in Berlin. While the 500,000 accounted for less than 1 percent of the country’s population at the time, many stood out as leaders in academia, banking, media, industry and business. Early 20th-century Berlin was home to some of Jewry’s leading minds, including Albert Einstein, philosopher Martin Buber and scholar Gershom Scholem. They built on a Jewish-German intellectual tradition started in the 18th century by celebrated philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.

After the Nazi atrocities of World War II, fewer than 20,000 Jews remained in Germany, about 8,000 in Berlin. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the country’s Jewish population had grown to nearly 30,000.

After Germany’s official reunification in 1990, the new government welcomed Jews from the former Soviet Union to re-establish the community Hitler had decimated. Russian immigrants and their children, such as Rasumny, form the bulk of Germany’s Jewish population, which today stands at more than 100,000 — maybe as many as 200,000. (Precise numbers are elusive because the German government does not require citizens to reveal their religious affiliation, and the dogged question of “Who is a Jew?” further complicates an accurate count.)

According to Grossman, the Jew who visited the nursing students at Alexianer last month, most German students today do not learn the full history of Jewish life in Germany and, instead, focus on the attempted Nazi genocide.

“When you ask Germans what they think when they think of ‘Jews,’ you always have the Holocaust or the typical ‘black-hat Jew,’ ” Grossman told the Journal before her talk at the hospital. “That’s not the reality, is it?”

She said she believes Holocaust education is diminishing in some German curricula as instruction about this time period competes with that of the Cold War era.

Born under communism, which suppressed religious practice, Grossman “returned” to Judaism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, studying at the historic Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue in the former East Berlin, led by a female rabbi and best known for its restored golden dome.

As a program speaker and blogger on Jewish life in Germany, Grossman invites questions from German students that don’t dwell on the Holocaust. In fact, she said, she looks forward to when the Holocaust plays less of a role in Jewish identity and perceptions in Germany so she can feel the ease and normalcy she felt as a Jew living in Boston for several years.

“Here, when you meet somebody not Jewish and you ‘out’ yourself as being Jewish, you get reactions like: ‘Oops, how do I behave now?’ ” she said. “It’s a strange glaze in the eyes, and sometimes they say something about their grandparents.”

Julia Engelhardt, a nursing instructor at Alexianer, heard about Rent a Jew on German television and immediately decided to try it for a class on world religions.

“We thought it would be good for them to know things they should or shouldn’t do if they have Jewish patients,” Engelhardt said before the class with Grossman.

Grossman began her session with an introduction about her German-Jewish background. Across from her on the wall was a statuette of Jesus on the cross; to her left, a model skeleton.

Students slowly raised their hands to ask questions about Jewish life and death, unrelated to the actual life and death of Jewry in the neighborhood of the hospital — a former Jewish quarter, something most students did not know.

Just a few blocks away, on Grosse Hamburger Street, is the memorial site for the Jewish Home for the Aging that the Nazis converted to an assembly camp for deporting 55,000 Berlin Jews. Behind it is the Jewish cemetery that dates back to 1672, where Mendelssohn was buried.

The class included some foreign students, including one from Poland who asked: “What do Jews do when someone dies?” Grossman explained burial and shivah mourning rituals.

“Why do Jews step on a glass cup at a Jewish wedding?” asked an African student. Grossman explained it commemorates the destruction of the Temple.

Grossman’s favorite question came from a German man to her left: “Do Jews believe in an afterlife?” She explained that Judaism differs from Christianity in its lack of emphasis on heaven and hell, although the student said he is comforted by the idea of a paradise in the next world.

“I liked it the most, as he was very respectful and just accepting my other view on things,” Grossman told the Journal. “That’s not really common for Christians, I mean for real active ones. Usually, they seek to convince you of their belief.”

Not all Rent a Jew sessions run so smoothly.

Nirit Bialer, founder of Habait (The Home), a Berlin-based organization that seeks to expose Germans to Israeli culture, was taken aback by some of the stereotypes and misconceptions she encountered from a seventh-grade class at a school in Neukölln, a Berlin district with a large immigrant population.

“There were a lot of kids there with Muslim backgrounds, kids with parents coming in from the Middle East,” Bialer said. “That was a different experience. A lot of politics involved; people confused ideas about Judaism, Israel. Everything was intermingled together. There were many facts they were not sure about.”

She recalled how one student asked if Hitler and the Zionists worked together, while another asked what the Palestinians did so wrong to the Jews.

“It was not an easy situation for me personally, since you are being pulled into the Middle East conflict when trying to talk to a class about Judaism,” Bialer said.

Her previous Rent a Jew appearance had occurred at an adult education class in which participants — curiously and courteously, she said — asked about her experience living in Berlin as an Israeli. Bialer represents a relatively new but significant component of Jewish life in Germany: Israeli expats, although the number of them living in Berlin is difficult to determine. Estimates range from 7,000 to 20,000.

The turning point during the Neukölln session came when her fellow “rented” Jew, a Russian-born woman named Esther Knochenhauer, told the class that she works as a booking agent for German rappers.

“Some of the kids that were talking to her were like, ‘Wow. That’s a cool Jewish girl.’ ”

That’s when the ice broke and the class’ Jewish visitors truly were humanized.

Esther Knochenhauer, a Russian-born Jew who accompanied Nirit Bialer on her school visit in Berlin, writes on the classroom chalkboard. Photo by Gregor Zielke

Increasingly, the Rent a Jew program is bringing knowledge of Judaism to a population generally untouched by the Shoah: first generation and nonnative Germans.

“The students in Neukölln, now, demonstrated a pattern of seeing Jews only through the lens of the Israeli-Arab conflict, which is not uncommon in migrant communities, particularly with an Arabic, but also Turkish, background,” Rent a Jew coordinator Rasumny said.

These communities initially encounter anti-Jewish and anti-Israel propaganda at home, through Arab-language television or Islamic and Turkish nationalist youth organizations.

“So we have to reach them while they’re in the school and at least somewhat open to arguments,” Rasumny said. “The same goes for students who grow up in households with parents holding populist or far-right views. The number of such households should not be underestimated. And, of course, there also is a very distinct left-wing anti-Semitism, which is mostly Israel-related.”

A recent report from the German parliament found that 40 percent of Germans hold anti-Semitic views expressed by hostility toward the Jewish state. Most program participants, however, as with the Alexianer students, were apolitical and limited in knowledge.

Nursing students Elise Senst and Kate Kalhol, both 21, said they came out of the Alexianer session feeling intellectually enriched.

Both grew up in Brandenburg, one of Germany’s 16 federal states, on the outskirts of Berlin, and neither has Jewish friends. At first, they were confused by the program’s name, Rent a Jew. Kalhol had been to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, while Senst received general knowledge of Judaism as a youth. As third-generation Germans from the Nazi era, the Holocaust is not necessarily their immediate association with Jews.

“In my circle of friends, it [the Holocaust] is not even there,” Senst said, although her grandmother lived through the Nazi period and told her stories of Jews fleeing. “I have a couple of friends who did social work in Israel, but they didn’t go because of the Holocaust and that part of German history, but for the country itself. It’s there. We can’t forget about it, but it’s not on top anymore.”

Senst was most surprised to learn that Jewish identity is not dependent on belief in God, as Christianity is.

“I really enjoyed the communication, but the strange thing to me is that if you decided to believe in the Jewish religion, that all the following generations will be Jewish even if they don’t believe in it,” Senst said.

Kalhol said she is inclined to separate Judaism from Israel, while Senst associates Israel with the Jewish people. By showcasing both Israeli and Diaspora Jews, Rent a Jew seeks to discuss the distinction between Judaism as a religious identity and a national one.

“If I meet an Israeli, I’m going to ask what the country’s like, what life is like there, maybe I would also ask if he’s Jewish or what kind of religion he belongs to, but that’s another stereotype,” Kalhol said.

At Alexianer, Engelhardt, the nursing instructor, said she was pleased with the program, especially for clarifying differences between Jewish rituals and practices and those of other religions.

“For example, Juna [Grossman] said that if a Jew dies, don’t lay their hands like a cross the way Christians do, and this is a kind of sensitivity you could have also with other religions,” she said.

Engelhardt said Alexianer will be a repeat customer. She already has booked Grossman again, proving that the name of the program can succeed in challenging another stereotype: Jewish greed.

Rent a Jew Jews are “rented” for free.

Teachers get a lesson in propaganda

Propaganda can come in many forms — even board games.

When local educators gathered Dec. 5 for a teaching workshop presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, they were exposed to World War II-era posters, films, photographs and a disturbing board game from the 1930s called “Jews Out!”

The game had eerie resemblances to classics such as Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land, mixed with unflattering cartoons of Jews. The goal of the game was to drive Jews out of Germany, and different spaces on the board showed images of Jewish businesses that needed to be eliminated.

Israel Bautista, who teaches at El Sereno Middle School, found the materials and discussion styles expanded his paradigm on how propaganda should be taught to younger students.

“It is a good critical analysis tool, because in today’s day and age, with teens being bombarded with images on social media and traditional media, everything is coming at them so quickly that kids need to critically look at those images rather than just be easily influenced,” he said. “It is important for them to put serious thought into what goes into the messages they are told on a daily basis.”

National Recording Service Adolf Hitler – Our Leader!” from the museum’s propaganda exhibition

The free event at the Los Angeles Central Library, “Connecting the Past and Present: A New Framework for Teaching Propaganda,” enabled about 50 attendees to explore content and themes from the museum’s traveling exhibition, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” It is scheduled to run from March 10 to May 8 at the library and illustrates the Nazis’ use of the latest technologies and techniques to disseminate propaganda, among other things.

“State of Deception” is well-traveled, having been staged in Chicago; Phoenix; Cleveland; St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; and Tulsa, Okla. After leaving L.A., it will move on to Austin, Texas; and New Orleans. 

“State of Deception” teacher workshop.

Classroom-ready teaching resources, previewed by those educators in attendance, will be made available to any teacher interested in integrating the innovative materials and teaching methods into their curriculum. Materials can be accessed and downloaded at

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.

The Mensch List 2012

Last month, for our seventh-annual mensch list, we again invited all of you to submit your nominations of extraordinary volunteers, and again the outpouring of suggestions of amazing people was overwhelming. We faced this enormous response only to wonder, once again, how to choose from, among others, a woman who lost vision in one eye and then created an entire institute to help others with impaired sight; a UCLA student who’s made it her mission to teach her peers about the Holocaust; and an Iranian Jew in Los Angeles tirelessly working to raise awareness about persecution of Jews in his native land. (And those are just three who made the cut.)

This list could have been much longer — what we offer here is just a sampling of the extraordinary people who give so much to make the world a better place. If your nominees were not included this time, please remember, we’d love to see those names, and more, again next year. We are inspired by all of these stories, and highlight this list of mensches each year to motivate us all to live up to their example.

The Mensch List

Paulinda Schimmel Babbini, raising ovarian cancer awareness

Georgia Freedman-Harvey, artist who creates in order to heal

Sarah Loew, co-founder of Loew Vision Rehabilitation Institute

Orna Eilonunpaid CEO of the MATI Israeli Community Center

Frank Nikbakht, unflinching voice for Jews in Iran

Asthon Rosindirector of UCLA Hillel’s Bearing Witness program

Joel LiptonBig Sunday volunteer photographer

Al Ashleyhelping day schools reform and strengthen their financial systems

Connie and Harvey Lapinparent activists in the world of autism

Dr. Matthew Lefferman and Eric Weissman, Sunday sports league advocates

Educators’ conference focuses on Holocaust

Educators from Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and San Luis Obispo participated in a weeklong professional development workshop on Aug. 6-10 on Holocaust education at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). 

Twenty-six teachers participated in the free workshop — the third annual Eva and Eugene Schlesinger Teacher Training Endowed Workshop on the Holocaust — which included an interactive USC Shoah Foundation presentation on IWitness, an online application for educators and students that features more than 1,000 video testimonies from survivors, an Anti-Defamation League presentation on its “Echoes and Reflections” multimedia curriculum and a tour of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

This year’s workshop, “Human Responses to the Holocaust,” looked at perpetrators, victims and bystanders of the Shoah as well as Jewish resistance and Holocaust deniers. 

Participating teachers from public and private high schools — and a few elementary schools — had varying levels of knowledge about the Holocaust before attending the workshop, said Jeff Blutinger, co-director of the CSULB Jewish studies program and an assistant professor of history. 

One of the instructors teaches an entire semester course on the Holocaust at a Catholic school and others had “far less background,” he said.

The annual workshops are intended for high school language arts and history teachers, but one discussion highlighted the need for elementary schools students to learn about the Holocaust. CSULB history department faculty member Dave Neumann said that there are age-appropriate ways to share information about the Holocaust in an elementary school classroom. 

“At least one of the teachers said that they [the students] need multiple exposures to the information so when they get to high school it’s not the first time the students are hearing about it,” Neumann said. 

Workshop speakers included Holocaust survivors Sol Berger and Gerda Seifer; Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Center at American Jewish University and a professor of Jewish studies; Sherry Bard, project director of educational programs at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute; Wolf Gruner, the Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish studies and professor of history at USC; Stacy Jackson, ADL facilitator and co-writer of the “Echoes and Reflections” curriculum; CSULB emeritus professor Don Schwartz; Bill Younglove, a CSULB instructor; and Blutinger.

During an Aug. 8 presentation, Younglove discussed the effectiveness of showing films such as “Sophie’s Choice,” “Defiance” and “Uprising,” which can succeed where words fail when trying to make students understand the gravity of what victims endured. 

The importance of dispelling myths is also central to teaching the Holocaust, and Gruner discussed ways that Jews used civil disobedience as a means to resist racism and discrimination, which runs contrary to the once widely held notion that Jews were passive victims. He also discredited the belief that Hitler, the Gestapo and the SS were the only agents of tyranny, and he discussed the various forms of municipal oppression Jews faced leading up to the Holocaust, including segregation in parks, pools and grocery stores.

Of course, incorporating survivor testimony is paramount to teaching what happened. For that reason, Polish survivor Berger told his story to the participants, discussing his multiple escapes, his experiences fighting for a Polish resistance movement and his induction into the Soviet army, for which he served as a translator.

Brazil’s Jewish community announces creation of Anne Frank ‘educational network’

Brazil’s Jewish community sent directors of five Brazilian schools named after Anne Frank on a Holocaust study tour in Amsterdam.

The study trip is the first step in the creation of an educational network, according to an announcement by CONIB, the central body representing the Brazilian Jewish community.

The network’s schools would teach tolerance according to methods developed by the Amsterdam-based Anne Frank House educational institute. 

In the Netherlands, the delegation met Holocaust survivor Nanette König, who studied with Anne Frank. They visited Westerbork concentration camp, where Koning and Frank awaited deportation to Auschwitz. The visitors returned to Brazil last month.

“We learned a lot and there was a lot of crying, a lot of emotion,” said Marcelo Lins, a Brazilian journalist who joined the delegation. “We learned that the Dutch Jewish community was decimated, and we saw that, today, Amsterdam is once more a tolerant city, where tolerance is worked on.”

In Brazil, the schools will apply the Anne Frank House teaching methods and materials “which spread the values which Anne Frank represented, serving tolerance and the fight against anti-Semitism and racism,” the announcement by CONIB read.

The trip was organized the educators’ delegation together with the Sao Paulo Jewish community and the Anne Frank House, an educational institute.

In parallel, CONIB has launched a national essay contest about Anne Frank – a German-born Jewish teenager who hid in the house on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht for two years. She was arrested on August 4, 1944, and sent to Westerbork. The diary she kept became an international bestseller. The house became a museum which last year drew a record 1,104,233 registered visitors.

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Jewish studies flourish in China

The last quarter century has witnessed a veritable explosion in the academic field of Jewish studies. During that time, Israel solidified its place as the global center in the field, while in the United States virtually every university and college of note has established its own program, center or chair. In these two venues, the growth of Jewish studies has been closely linked to the presence of Jews, though in the United States an increasing number of non-Jews have entered the field. In other parts of the world where the field of Jewish studies has been expanding, such as Germany, the field is populated almost exclusively by non-Jews. 

Surely one of the most interesting sites of the new Jewish studies — and one of the most promising in terms of growth — is China.  

Jewish studies in China? Yes, there is a burgeoning Jewish studies presence in the most populous country in the world. The most established program in the country is based at Nanjing University, and it is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The founding director, professor Xu Xin, followed his banishment to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution by undertaking graduate studies in English language and American literature. While engaged in his studies in the late 1970s, he discovered the riches of American Jewish literature, particularly the work of Saul Bellow — and from there developed a wider interest in Jewish studies. Xu Xin has been at the forefront of the growth of Jewish studies in China, raising several generations of students who now direct Jewish studies programs at other Chinese universities. He is a dynamic, passionate and worldly man whose savoir-faire persuaded Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists Diane and Guilford Glazer to endow his program.

[Related: The Jews of Kaifeng]

It was the Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies ( that invited me to Nanjing to teach a concentrated seminar for its graduate students. I had very little idea of what to expect from my academic experience there before arriving. I asked Xu Xin if it would be possible to visit Kaifeng, and he answered affirmatively. When I arrived in Nanjing, he told me we would be going to Kaifeng later that day and that I’d be giving three lectures there. Little did I know that the lectures would be at a conference on Holocaust studies and Jewish history held at Kaifeng’s Henan University! And not just that, but a conference held at a relatively unknown, regional university of more than 40,000 students, housed on a new campus graced by scores of new, architecturally designed buildings. This calls to mind one of the most striking impressions during my time in China: the frenetic pace of building. There is building everywhere, suggesting not only the rapid growth of the country, but also massive investment by the government in infrastructure and higher education, in stark juxtaposition to the defunding of both in our own country.

Meanwhile, I was stunned to enter the lecture hall in Henan University to see nearly 75 master’s and doctoral candidates in Jewish studies, all of whom were Chinese. Assembling that number of graduate students in Jewish studies in the United States would be nearly impossible. How much more unlikely in China! But the students were eager, curious and attentive. About half of the lectures were given in Chinese by local professors and graduate students, and the other half were given in English by conference organizer Jerry Gotel, a London-based American and patron of Jewish studies in China; Glenn Timmermans, an Anglo-Jewish scholar of English literature and the Holocaust who teaches at the University of Macau; and me. The students whom I met all read English and had a good passive command of spoken English, though they varied considerably in their ability to speak.

Why, one might ask, do these students devote many years of their lives to studying Jewish history? As a number of them told me, they sense an affinity between their people and the Jews. Both peoples possess a noble ancient history, have large dispersions outside their homeland and are marked by an entrepreneurial spirit. Perhaps most centrally, for both, education is an almost sacred pursuit. In fact, one of the most winning features of the Chinese students is their unabashed reverence for the teacher. The Confucian ideal, parallel to the Jewish precept of “kevod ha-moreh,” is alive and well today. Unlike the consumerist approach to education in the United States, where students demand attractively presented products from their teachers, students in China feel happy to receive the pearls of wisdom that issue from their teachers’ mouths. At times, this leads to a certain passivity in the classroom on the students’ part. But the overall effect, especially for a short-term visitor from America, is wondrous.

Following the Kaifeng conference, I had the privilege of teaching a group of 25 graduate students — again, a rather astonishing number — in an intensive seminar on modern Jewish thought at the Glazer Institute in Nanjing. We spent three hours a day exploring thinkers as diverse as Baruch Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn, the Hatam Sofer, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Franz Rosenzweig and Hannah Arendt. We did close readings of primary sources together in class. This was a novel experience for most. Graduate students in Jewish studies in China write theses and dissertations on a vast range of subjects, from the Second Temple period to Maimonides’ philosophy to the Holocaust to contemporary Israeli society. But their research is based not on an analysis of archival sources in the original languages, which is the standard in the United States, but on a survey of recent secondary scholarship on a particular theme. In this sense, Chinese students are somewhat behind their American, Israeli and European counterparts. Nevertheless, they are quick learners and exceptionally hard workers. They will catch on soon.

Some already have. Lu Yanming is a postdoctoral fellow at Nanjing University who seems to know everything about Chinese history and virtually everything about modern European history as well. He understands the norms of scholarship in the West and is aiming to meet them in his current research on Jews who returned to Germany after World War II. Meng (Jeremiah) Zhenhua is a fine young professor of ancient Judaism at Nanjing, who has done extensive training in Israel and speaks Hebrew. As it happens, he is also the Communist party representative in the department of philosophy and religion, a curious reminder of the lingering presence of the old regime in new China. And Fu Cong just received her bachelor’s degree and is entering the master’s program in Jewish studies at Nanjing. She was one of the most perceptive, sophisticated and confident of all the students in the seminar, and represents the newest generation who can be expected to do outstanding work in the field, most likely in her case by continuing her graduate studies in the United States.

Encountering these students made clear how remarkable and worthy an enterprise Jewish studies in China is. It’s important for China, it’s important for the field — and, it almost goes without saying, it’s important for Jews that the Chinese develop an informed understanding of their past and present in the 21st century.

Survey finds young Frenchman unfamiliar with WWII Jewish roundup

Most young Frenchmen never heard of the World War II roundup of Paris Jews, a survey shows.

The recent survey showed most young French adults were unaware of the deportation of Parisian Jews during the Holocaust.

Sixty percent of respondents aged 18 to 24 said they never heard of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup of July 16-17, 1942, when French police rounded up some 13,000 Jews in and around Paris. They were held near the Eiffel Tower before being shipped for extermination to Auschwitz.

The Union of French Jewish Students commissioned the leading polling company CSA to perform the survey, which includes answers from 1,056 respondents. The union published the results on the 70th anniversary of the deportation.

The survey showed young adults know less about the roundup than the average French adult. Among the general population, 42 percent of respondents had never heard of the roundup.

In 1995, then-President Jacques Chirac apologized for the French police’s role in the murder of the Jews arrested in the Vel d’Hiv Roundup. Popularly known in French as La Rafle (“The Raid”), the roundup has been the subject of books, poems and movies.

The survey revealed 32 percent of young French adults knew that French police had been responsible for arresting the Jews of Paris. That figure was 46 percent among the general population.

Eighty-five percent of all respondents said teaching about the Holocaust was “important.”

Dr. Richard Prasquier, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said the poll shows “there is a lot that needs to be done, but there are also positive points.”

Meanwhile, an exhibit of police archives from the French deportation, including photos, signatures and records of personal possessions from many of the victims, is set to go on display Thursday in Paris.

Yad Vashem, European group sign pact to enhance Holocaust education

Yad Vashem and the Council of Europe have signed a memorandum of understanding to promote Holocaust education throughout the council’s 47 member states

The agreement was signed Wednesday at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem by Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, and Thorbjorn Jagland, the council’s secretary general. It formalizes an ad-hoc relationship over the last 15 years and encourages new programs to enhance cooperation.

Among the items included are exploring the organization of a Holocaust education policy forum at Yad Vashem for educational policymakers, and fostering and developing cooperative relationships between member states and Yad Vashem.

“This agreement denotes willingness to deepen and enhance Holocaust education in Europe, and to encourage teacher training and to reconstitute historical awareness,” Avner said.

The International School for Holocaust Studies of Yad Vashem conducts some 70 seminars annually for educators from abroad and produces material in 20 languages. 

The council is an international organization promoting cooperation among European countries in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and culture.

Teacher arrested after Holocaust lesson goes awry

A South Carolina teacher was arrested on charges of assault and battery after trying to make a point during a lesson on the Holocaust.

Patricia Mulholland, a veteran seventh-grade social studies teacher at Bluffton Middle School, is accused of dragging a student from his seat by his collar and pushing him under a table while shouting “this is what the Nazis do to Jews.” The incident occurred last week.

The teacher said she was attempting to supplement a previous lesson on the Holocaust, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Police reportedly have copies of videos made by some students on their cell phones of the teacher acting strangely before the incident, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Mulholland, who has been teaching in the district for 23 years, was placed on administrative leave with pay on April 26. The school district has launched an internal review.

It has not been reported whether or not the student is Jewish.

ADL successfully expands Holocaust education workshop

For nearly 30 years, Los Angeles secondary-school educators have attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual Holocaust Education Workshop as part of their professional development. During the month-long series, L.A.-area teachers learned the history of anti-Semitism, listened to survivors’ firsthand stories and visited local Holocaust institutions, leaving them better equipped to teach the Holocaust to their students.

This year, the ADL has revamped its workshop to appeal to educators pressed for time as well as those who might feel that they might already know enough about the Holocaust. Renamed the Holocaust Education Institute, the workshop’s emphasis this year is on multimedia approaches to teaching the Shoah, increasing the convenience factor by stretching attendance over five months and allowing educators to attend as few or as many sessions as they like.

The overhaul of the program is exciting — and necessary, said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director.

“There’s a certain point in any innovative program’s life where it’s like the same people who are interested in it have already gone to it one or maybe even two times, and you’re starting to really struggle for membership and attendance,” Susskind said.

“The four-night thing was starting to get hard to sell … [and] if no one is coming, I’d rather change it to get more people in the room,” she said.

Until 2009, the program included four weekly sessions, each lasting about four hours, and attendance for all sessions was mandatory. Last year, the ADL squeezed the four workshops into one week.

Starting this year, the ADL is stretching the program over five months.

Serving as the kickoff event for this year’s program, the ADL will hold a seven-hour seminar, “A Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust,” on Nov. 4 at USC, followed by four four-hour sessions at various sites.

Co-sponsors for the Holocaust Education Institute include the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education; the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance; the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust; and the Center for Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance.

Experimenting with the content and structure seems to be paying off for the new Holocaust Education Institute. Alison Mayersohn, senior associate director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, said registration numbers are up. The Nov. 4 session is almost filled — nearly 60 people had signed up as of Oct. 28 — and Mayersohn said the attendance for the following sessions looks to be strong.

Katharine Guerrero, a teacher at Alverno High School in Sierra Madre, an all-girls Catholic college-preparatory school, has participated in several ADL Holocaust education programs for teachers in the past several years, including the organization’s Bearing Witness Institute, an overnight seminar that teaches the Holocaust to parochial schools. Guerrero said she plans to attend the Nov. 4 kickoff event.

“I like hearing this stuff over and over again for some reason,” said Guerrero, who has woven what’s she learned at these workshops into her classes — world religions and U.S history — at Alverno. She said the chair of her school’s theology department recommended that she get involved with the ADL workshops.

“I really took the [workshop] curriculum and I found a way to adapt it across the curriculum with my theology and world history course and my United States history,” she said.

During the Nov. 4 “Multimedia Framework for Teaching the Holocaust” at USC, an ADL staffer will introduce and give a sample lesson from “Echoes and Reflections,” an award-winning multimedia curriculum that features a DVD of survivor video testimony with accompanying maps, photographs and poetry. The curriculum is designed to be used by high-school teachers in various subject areas.

After the “Echoes” lesson, teachers will learn how to use iWitness, a new Web-based application for teachers and their students – developed by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute — that has 1,000 unedited survivor testimonies. Each video on iWitness has been indexed, making navigating the testimonies easier.

Dan Leshem, associate director for academic outreach and research at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, also will lecture on “Holocaust Denial, Multimedia and the Internet.” 

The four remaining sessions — offered from Nov. 17 to March 15, each beginning at 4:15 p.m. — closely resemble what the ADL has offered in previous years. These workshops are: “The History of the Holocaust,” during which attendees will tour the Museum of Tolerance and examine artifacts, including a four-page 1919 letter by Adolf Hitler that documents his anti-Semitic views; “The History of Anti-Semitism,” featuring a discussion on Catholic-Jewish relations; “Teaching the Holocaust Through Art,” highlighted by a tour of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where teachers will view a picture diary of the Theresienstadt concentration camp; and “Making the Connection From Past to Present,” which will include discussions on genocides in Rwanda and Darfur.

This is also the first year that teachers can attend as many, or as few, workshops as they like. However, LAUSD educators and librarians must attend the four sessions after Nov. 4 in order to qualify for one unit of Article Six multicultural credit. A book review, a lesson plan and an overall reflection on the course are also required for the credit.

The kickoff session at USC is $20 per person, which includes meals, materials and parking. Individual sessions after Nov. 4 are $15 each, or $50 to attend all four.

For more information about the Holocaust Education Institute, visit this story at olocaustinstitute.

S. Carolina set to cut Holocaust education funding

South Carolina’s superintendent of education has recommended cutting Holocaust education funding to help make up a significant budget deficit.

The $31,000 to the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust for Holocaust education programming is part of $71 million in cuts proposed by Superintendent Mick Zais.

State lawmakers decried the suggestion and said they would work to preserve the funding, the Post and Courier reported.

The South Carolina Council on the Holocaust is a volunteer organization dedicated to Holocaust education throughout the state. No money goes to overhead or administrative costs, the newspaper reported. Programs include teacher workshops; student field trips to Holocaust exhibits; speakers and exhibits for the public; and books and classroom materials.

The state curriculum requires the Holocaust to be taught at three times during a student’s educational career. The elimination of the funding would not change the requirement, according to the newspaper.

About a dozen Holocaust survivors live in South Carolina, down from 40 in 1990, according to The State.

Members of South Carolina’s Jewish community have pledged to raise the funds privately if the budget is cut, The State reported.

Zais’ father is Jewish and a World War II veteran, according to reports.

The state is facing a more than $800 million deficit in its $5 billion budget that began on July 1.

17 arrested in $42.5 million fraud at Claims Conference

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York has arrested 17 people for participating in a $42.5 million fraud at the Claims Conference.

Those arrested include former and current employees of the Claims Conference, which distributes more than $400 million per year from the German government to victims of Nazism. The alleged ringleader oversaw the two funds from which the tens of millions of dollars were allegedly fraudulently obtained.

In a news conference Tuesday, Claims Conference officials stressed that no Holocaust victims were deprived of any funds because of the crime. Manhattan District Attorney Preet Bharara praised the Claims Conference for contacting the authorities as soon as the seriousness of the fraud became apparent and for cooperating with the FBI throughout its investigation.

“If ever there was a cause that you would hope and expect would be immune from base greed and criminal fraud, it would be the Claims Conference, which every day assists thousands of poor and elderly victims of Nazi persecution,” Bharara said. “Sadly, those victims were themselves victimized. Without the extraordinary cooperation of the Claims Conference in ferreting out this alleged scheme to defraud them, it never would have been exposed.”

Claims Conference officials first noticed about a year ago that several claimants had falsified information to receive payments from the Hardship Fund, an account established by the German government to give one-time payments of approximately $3,600 to those who fled the Nazis as they moved east through Germany.

They were tipped off when multiple claimants used the same language and details in forms in which they documented evidence of victimization by the Nazis. That prompted a wide internal investigation that turned up thousands of additional fraudulent claims. The alleged fraud, which dates back to the mid 1990s, remained hidden so long because Claims Conference staffers at various levels conspired to hide and manage the false claims.

In all, 4,957 one-time payments totaling $18 million were obtained from the Hardship Fund through the alleged fraud. Another $24.5 million went to 658 fraudulent pension claims drawing from the Article 2 Fund, through which the German government gives pension payments of roughly $411 per month to needy Nazi victims who spent significant time in a concentration camp, in a Jewish ghetto in hiding or living under a false identity to avoid the Nazis.

Alleged ringleader Semyon Domnitser oversaw the two funds for the Claims Conference until he was fired in February. Domnitser could not be reached by JTA for comment for this story. (Read the charge sheet here.)

The other 16 people involved with the fraud all reside in Brooklyn and have been charged with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Eleven were arrested Tuesday morning. Charges against five others, four of whom pleaded guilty, were unsealed Tuesday. The charges carry possible sentences of up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

Since its founding shortly after the Holocaust, the Claims Conference has processed more than 600,000 individual claims with total payments exceeding $4.3 billion. The money came from the German government following negotiations with Claims Conference officials and Jewish leaders. The Claims Conference continues to negotiate with the German government for the expansion and continuation of various restitution programs.

In addition to processing restitution payments from the German government to Nazi victims, the Claims Conference is the trustee of money from the sale of heirless Jewish properties in the former East Germany that had been seized by the Nazis and are now being restituted to the Jewish community. It uses the money from the sale of those properties to fund institutions that aid survivors and Holocaust education programs, distributing approximately $135 million per year.

About four months after the fraud was discovered, Claims Conference officials went public with the news. In July, the agency announced the discovery of at least $7 million in allegedly fraudulent payments and said it had dismissed three employees in New York. Of those charged this week, six worked for the Claims Conference and 11 did not.

On Tuesday, Claims Conference officials stressed that the fraud represents a minimal amount of the annual payouts to survivors through the Hardship and Article 2 funds.

“The stealing of $40 million is disgusting,” Gregory Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told JTA. “But it’s less than 1 percent of funds distributed under those programs.

“No amount of fraud will be tolerated,” he said. “We identified it, documented it, investigated and brought it to the FBI.”

In recent months, the Claims Conference said, it has taken steps to strengthen anti-fraud safeguards, overhauling procedures and shifting some claims processing away from New York. The Claims Conference also said it retained K2 Global Consulting, an international firm, to review its procedures and make recommendations.

New generation has a new take on Israel

Earlier this spring, David Weiner, a 32-year-old social studies curriculum publisher from Los Angeles, went on an unlikely pairing of back-to-back missions to Israel.

His first week in Israel, he and a mini-bus full of peers in their 20s and 30s visited grantees of the New Israel Fund, a progressive social justice organization. They met a man who had built a sustainable living home and toured Hebron with Breaking the Silence, a group of veteran soldiers who give frank and sometimes disturbing accounts of their military service. They dealt with the prickly issue of religious pluralism, visited Palestinians, Bedouins and Ethiopians, and, with the human rights organization B’Tselem, explored East Jerusalem and the wall separating the West Bank.

The next week, Weiner embarked on the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Board of Governors Mission, where he and about a dozen young members of the AJC’s Access young professionals group joined more than 100 machers on two large tour buses.

They met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and other government officials. They visited the beleaguered town of Sderot, met with journalists and questioned various expert panels on political and social issues facing Israel. They explored the meaning of Zionism with Israeli nonprofit leaders and met with a rabbi who puts his kashrut stamp on restaurants that have disabled access.

Weiner says his involvement in each of these organizations — one progressive and alternative, the other mainstream and established — enriches his experience in the other.

“Both trips combined allowed me to get a much more thorough and nuanced understanding of some of the challenges that are currently facing Israel. Each organization has different strengths and different areas they might focus on, but I don’t feel like they contradict each other,” he said. Weiner also participates in NewGround, the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s Muslim-Jewish dialogue for young professionals.

Weiner’s high level of Israel involvement might not be typical of his generation, but what is typical is his approach to his relationship with Israel: He wants to sample from the buffet and eat standing up, not order a five-course sit-down dinner.

Many Gen Y-ers — people born between the mid-1970s and early 1990s — don’t buy into the mainstream demand that they wave the Israeli flag and pledge support to the Jewish state. Uncomfortable with terms like “Israel advocate” or “pro-Israel,” many of today’s future leaders are forging an arena where they can build a relationship with Israel that is nuanced and multifaceted, relying on cultural interactions or collaborative tikkun olam projects, sometimes in addition to, sometimes instead of, traditional political advocacy. To them, Israel is not a miracle to be held in respectful and infallible esteem, but a complex reality to be criticized and/or befriended, woven into or left out of many layers of their ongoing search for meaning.

It is a shift in attitude that the Jewish establishment is still trying to get its head around.

Weiner said that board members on his AJC trip were eager to hear about his New Israel Fund experiences. AJC has already taken strides by developing the Access program, and they are eager to find out what appeals to this generation of multitasking, wirelessly wired, socially and psychologically self-aware resume builders, who were raised on a diet of unconditional validation and self-esteem building.

Community leaders were rocked last year when a study by demographers Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman revealed that more than 40 percent of non-Orthodox Jews under 35 felt only a low sense of attachment to Israel, and nearly half would not view Israel’s destruction as a personal tragedy — slight but notable shifts from their Gen-X predecessors and more so from their Baby Boomer parents. Israel advocates were left wondering whether there will be enough dedicated Israel supporters to replace the retiring Baby Boomers and what the diminishing numbers might mean for fundraising and advocacy for U.S. support of Israel.

Much of this generation’s alienation from Israel can be attributed to general attrition of Jewish identity. Many of this generation have intermarried or are not averse to the possibility, or are disconnected from Jewish life altogether, which from the start makes them less likely to feel strong ties to Israel.

The question taunting community leaders now is whether even those who do identify Jewishly are losing their connection to Israel, as the Cohn-Kelman study and other more anecdotal evidence indicates, or whether the Gen-Yers are simply expressing a new kind of relationship to Israel in terms the mainstream doesn’t yet understand.

“The world they are in looks different in terms of opportunities, in terms of the relative place of things in community memory, in terms of the assumptions of what it means to be Jewish,” said Yoni Gordis, executive director of Center for Leadership Initiatives, an operating foundation funded by Tulsa-based philanthropist Lynn Schusterman.

“This generation lives in multiple communities simultaneously, and they don’t have as much guilt as the previous generation,” Gordis said. “That empowers them and gives them a huge number of opportunities, and it can also make it more challenging to figure out what their level of commitment is to specific jobs or opportunities. We have to understand their commitment to community in a different way, because they express it in a different way.”

What can sometimes appear to establishment leaders as waffling on Israel by the younger generation may instead reflect a disinclination to connect to Israel through the institutional models of the past few decades. To ask a Gen-Yer whether he or she is a supporter of Israel, or emotionally invested in Israel, might be irrelevant. What they want to talk about is how Israel is one of many components of a Jewish identity, and how Israel affiliation can be integrated among their other core values, such as social justice, the environment and artistic expression.

And they want to feel free to be critical of Israel.

The fear of silence

Robert Geminder was six years old when he heard the dogs barking. He was hiding in a little pantry with his older brother, George. His mother, Bertl, would always tell them to be extra quiet, because you never knew when “the soldiers” would show up.

When the dogs got louder, he figured the German soldiers would soon open the pantry door and find him and his brother, crouching in the corner. He didn’t figure that his mother, with the help of his grandmother, Golde, would think of stacking firewood in front of the pantry to disguise the smell of the boys. But that’s what they did, and it worked. The dogs and their Nazi bosses left, and Robert and his brother could breathe again.

This was in 1941 in Stanislawow, Poland. Two years earlier, at the beginning of World War II, Robert was a 4-year-old living in a nice neighborhood in Bielsko in Southern Poland. In August of 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, Robert’s town was devastated by the blitzkrieg. His father, Mendel “Mano” Geminder, died of a heart attack while trying to barricade a living room window with a mattress. As the troops invaded, his grandfather was executed on the streets, leaving Robert, George, Bertl and Golde homeless and on the run.

They tried to flee to Russia but were turned back. Eventually, they ended up in Stanislawow, in one of 300 Jewish ghettos that the Germans had set up throughout countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania. Before the war, about 3 million Jews lived in Poland, the largest concentration of Jews in the world. It’s estimated that 97 percent of those Jews died.

To this day, Geminder can’t quite fathom how he ended up in the 3 percent that survived.

It helps, though, that this 72-year-old retired engineer and now schoolteacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District has a very sharp memory. As he shares story after story of his many escapes and close calls and plain old suffering (“I was hungry for six years,” he says), it’s clear that there were at least two reasons for his survival.

Extraordinary luck and an amazing mother.

One of his closest calls came on a winter day in 1942 when he was one of 20,000 Jews taken to a cemetery near Stanislawow. There, Jews were greeted by German snipers who shot them and pushed their bodies into mass graves. Geminder and his family were “lucky” enough to be among the first batch of Jews to arrive, which meant they were at the back when the shooting started. By the time the snipers got to them, after mowing down about 16,000 other Jews, it was dark and had started to snow, so the Germans took them back to their ghetto.

They survived there for a couple of years. On those rare times when the young Geminder was not hiding in closets, he remembers seeing “daily hangings and children being killed and thrown against walls.”

One day his mother heard a rumor that the entire ghetto was to be “liquidated.” Her rabbi told her to do whatever she could to “get the children out,” so she came up with an escape plan with the help of a girlfriend. The two women hid the boys under their skirts as they walked out of the ghetto walls, ostensibly to go to their “slave labor” jobs. They never came back. Geminder’s grandmother, the rabbi and everyone else never made it out.

For the next three years, until the end of the war, the Geminder clan — which by now also included Emil Brotfeld, a man who would later become Geminder’s stepfather — wandered throughout Poland living on their wits and courage and hoping only to stay alive.

As he sits now in his modest home in Rancho Palos Verdes, where he has lived for 42 years and where he and his wife Judy are active members of the Conservative Congregation Ner Tamid, Geminder tells me he’s got “maybe a hundred” stories of how they just barely made it.

“One of those things goes wrong,” he says, “and I’m not here talking to you.”

But while he’s got many stories of survival, there’s one story in particular he keeps bringing up: On May 11, Geminder will don a graduation cap and walk with students less than half his age to receive his degree in education from Loyola Marymount University.

He’s especially proud of that story. But why would a man get a teaching degree 48 years after graduating from university with an engineering degree?

He can’t say for sure, but he thinks it has something to do with the fact that he loves talking to people, especially young students. For as long as he can remember, early May has been “his busy period,” when Jewish organizations from across the country recruit Holocaust survivors like Geminder to tell their stories in schools and other venues. So Geminder knows from talking in noisy classrooms, and what job could be better than schoolteacher for someone who loves to talk?

In fact, when you talk to Geminder, the theme of talking and making noise is never too far from his mind. What seems to haunt him most from his childhood as a “wandering survivor” is not the fear of hunger or the fear of death — but the fear of silence. It’s those hundreds of “shhhs” he would hear while spending most of that childhood hiding in silence.

He prayed that if he ever made it out alive, and had children of his own, that he would never be forced to keep them quiet. This is another way of saying that Geminder wasn’t too hard on his three children, who are now grown-up, when they got a little, say, rambunctious.

Sixty-six years after crouching in a pantry in forced silence, Robert Geminder, survivor and proud new graduate, defines his freedom as having no fear to make a little noise.

Last October, VideoJew Jay Firestone taped survivor Eva Brown’s story at her home in David Suissa’s Pico-Robertson hood.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

UCLA Shoah class attracts large number of Asian students

“The Holocaust in Film and Literature” is one of many UCLA classes that draws in undergraduate students looking to fulfill general education requirements. German 59, as it’s listed in the university catalog, has attracted 241 students this quarter.

The course demands are strenuous. Among the required readings are Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” and “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink. Additionally, students read selected works by authors such as Hannah Arendt and Nelly Sachs, as well as poetry, memoirs, encyclopedia entries and original documents. Assigned films include “Schindler’s List,” “Night and Fog” and several documentaries.

Allan, a 23-year-old chemistry major, said he is taking the class because he wanted to explore what caused such a great tragedy with so many deaths.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said, “but it’s an interesting topic and worth the time.”

Allan, a Filipino American, represents a surprising trend for a Holocaust studies class — about 40 percent of the students in German 59 are Asian or Asian American.

“This is not a class that’s taught only for Jews,” said Todd S. Presner, who teaches the course.

One explanation might simply be that the class reflects the demographics of the UCLA student body, which is roughly 33 percent Asian and Asian American. But that ignores some of the more profound motivations expressed by a random sample of students attending Presner’s lectures.

Several students say their interest was piqued in high school, when they first learned about the Holocaust, often through a Jewish teacher.

Isabella Niu, a 19-year-old political science major from Taiwan, first heard about the Holocaust in high school. She said she wanted to learn more after her teacher “just mentioned it and then dropped it.”

Angela, a 20-year-old Chinese American neuroscience major, is attending the class simply to learn more about the Holocaust. She felt it was important to study the topic, and it provides her a break from her science courses.

Presner’s reputation as an enthusiastic teacher who knows his subject is also an important draw for some students.

Among them is Patrick Agustini, a 21-year-old business major from Taiwan, who expects the course to “broaden his outlook and change his perspective.”

Don T. Nakanishi, UCLA Asian American Studies Center director, believes that Asian American students are interested in learning more about the Holocaust for the same reasons as other students: It was the most horrific example of human madness and extermination.

“They are interested in learning more about why it happened, what took place and what lessons we need to learn so that it does not happen again,” he said. “Asian American students may also have a special motivation, which stems from their interest in seeing potential parallels between the Holocaust in Europe and major episodes of genocide in countries from which they and their families fled, like the killing fields in Cambodia.”

Professor David Myers, chair of the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA, speculated that some Asian and Asian American students might be interested in the Holocaust because of a “lingering consciousness of Japanese internment.”

Yuri Shindo, a 19-year-old biology major from Japan, said that the Holocaust intrigued her, not because of Japan’s role in World War II, but rather because of “how the Japanese were treated in the United States.”

Shindo lamented the fact that the Holocaust is not taught in Japanese schools. She is aware that the Germans are much more knowledgeable about the war and feels that Japan should follow Germany’s example and include it in the school curriculum.

“Japanese people don’t know what happened,” she said.

Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, the George and Sakaye Aratani Professor of the Japanese American Internment, Redress and Community at UCLA, said that he has not seen any empirical material, such as a survey, that would provide any insight into why Asian and Asian American students would be particularly interested in this or similar Holocaust studies courses. He recognizes that the medium might be as important as the message.

“Over the years, I have used documentaries as an integral part of my Asian American studies courses,” he wrote in an e-mail. “What I found is that no matter where I’ve taught, my Asian American students both appreciate and enjoy film and other visual material because they are able to ‘see’ things for themselves that the textbooks and articles only describe.”

While no one has seriously researched why Asian and Asian American students in particular are drawn to this Holocaust studies class, it likely has something to do with the professor’s approach. Presner doesn’t look on the Holocaust simply as a historical event or an enormous tragedy that happened to other people a long time ago in a far away place.

Rather, he said, “it should affect my students personally. Initially, it’s abstract and distant, but in time, it becomes personal and relevant. There is an ethical undercurrent in the class, and I’m not only teaching them facts but engaging my students to become more humane.”

Briefs: UC ‘study in Israel’ program draws Sacramento attention; Gold officially the man at the Fede

UC’s Study in Israel Program Enters Legislature

The effort to reinstate the University of California’s study in Israel program entered the state Legislature last week.

Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco) introduced a resolution on Jan. 17 that urges the UC to adopt a policy similar to those at other universities, which allow study in countries under U.S. State Department travel warnings. Since the UC suspended its program in Israel in April 2002, during the Second Intifada, countless students have had to officially drop out of school and enroll directly in an Israeli university or through a third-party provider.

The move cost some students their financial aid and had to be made without the guarantee that credits earned during their semester or year abroad would be recognized by their UC campus. The same has been true for those wanting to study in the Philippines.

“The UC EAP policy does a disservice to interested students by judging potential programs without weighing the potential academic benefits against the potential nominal risks of traveling in a country subject to a less severe travel warning,” Migden, who is Jewish, wrote in SR 18.

Such resolutions have already been passed by the student bodies at Berkeley, Davis, San Diego and Los Angeles. In the meantime, UC Provost Wyatt R. “Rory” Hume has asked campus chancellors to at least simplify the process of studying in Israel or the Philippines by providing counselors to explain which courses would count for credit, allowing students to keep their university e-mail and facilitating re-enrollment without reapplying.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Riverside Jewish Family Service to Close

Jewish Family Services of the Inland Communities, the only Jewish agency in the city of Riverside not affiliated with a synagogue, is shutting its doors on Jan. 31.

“Because we don’t have a Jewish federation to fund us, we were unable to get that base amount of money,” said Ilene Stein, the group’s manager.

The office on 10th Street served nearly 100 clients from western Riverside and San Bernadino counties, offering services to Holocaust survivors, organizing grief and health workshops, visiting Jews in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes as well as providing gifts on Jewish holidays.

Stein said that the organization was dependent on grant money, and in the last two years its income dropped from $46,000 to $31,000.

“In the last four years, the grant cycles played against us,” she said.

Jewish Family Services of the Inland Communities was incorporated in 1995, and board president Margie Orland told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that some volunteers would continue to serve people on their own.

“There’s a lot of need in the community. We hope some of this continues, perhaps through the temples,” she said.

Jewish Family Service of the Desert, which receives steady funding of almost $1 million from the Jewish Federation of the Palm Springs/Desert Area, has yet to discuss the possibility of expanding into the area covered by JFS of the Inland Communities.

In the meantime, Stein says Riverside congregations are struggling, and she worries that unaffiliated and secular Jews in the area are losing a critical resource.

“Where the biggest hurt is going to be is looking for Jewish information,” Stein said. “It’s going to be hard for new people moving into the area.”

— Adam Wills, Senior Editor

New Federation Chair Shares Vision at Hebrew Union College

Stanley P. Gold took over lay leadership of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on Jan. 1 with high hopes for a new future for the umbrella organization for L.A. Jewry.

“Have we made any progress?” he rhetorically asked about 30 students and faculty at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) last week. “A little bit. I’ve been on the job two weeks.”

Gold’s talk, which focused on his vision for The Federation, was the first in a series of dean’s lunches. He began by telling the students why he took the volunteer job even after his wife and rabbi and friends and children counseled him otherwise.

“The one thing I am good at,” said Gold, who serves on the board of governors for HUC-JIR and is president of the private-equity firm Shamrock Holdings, “is I am a change agent.”

And certainly that is something The Federation could use. Jewish umbrella organizations across the country are suffering from decreasing involvement from younger Jews who no longer see the central model as integral to Jewish life. Locally, annual campaign revenues have been practically flat since the early 1990s (not including the $20 million Los Angeles raised in 2006 for the Israel Emergency Campaign).

“The Federation finds itself — and this is not a disparagement of past lay leaders or communal leaders — but it finds itself with a model and culture that was probably terrific 50 years ago, but society has moved on. Jewish life has changed,” Gold said. “It needs to change in order to accommodate.”

He had reiterated the three areas on which he has said he wants to direct The Federation’s focus: making Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles’ premiere Israel address; strengthening community relations, particularly with Latinos; and improving leadership and education programs. He also emphasized that The Federation needs to stop performing services “where we are sixth or seventh or eighth best. We don’t need to offer programs that other people in the community are doing better. We need to support them.”

Gold said he’s given himself six months to change The Federation’s culture and governance, and also said he expects to increase campaign revenues by at least 10 percent this year.

“Quite honestly, quietly we have an even bigger number in mind. But at least 10 percent,” Gold said. “And if we don’t achieve it, somebody ought to call us on the carpet about it. We ought to be held accountable.”

His first big test will be Feb. 10, when The Federation hosts its Super Sunday fundraiser.

Pledge to survivors — we will carry the torch

Growing up, we whose parents had emerged out of the Shoah believed that they were indestructible. After all, they overcame the German efforts to murder them, survived
ghettos and death camps, and rebuilt their lives after the war. They also had a special appreciation and zest for life. In our eyes, they were truly the “greatest generation.” It seemed to us that our parents would be here forever, and that they would always protect us, their children.

But age and the frailties of the human body are proving to be inexorable. The ranks of those who suffered alongside the murdered victims of the Holocaust are steadily dwindling. All too soon, their voices will no longer be heard. Many sons and daughters of survivors have already lost one or both of their parents. My father, the fiery leader of the survivors of Bergen-Belsen, died in 1975 at the age of 64. My mother, one of the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., died 22 years later. More recently, the passing in late 2006 of Sigmund Strochlitz and Benjamin Meed, two of the most prominent Holocaust survivors in the United States, served to remind us all that we truly are at a moment of generational transition.

The responsibility for transmitting the survivors’ legacy of remembrance into the future must now increasingly shift to us — their children and grandchildren. In his keynote address at the First International Conference of Children of Holocaust Survivors in 1984, Elie Wiesel mandated us to do what the survivors “have tried to do — and more: to keep our tale alive — and sacred.” We are fortunate that the survivors are most ably represented by Sam E. Bloch, Roman Kent and Max Liebmann, the leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, but it is now incumbent on us, the members of the second and third generations, to stand and work alongside them more closely than ever before in perpetuating remembrance and challenging the conscience of humankind. Our task is to integrate our parents’ memories, spirit and perseverance into the Jewish community’s and the world’s collective consciousness.

The sons and daughters of the survivors are diverse, multitalented and anything but homogeneous. Among us are Holocaust remembrance activists such as Rositta Kenigsberg, Romana Strochlitz Primus and Leonard Wilf — with whom I had the privilege of serving on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Dr. Joel M. Geiderman, co-chair of the Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the Council’s present vice-chairman; and psychologist Eva Fogelman, who pioneered support groups for children of survivors in the 1970s.

Our ranks also include Helen Epstein, author of the influential 1979 book, “Children of the Holocaust: Conversations With Sons and Daughters of Survivors”; Israeli clinical psychologist Yaffa Singer, an internationally recognized authority on post-traumatic stress disorder in military personnel and veterans; former World Jewish Congress Executive Director Elan Steinberg, the brilliant strategist behind the successful effort to wrest $1.25 billion of Holocaust assets from Swiss banks; my wife, Jean Bloch Rosensaft, an art historian and museum director who has curated numerous exhibitions of art by survivors and children of survivors as well as an international traveling photo exhibition about the displaced persons camp of Bergen-Belsen; talented novelists Lily Brett, Thane Rosenbaum and Melvin Jules Bukiet; Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist Art Spiegelman; CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer; New York Times journalist Joseph Berger; Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former senior aide to New York Governor George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Alphonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.); Vivian Bernstein, co-chief of the Group Programmes Unit of the Department of Public Information at the United Nations; Rabbi Kenneth Stern of Manhattan’s Park Avenue Synagogue; Detroit psychologist Charles Silow, who devotes himself to the care of elderly survivors; Holocaust historian and educator David Silberklang; film historian Annette Insdorf and documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner; American Jewish Committee Executive Vice President David Harris; Serena Woolrich, the founder of Allgenerations, an Internet clearinghouse of information for survivors and their families; Forward publisher Samuel Norich; museum architect Daniel Libeskind; and Israeli singer Yehuda Poliker who composed the classic rock ballad, “This Is Treblinka Station,” to name only a few.

Each one of us implements our parents’ legacy in a unique, personal way. Together, we personify our generation.

Because we are our parents’ children and grandchildren, we have a greater understanding of and sensitivity to their experiences than anyone else. We, who are the personal witnesses to the survivors, must ensure that their horrendous experiences, the brutal mass murder of their families, our families, and the attempted annihilation of European Jewry as a whole will never be forgotten, and that our parents’ and grandparents’ values and souls will remain core elements of the national and international institutions of memory they helped create.

We must carry on their unwavering struggle against all attempts to diminish the Jewish essence and centrality of the Shoah. We must intensify their allegiance and commitment to the centrality of the State of Israel.

And we must maintain their staunch opposition to all manifestations of Holocaust denial or trivialization.

That is our pledge to our parents this Yom HaShoah.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

Marilyn Harran: A Modern Righteous Gentile

Marilyn Harran

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

As a young assistant professor at New York’s Barnard College in the mid-1970s, historian Marilyn Harran befriended one of the school’s maintenance workers. One day the man asked Harran to look at some of his wife’s artworks.
“Why not?” she remembers thinking.

Unbeknownst to her, his wife was a Holocaust survivor whose charcoal drawings depicted the horrors she had witnessed. A rendering of dead babies’ bodies being stacked like lumber underscored for Harran the Holocaust’s horror and brutality. From that moment on, she made a personal mission of bringing the Shoah to light out of the dark recesses of hidden nightmares. For Harran, who is Protestant, keeping these memories alive is nothing less than a human imperative.

“I want to create a generation that never believes some people are more human than others,” she said.

A diminutive woman with an easy laugh, Harran, now 58, is a professor at Chapman University in Orange, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Over the past two decades, largely through her efforts, Chapman has come to offer several courses on the Holocaust; it also hosts annual lectures on the subject and even offers a minor in Holocaust history.

In 2000, Chapman opened the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and established the Stern Chair in Holocaust Education, which Harran holds.

In April 2005, again at Harran’s instigation, Chapman opened the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library. The renowned Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel, after two years of coaxing by Harran, attended the library’s dedication ceremony.

With the help of her supporters, Harran “has been able to place awareness of the Holocaust at the center of Chapman’s intellectual life, and, perhaps even more remarkably, as a topic of regular attention and concern in Orange County,” said David N. Myers, a professor of Jewish history and director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies.

William Elperin, an attorney and president of the “1939” Club, an organization for Holocaust survivors and descendants that has supported many of Harran’s endeavors, goes even farther in his praise.

“She is the person most responsible for transforming Orange County from a Holocaust denial center to a Holocaust education center,” Elperin said.

Sitting in her Chapman office surrounded by books and a photo of Wiesel, her hero, Harran said she spends about 100 hours per week on Holocaust-related activities. She teaches three classes on the subject, arranges for guest lecturers and oversees her students’ work on an ambitious survivor project she hopes will lead to publication of a book detailing survivors’ experiences. She also participated in the publication of “The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures,” which has sold 200,000 copies.

Looking forward, Harran dreams of establishing a visiting scholars’ program at the university and growing the Holocaust library’s small collection, although raising the needed money might prove difficult, she said, given her distaste for fundraising.

Harran admits her “obsession” with the Holocaust has taken a toll on her personal life, but she believes it’s a small price to pay. She hopes that maintaining a focus on the Holocaust might encourage students and others to speak up against present-day atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere.

Still, she wonders whether she has done enough.

“I hope I’ve made a contribution,” Harran said.

What do Dennis Prager, Jimmy Carter, Mel Gibson and General Motors have in common?

Understanding Prager

Your Dec. 8 edition of The Journal had two prominent headlines regarding recent comments made by Dennis Prager. These headlines stated: “Prager Won’t Apologize After Slamming Quran in Congress” and “Prager Opposition to Quran in Congress Rite Draws Fire.”

Since I previously read Prager’s commentary regarding the new Muslim congressman wanting to use the Quran, instead of the Bible, during his upcoming swearing-in ceremony, it was difficult to reconcile both your headlines and the related article. Nowhere did we see Prager “slam” or “oppose” in a practical sense. Rather, his commentary sought to perpetuate American values for this traditional congressional swearing in ceremony. Our courts also use a similar process to swear in witnesses and assure truthful testimony. Will our court system be next in line?

Your paper was quite transparent in editorializing against, not reporting, Prager’s position. Moreover, some of the same Jewish leaders named as Prager’s critics have also been at the forefront of keeping religious and Jewish symbols out of our secular society.

In this latter instance, the constitutional separation of church and state argument is invoked. Interesting how they now cloak their argument against Prager with another constitutional position, i.e., the First Amendment.

You also cite an Islamic advocacy group, which vehemently attacks Prager both personally and via his position on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

Instead of overreacting to political correctness, we would be better served by pursuing the real facts and premise here.

Steven Fishbein

Talented Mel

I pay tribute to Mel Gibson … and believe that the word police are alive and well out there. (“Skip Into Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto,’ Now,” Dec. 8).

How many of us are innocent of never making a racial or ethnic slur? Because he is who he is, the media goes after him, waiting for him to mess up and nail him. So what — they are only words. I believe he is a most talented actor and director no matter what anyone says … and will probably go back and see [“Apocalypto”] again.

J. Sklair
Via e-mail

General Motors

The series, “Hitler’s Carmaker,” by Edwin Black examines once again the role of Adam Opel AG, GM’s German subsidiary, in the period before and during World War II (“Hitler’s Carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine,” Dec. 1).

It has been well documented that, like all German companies, Opel participated in the rebuilding of German industry during the 1930s. As Germany rearmed, Opel sold trucks and other vehicles to the German military, as did all other German vehicle manufacturers.

In independent research supported by GM, historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. concluded that GM executives in charge of Opel strove to evade Nazi demands to convert the firm’s main factory for production of dedicated war material. His book, “General Motors and the Nazis” (Yale University Press, 2005), documents that by mid-1940, soon after the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had taken complete control of operations at Opel.

It was during this later period, from 1940 though 1945, that the Nazis turned to forced labor to bolster Germany’s manufacturing industry, and that sanctions against Jews and others grew into the horrors of the Holocaust.

During this period, GM had no role in supporting the Nazi regime. In fact, GM became a key part of the American war effort, without which the Nazis might have remained in power for many years longerGeneral Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era.

While “Hitler’s Carmaker” makes for compelling reading, it is not news. It covers a period of history that has been extensively researched. For example, following in-depth investigations in 1999, Opel made a $15 million contribution to the German multicompany Trust Fund Initiative to compensate forced labor workers and their survivors.

Nor does it reflect the General Motors of today, which is firmly committed to basic human rights. These principles, spelled out in GM’s Human Rights and Labor Standards, the Global Sullivan Principles and related documents, are proudly supported by the men and women of GM around the globe.

Steven J. Harris
Vice President, Communications
General Motors Corp.

Playing With the Facts

Perhaps President Carter’s latest book is not “Mein Kampf” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” but give his supporters more time to play with the facts (“With Friends Like These…” Dec. 15). For example: The response to [Theodor] Herzl’s gentle diplomacy was “Protocols of Zion”; the Palestinian response to Jewish immigration of legally purchased land where the Jews did their own labor, at slave level, were pogroms (called riots); Palestinian Nazification erupted with Hitler’s ally in genocide, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, and blossomed with Arab Ph.Ds in Holocaust denial; currently there is mass Nazi education for Palestinian youth.

Don’t worry, give Carter’s book time.

Meanwhile, I hereby nominate his book for the “Janjaweed Martyrs of the Year” award.

Charles S. Berdiansky
West Hollywood

Vegan Versions

My mouth was watering as I read about Follow Your Heart’s annual all-vegetarian Chanukah feast (“Follow Your Heart to a Vegetarian Chanukah Feast,” Dec. 15). But are latkes and vegetarian liver really that foreign to us? Indeed, there are tons of vegan dishes that are common Jewish foods, from falafel and hummus to blintzes and vegetarian cholent.

My favorite part about Chanukah and other Jewish holidays is getting together with loved ones and chowing down on the easily vegan versions of virtually all Jewish staples. Not only is it easy to be vegetarian, it’s easy to be vegetarian and eat Jewish foods.

Michael Croland
Norfolk, Va.

Correction:The Dec. 15 Journal cover illustration should have been credited to Steve Greenberg. The Journal regrets the error.

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My message to the GA: follow the love, not the money

This column is not about the future of the Jewish people; you’ll get plenty of that in this issue of The Jewish Journal.Rather, it’s about the story of two Judaisms.

The first one is the Judaism I experience when I’m in fancy conference rooms talking to big Jewish machers about the big issues of the day.

The second Judaism, the one I write about every week, is the Judaism I live when I’m desperately looking for kosher marshmallows at Pico Glatt.

There’s a lot that I love about the first Judaism. For one thing, it’s great for my self-esteem. I get to schmooze with the players, and the stuff we talk about is so urgent and important! Do you have any idea how cool it feels to wax passionately about ideas to fight global anti-Semitism, or a new PR campaign that will improve Israel’s image in the world, or what we need to do to unite the Jewish people? When you talk about big stuff in front of big people, you feel like you’re really making a difference in the world.

Another thing that fascinates me about this first Judaism — the same Judaism that organizes major conventions like the annual General Assembly (GA), which this week is meeting in a city near Los Angeles called Downtown L.A. — is how good it is at raising money. Sorry, not good, brilliant.

Have you ever noticed how they know exactly how to push our buttons? They know that we’ll give more money to a crisis than to a problem, and that if we feel like the whole world is out to get us, or that Israel is in bigger danger than ever before, or that the Jewish people are facing an unprecedented crisis, well, we’ll probably add a few zeroes to our checks.

And who can blame them? Where would the Jewish people be today if it wasn’t for the generosity and fundraising efforts of our money people, who over the generations always seem to step up to the plate for the common cause? In fact, it was the generosity of wealthy Ashkenazi Jews that helped my Sephardic family and thousands of others resettle in Canada in the 1960s, when my parents were trying to escape the not-too-friendly confines of an Arab country.

The problem, and I don’t know how else to put this, is that money is way too important. It’s like a nuclear force — a piece of plutonium in Jewish community life. It’s so powerful a drug that it blinds and addicts and overwhelms everything in its path. If I have to make payroll today for my Jewish nonprofit, what else is there to talk about?

Money is so intoxicating that we don’t realize the heavy price we pay for our obsession with it. When you reduce any problem down to money, you suck all the juice out of it. You trivialize the problem, so you can’t see its texture, its depth, its nuance. It becomes that much harder to come up with any deep or creative ideas.

Take the “problem” of Israel, for example, which happens to be the theme of this year’s GA assembly. How often have we all been exhorted to “give to Israel during its time of crisis”? It’s like a broken record. Not only do we become numb to the subject, but we lose sight of the fact that there are things we can give to Israel that are more important than money. Like what, you say?

The best answer I’ve heard to this question came from Rabbi Donniel Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. In a recent salon gathering at a private home in Los Angeles, he explained how the all-consuming attention on dramatic and existential issues in Israel (security, peace, survival of the state, etc.) had drowned out less dramatic but critical issues like education, pluralism, democracy, human rights, the role of the army, the role of religion, the environment and other areas that have suffered from long-term neglect.

Instead of focusing on crisis-driven donations, Hartman called on people who love and care for Israel to connect more personally with the country, based on their own individual passions. For example, if your thing is the environment, connect that passion to Israel and make it the focus of your contribution, financial or otherwise. Whatever your thing is — music, Jewish unity, human rights, solar power, getting more milk out of cows — share that love with Israel and help make it a better country.

What Hartman is yearning for is a more intimate relationship between the Diaspora and Israel. Simply writing a check or staying at the King David Hotel or yelling at demonstrations is not enough. Israel needs your unique gifts, your loving critiques, your creativity, and, in return, Israel will have more to give back to you.

This notion of personal passion brings me to the second Judaism, the one I experience every day in a bustling, Modern Orthodox neighborhood called Pico-Robertson.

If the organizers of the GA had called me a year ago and asked if I knew a good place for their 3,000 delegates to stay in Los Angeles, I would have suggested that they shack up with 3,000 of my neighbors in the hood, who I’m sure wouldn’t mind hosting them. Instead of being close to Staples Center or The Walt Disney Concert Hall, like they are now, they would be close to Nagila Pizza and the 613 Mitzvah store, and all the other shops and shuls and little markets that make up this eclectic, turn-of-the-millennium Jewish neighborhood.

In the mornings, instead of room service or an organized breakfast with other delegates, they’d be schmoozing and having their coffee with the locals, in their cafes or kitchens. After a long day of meetings and speeches at nearby hotels and other venues, they’d return to the hood and see firsthand what it’s like to live and breathe Judaism.

In addition to making new friends, my wish would be that the delegates would gain new insights, the kind that are hard to get from Power Point presentations. Because if there’s one thing that I believe is missing from the first Judaism — the one that’s brilliant at making noise and raising money — I’d say it’s a better understanding of the second Judaism — the one that’s brilliant at staying connected to our Jewish faith.

Shoah lessons drive curriculum

The Holocaust will play a major role in educating teens at a new Green Dot charter school in Exposition Park. The entire staff of the Animo Jackie Robinson High School — seven teachers and two principals — has been trained to teach a curriculum by Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization that uses the Holocaust to help kids understand the impact of moral choices they make daily.

“In making our school a Facing History high school, we are saying ‘what if we could really shape all the curricular components with this vision? What would happen with kids from the inner city who are really struggling with moral choices, and who often have no idea what it means to have remorse for your actions?'” said assistant principal Kristen Botello.

The school has written a four-year curriculum that integrates the Facing History approach through several disciplines, including English, history, science, art and community service. Animo Jackie Robinson is the first school in Los Angeles to adopt Facing History as an underlying educational philosophy.

The school opened this year with 147 kids in ninth grade; 18 of them are African American and the rest are Latino. Grades will be added over the next three years until there are 600 ninth- to 12th-graders, and all teachers hired will be trained by Facing History.

“I believe the thought processes that result from Facing History affect the kids not only in terms of learning the content of the Holocaust, but in looking at human behavior and the specific, personal events where individuals had to make choices, and how individual choices impact history,” Botello said.

Botello taught English at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights for 14 years, 11 of them using the Facing History curriculum. She says she can always spot kids who had Facing History teachers.

“You can just see it in the way they behave, the way they treat each other and the tolerance levels they have for people who are different, not just in terms of race or ethnicity, but in terms of disabilities or challenges,” she said.
The Jackie Robinson educators were among 30 LAUSD teachers who participated in Facing History’s five-day September institute called “Holocaust and Human Behavior,” held at Mount St. Mary’s College Doheny Campus.

Around 1,500 teachers in Los Angeles have been trained by Facing History.
For information, visit or

A helping foot
As they have been for the past 14 years, about 250 kids and families will lend their feet to AIDS Walk Los Angeles Oct. 15 as part of Kids Who Care, a team made up of kids from more than a dozen schools, including Stephen S. Wise Day School and Milken Community High School.
Last year, Kids Who Care raised $65,000, placing it fifth among the top AIDS Walk fundraisers, most of them corporations.

The team was founded with 25 walkers in 1992 by then-8-year-old Leo Beckerman, a Stephen S. Wise member. Since then, Stephen S. Wise families have raised more than $500,000 for AIDS Walk Los Angeles, now in its 22nd year.
The money funds direct services, prevention education and advocacy on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles County.
There are approximately 55,000 people living with HIV in Los Angeles County, and there are 1,500-2,000 new infections each year.

For information visit or

Family dinners = better grades + better behavior
First ladies Maria Shriver and Corina Villaraigosa helped kick off Family Day at Thomas Starr King Middle School near Griffith Park Sept. 25. The Safeway Foundation launched a $2 million public service campaign to encourage families to eat dinner together.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University founded Family Day in 2001 — and this year 600 cities participated. A CASA study found that compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week, children and teens who have frequent family dinners are at 70 percent lower risk for substance abuse; half as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana; one-third less likely to try alcohol; and almost 40 percent likelier to say future drug use will never happen. The report also found that teens who have frequent family dinners are likelier to get better grades in school.

For information visit or

The next step for girls: Israel
The Orthodox Union’s (OU) Machon Maayan one-year program in Israel opened with its first class of 39 women, many of whom have scant Judaic studies background.
The post high-school seminary in Beit Shemesh — a half hour from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — attracts girls who graduate from the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the OU’s outreach youth movement, and want to continue in their Jewish studies.
“Where we stop, programs like Machon Maayan continue,” said Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of NCSY, who was formerly the movement’s West Coast director.
For more information go to


Beware the Finkelstein Syndrome

In May of 2006, I witnessed the bizarre rantings of the author and Holocaust revisionist Norman Finkelstein at UC Irvine. This was the second time that I had the misfortune of sitting through his lecture, the first time was at Cal State Fullerton.

Finkelstein uses his identity as the child of Holocaust survivors to gain credibility, distorting history by omitting context and defaming well-respected figures for the purpose of promoting hatred against the State of Israel and minimizing the horrors of the Holocaust.

His lectures include predictable rants against Israel, promotion of conspiracy theories regarding the reason his own new book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” (University of California Press, 2005), was not reviewed and a strange continuous bashing of Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz for writing “The Case for Israel.” He spends an inordinate amount of time lecturing about Joan Peters’ book, “From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine,” and calls survivor Elie Wiesel the “clown in the Holocaust circus.”

How twisted is Finkelstein’s sense of human decency?

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I find Finkelstein beyond despicable. I believe he openly and methodically lies in order to promote his own anti-Israel agenda.

It is well known that some children of Holocaust survivors carry severe scars and wounds that actually manifest in peculiar psychological behavior. For two decades, I worked as a licensed family therapist, and I believe that some day soon there will be a formal psychological syndrome that would account for self-hating Jews like Norman Finkelstein. Perhaps the syndrome will even be named after him: The Finkelstein Syndrome.

It’s inconceivable to me that Finkelstein might achieve tenure at De Paul University in Chicago, where he presently teaches his bizarre theories. That he is an assistant professor there is, in my view, a badge of shame for De Paul.

His true occupation is as a member of a traveling circus, a freak show of anti-Semites who promote anti-Israel propaganda from campus to campus. He openly admits to having high regard for Hezbollah on his Web site, and he promotes the false notion that “scholars widely agree that Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinian people in 1948.”

Even the historians that he quotes disagree with him. He denies the evidence that Arab leaders told Palestinian Arabs to leave Israel in 1948 so that the combined forces coming from Arab countries could exterminate the Jews, after which the Arabs who had lived in the region could return.

He denies the overwhelming evidence that this was the case, contained within periodicals and confirmed radio announcements at the time — among them The Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station, The New York Herald, London Economist, Time Magazine and Jordanian Daily Newspaper — that clearly reflected the push by Arab leaders to encourage the flight of their brethren for the purpose of the annihilation of the Jews and their reborn state. (A compiled list of critical quotes from reputable sources regarding this issue is available at

I cannot help but wonder why Finkelstein fails to mention that approximately 150,000 Palestinian Arabs chose to remain in Israel in 1948, becoming Arab Israelis with descendants and friends that now number over 1 million. Growing numbers of Arab Israeli citizens, with representation in Israel’s Knesset, do not match with his accusation of ethnic cleansing.

I once wrote a letter to Finkelstein, because I was frustrated after attending one of his deeply disturbing lectures. I asked him why he lied to well-meaning students during his lecture. I showed him the evidence that the flight of the Palestinian Arabs from Israel in 1948 was, in part, due to the war, and, in part, due to the clear calls from Arab countries.

I showed him evidence from credible sources. I asked him to refute them, but he did not in his reply. Instead, he told me to read his book, and he told me that our conversation was at an end.

As I sat watching Finkelstein this second time, I looked around the room at the eager 300 to 400 students who came to hear him speak. Many of them were already anti-Israel and enjoyed his presentation, because it supported and expanded their own prejudices. Others, however, had heard that a controversial speaker was coming and came in good faith with open minds.

I watched for three straight hours at UC Irvine as students were poisoned by the Finkelstein Syndrome. I walked away feeling saddened by the notion that young hearts and minds were affected by a man of such dubious scholarship and malicious intent.

What remedy do we have when a hateful propagandist and academic fraud like Finkelstein comes to town? As the national director of an organization that believes in free speech, the only power we have is to expose him as a failed scholar who lacks balance, as a man with an obsessive agenda and as a man who respects the likes of Hezbollah.

Maybe if these things about him become more widely known, the people who may have the misfortune of attending his future lectures will come for entertainment, rather than for education.

Roz Rothstein is national director of StandWithUs.


Community Briefs

Holocaust Memorial Rites at Pan Pacific Park Draw 2,000

Although their numbers are thinning with age, Shoah survivors comprised most of the audience of about 2,000 at the annual Holocaust remembrance service Sunday at Pan Pacific Park in the Fairfax district.

Hungarian survivor Eva Brettler was 7 years old when she saw her mother killed on a forced march from Budapest to the Ravensbruck and Bergen-Belsen camps, from which she was liberated.

“It’s a way of connecting with all the lost people,” Brettler said of Sunday’s event. “It’s very difficult, but it’s, in a way, remembering and, God willing, it will never re-occur again.”

Calling the survivors a “living testament to the Holocaust,” Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch spoke, along with former U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross, State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jona Goldrich, chairman of the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument.

“What we’re here to remember is the importance of memory itself,” the mayor said. “This year, we mark the 60th anniversary of the trials of Nuremberg.”

Villaraigosa asked all Shoah survivors present to stand, and most of the audience rose to applause.

Speakers implored Jews and non-Jews worldwide to confront continuing anti-Semitism and remain vigilant against the Islamist terrorist group, Hamas, which in February gained control of the Palestinian Authority.

“Hatred of Jews because they are Jews is still very real,” Danoch said.

The annual remembrance took place near the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument and was held two days before the worldwide Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 25. Yom HaShoah events also included the annual remembrance Tuesday at the Museum of Tolerance, plus an event for Catholic, Jewish and public schoolchildren on April 25, also at Pan Pacific Park.

Sunday’s service ended with the crowd reciting Kaddish, the mourners’ prayer, and a choir singing “The Partisan Song.”

Survivors and their children then made their way to the park’s nearby Holocaust monument. An 80-year-old Dutch survivor stood over the monument ground’s flat plaque bearing the phrase, “The Netherlands 100,000,” and as he looked down, he wept, briefly. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Waxman Ties Judaism to His Attitude Toward Politics

For longtime Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), it is through action that Jews can best demonstrate core Jewish values. During his 32-year tenure in Congress, that has meant supporting legislation to help those in need and playing watchdog to the powerful.

Waxman, 66, was the keynote speaker for this year’s eighth annual Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture and he spoke of how Judaism affects his attitude toward policy and politics.

Unlike some past series speakers, Waxman delivered remarks that were sharply political and not very revealing at a personal level. But Waxman’s earnestness was evident as he talked about serving in the House as a Democrat, while Republicans held sway in both Houses of Congress and the White House.

Describing the last six years of “essentially one-party rule in Washington,” Waxman cited numerous examples of what he termed inappropriate government behavior, including legislation forced through without proper discussion, bills delayed while recalcitrant voters were rounded up, violations of parliamentary procedures, and the withholding of key information. He also found fault with the substance of Bush administration policies, which he said prioritized the interests of the wealthy and corporations to the detriment of the poor and the middle class. The current political climate, he said, is characterized by the terrible triumvirate of arrogance, secrecy and lack of accountability.

For Waxman, such abuses have no place in a democracy.

“I believe,” he concluded, “that the leadership of our government in both Congress and the executive branch has turned away from core values we have as Americans and as Jews.

“By the way,” he added, “I think those values are very much the same. Justice Brandeis said, ‘If you want to be a good American, be a good Jew.’ I make these comments in the great tradition of our people that we should be willing to speak truth to the powerful.”

Waxman has been called one of the “ablest members of the House” by the authoritative Almanac of American Politics. He has developed legislation on a range of issues, such as health insurance protections, air and water quality standards, pesticide control, Medicare and Medicaid coverage, anti-tobacco efforts, AIDS prevention and treatment and funding for women’s health research.

As the ranking member of the Government Reform Committee, Waxman is noted for spearheading numerous investigations. Recent efforts have focused on White House ties to Enron, contract abuses in Iraq and the politicization of science. In a recent profile outlining his persistence and efficacy, the French newspaper, Le Monde, referred to him as “l’Eliott Ness du Congres.”

Waxman said he tries to base his actions as an elected official on tzedakah — “which means righteousness, not charity; [helping to] bring justice to others and sanctity to ourselves.”

Waxman, an unapologetic liberal, also is known for his strong support of Israel. In his speech, he criticized the prosecution of two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers accused of allegedly disclosing classified information they received from a Pentagon employee.

In introductory remarks at the Sunday event, Rep. Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood), Waxman’s long-time friend and colleague, noted Waxman’s value by quoting an unnamed Republican strategist. This strategist’s first argument for maintaining Republican control of both houses of Congress, said Berman, was the horror of imagining what would happen if Waxman chaired an oversight committee and could fully investigate Congress and the Bush administration.

Some of that analysis could apply as well to Berman, who last week was named to the House Ethics Committee, where he will be the ranking Democrat. Berman, who has served in the post previously, replaces Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va), who withdrew from the committee when questions arose recently over his ethics.

In an interview with The Journal, Berman said he accepted his new role on the House Ethics Committee with some reluctance. “It’s an honor, I could have done without,” said Berman. “It’s never fun to have to make judgments about your colleagues.”

Officially called the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the ethics panel is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the only committee configured that way. The thinking, said Berman, who previously served as ranking Democrat from 1997-2003, was to prevent partisan politics from being the driving force in the committee’s work.

“But there’s no doubt,” he added, “that the current intensity of partisan battling and confrontation has made this difficult.”

The Warschaw lecture, presented by the Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life, has become an annual opportunity for political leaders and thinkers to examine the intersection of Jewish values and political activity.

Waxman, who has represented the 30th District since 1974, told the USC audience that he’s always had a strong Jewish identity. However, he added, it was only as an adult that he began to more deeply explore the Jewish religion.

A Conservative Jew who observes the laws of kashrut and Shabbat, Waxman said that rituals provide “a check on our arrogance and self-importance.” Shabbat, for example, provides a weekly reminder that “no matter how important I may be, the world can get along without me quite well for one day.” – Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer

Congregation Adat Chaverim Receives $50,000 Grant

Congregation Adat Chaverim in the San Fernando Valley will use its $50,000 share of a grant to pay for a part-time rabbi and grow as a religious community.

Adat Chaverim is one of two U.S. congregations selected to share a $100,000 Pivnick Community Development Grant from the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The grant carries an award of $50,000, payable over a period of three years.

Since it was founded in 2000, lay members of the congregation have conducted services, educational programs and organized special life-cycle and holiday events. The funds will allow the congregation to bring in on a more frequent basis Rabbi Eva Goldfinger, who has visited the congregation several times to conduct special events, including a Passover fair and a Tu b’Shevat seder over the past year.

Members said they hope to hire Goldfinger on a full-time basis eventually. The rabbi grew up in a Chasidic family and was ordained by the International Institute of Secular Humanistic Judaism in 2005. She is currently director of adult education at the Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Toronto.

The Adat Chaverim membership consists of 43 families and “70-few” people, said congregation president Joan Waller, a retired professor of early childhood education at the College of the Canyons. “We’re energetic and hard working and have good potential. And with the appointment of Rabbi Goldfinger, we will be the only Humanistic Jewish congregation west of Chicago to have our own rabbi.”

According to a statement by the Society for Humanistic Judaism, the movement was founded in 1969 and “embraces a

human-centered philosophy that affirms the power and responsibility of individuals to shape their own lives independent of supernatural authority.” The movement “endorses ideals derived from the Jewish experience.”

Congregation Adat Chaverim meets for services, educational and other programs at Friends of Valley Cities Jewish Community Center in Sherman Oaks.

The grant will be formally presented at the Society for Humanistic Judaism’s annual convention in Cambridge, Mass., on April 28. To earn the award, Adat Chaverim submitted a grant application that included detailed plans for fundraising, marketing and publicity campaigns, as well as a five-year budget. — Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Israeli Nobel Laureate Speaks at Sinai Temple

Israel’s first Nobel Prize laureate in science, professor Aaron Ciechanover of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, made a recent stop at Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple to address Saturday morning services.

Ciechanover discussed the award-winning research that earned him the 2004 prize in chemistry, which he shared with Technion’s Avram Hershko and Irwin Rose of UC Irvine. Their joint collaboration, beginning in the early 1980s, led to the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation, which ultimately has led to promising treatments or potential treatments for a variety of diseases. At the time, such work “went against the stream,” because few researchers were interested in protein-breakdown, said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in bestowing the award upon the trio.

As a result of their research, it is now possible to understand at a molecular level how a cell controls a number of central processes by breaking down certain proteins and not others. Processes governed by this system include cell division and DNA repair.

In his April 8 talk, Ciechanover noted that his team’s findings offer a window of opportunity to develop drugs against cervical cancer, cystic fibrosis and various autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases. — Melissa Maroff, Contributing Writer


Jews in Poland Speak of Shoah Remembrance as a Curse

This tale is about two visions of Poland.

In one, Poland is about pain and loss. It’s the place where 3 million of a total population of 3.3 million Polish Jews perished in the Shoah, where Jews have nothing left, where indeed there are almost no Jews other than a few languishing, aged survivors who can’t even scrape together a Shabbat morning minyan. Poland is Auschwitz; it’s Never Again.

Defining this Poland is the March of the Living, an annual event that lays bare Poland’s deepest, murderous shame and then immediately whisks participants to Israel, to showcase that nation’s glories, and its essentialness to the Jewish people. The March of the Living has won wide acclaim from donors and participants, including students from Los Angeles.

March arrives at Birkenau
A Jew in Poland: Severyn Ashkenazy celebrates oneg Shabbat at Warsaw temple.

But there’s also another Poland competing for the attention of Jews. This is the Poland of 70-year-old Severyn Ashkenazy, who, although a victim of the Holocaust, chooses to paint a different picture. Ashkenazy, who splits his time between Poland and Los Angeles, is a co-founder of Beit Warszawa, a Warsaw synagogue that belongs to the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Ashkenazy’s Poland offers Jewish studies programs at three leading universities. It will hold its 16th annual Jewish Culture Festival this summer in Krakow, expected to attract 20,000 people and its fourth annual Jewish Film Festival this November in Warsaw. His Poland now has an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jews, according to figures published by the U.S. State Department. Ashkenazy and others estimate the number to be considerably higher.

In his Poland, Judaism has a present and a future, which makes March of the Living, and its thousands of participants, a sore point.

“They are the opposite of ambassadors of goodwill,” Ashkenazy said. “To the Poles, it seems that the whole world comes and looks at them as murderers.”

March of the Living, the international educational program that began in 1988, has brought approximately 90,000 teenagers, accompanied by Jewish educators, social workers and survivors, to Poland for a week. Every year, in late April or early May, thousands of Jewish teenagers from around the world gather to commemorate Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, by recreating the 3-kilometer “death march” of concentration camp inmates from Auschwitz to Birkenau. In addition to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they visit the death camps of Majdanek and Treblinka as well as the destroyed Jewish communities of Warsaw, Lublin and Krakow. They then fly to Israel for a week where they celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, and tour the country.

Participants pay a subsidized fee of $3,300, plus their own roundtrip airfare to New York. Some scholarships and additional subsidies are available.

Many teenagers report that the trip has profoundly and positively changed their lives, and two studies by William B. Helmreich, a sociology professor at City University of New York, concluded that the program strengthens participants’ Jewish identity.

“If the most important goal of the March was to increase Jewish identity, it clearly succeeded. Over 93 percent of those who participated reported that it did,” wrote Helmreich about research he conducted in 1993 and 2004. “This is especially noteworthy because so many of those attending were strongly identifying Jews to begin with.”

But there are critics, too, who say the March builds that identity based on death and destruction, creating an irrational fear of anti-Semitism in impressionable adolescents and sending a message that the primary reason to be Jewish is to keep the Holocaust from happening again.

Critics frequently take issue with the juxtapositioning of dark and gloomy Poland with sunny and joyful Israel. Participants have little or no contact with Poles or modern Poland, which has a strong relationship with Israel. Nor does the itinerary emphasize the burgeoning Jewish community in Poland.

But this year, Ashkenazy hopes to change things, even if it means getting in the face of participants. For the first time, many of the estimated 8,000 marchers will be confronted with something that belies this image of unmitigated death and darkness, of a decimated culture with only a few old, struggling Jews remaining.

On the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin, representatives of Poland’s small but vibrant Jewish community will be handing out flyers introducing marchers to the Poland they don’t know and, for the most part, won’t experience. To help drive this message home, Ashkenazy is overseeing the preparation of thousands of handouts presenting the Poland that he knows and cares about. The materials cost about $4,000 to assemble and print and were funded by several private donors, Ashkenazy said. The handout includes a cartoon by Steve Greenberg (whose work appears regularly in The Journal) that lampoons “Depressing Tours, Inc.” as well as a listing of Poland’s many active Jewish institutions and organizations, plus other relevant articles. Ashkenazy says that the visiting Jews ought to be celebrating their faith and heritage with the Jews of Poland, not acting as though they don’t exist.

“This is perverted,” he said of the March. “Jews should be standing in line to meet us, to celebrate Shabbos with us and instead we have to go running after them.”

He’s hardly alone in his discomfort among Jews living in Poland.

“They are everywhere,” Ania Zielinska said about the marchers. The 30-year-old trade officer in the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw has been a four-time March participant, but has soured on the event: “They are like a plague.”

Zielinska, a member of the Orthodox Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw — which is under the leadership of Rabbi Michael Schudrich and which she says has 500 members — didn’t discover she was Jewish until 10 years ago. She completed an Orthodox conversion two years ago. Zielinska resents the visitors who ignore the modern Polish Jewish community: “Polish Jews are very bitter. We feel abandoned.”

When Adrianne Rubenstein went to Poland on March of the Living with a group of about 200 Montreal teenagers in 2000, she expected the trip to be difficult but transformative. Instead, she found it controlling and numbing as she was constantly sleep-deprived and “talked at” by her group’s leaders, a deliberate tactic on the part of March officials, she believes.

“I don’t remember associating anything positive with Poland. It was all shock, shock, shock,” said Rubenstein, 23, a senior at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax. She was especially affected by the large exhibits of “tons and tons of shoes, watches, wallets and hair” in the Auschwitz Museum.

“I don’t know what can be taught by that, except to show that it’s sad,” she said.

Aliza Luft, 22, a senior at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, who participated on the March with Rubenstein, thinks Holocaust education is important but needs to be more all-encompassing, taking into account the 1,000 years of Poland’s rich Jewish culture and focusing less on the history of persecution.

“We’re told we need to support Israel and be Jewish, but we don’t know why, except if we don’t, things like the Holocaust are going to happen again,” she said.

There are any number of glowing testimonials to counter such criticisms from participants. They note that the shock value is part of the point — organizers want to make a stronger, sobering impression.

But Ashkenazy believes that point is made unfairly. “What’s our problem with the Poles today? What do we want from them?” he said.

In 1939, he points out, 60 percent of Poles were illiterate, under the sway of the then-anti-Semitic Catholic church. And while many individual Poles enthusiastically aided the Nazis during World War II, Poland historically has welcomed Jews, who started arriving in the Middle Ages, fleeing oppression in other countries. Despite periods of pogroms and persecution, Poland gave Jews substantial economic freedom and, compared to other places, allowed Jewish life to flourish. Polish Jewish culture gave birth to Chasidism and Jewish Enlightenment, and it was a bastion of Zionism.

The nonprofit March of the Living, founded by in 1987 former Knesset member and current Minister of Tourism Avraham Hirshson, does not hide its mission of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. Organizers of the New York-based group want to make sure that the stories of the survivors live on, that the ongoing problem of anti-Semitism is confronted and that participants come to see the necessity of a strong and secure state of Israel.

The stark contrast between Poland and Israel is deliberate, even in the welcoming statement from the first paragraph of the current educator’s manual: “You will be transported … back in time to one of the darkest chapters in human existence, to one of the most terrifying times in Jewish history. Then, before you can take a breath, you will travel to Israel, the Jewish Homeland, to celebrate with the people of Israel, Independence Day. It will be a journey from darkness to light. It will be an experience of a lifetime.”

left - Phil Liff-Greiff, right -
Survivor Nandor Markovic, right, sitting with Phil Liff-Grieff, from Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education, at Auschwitz before the March of the Living (2005).

Understandably, memories of the horrors persist for survivors and their families. Nandor Markovic, 81, was shipped from a shtetl in the Carpathian Mountains to Birkenau at age 15. His parents and three siblings were killed; he somehow survived six concentration camps and a death march before being liberated. For him, the streets of Poland will always be paved with blood.

Markovic, known as “Marko,” insists on accompanying the Los Angeles teen contingent on this year’s March, despite difficulty walking because of a tendon operation that never healed properly. It’s his third trip. He feels strongly that he stayed alive for a purpose, not only to have a family but also “to give back to society and to my people who have suffered so much.” For him, the March of the Living is a righteous duty, a way to honor and give meaning to the sacrifice of the victims.

No one would have more right to identify with the aims of the March than Severyn Ashkenazy. Born in Tarnopol, home to more than 18,000 Jews before World War II and now part of Ukraine, Ashkenazy survived the war by spending two years, from ages 6 to 8, holed up in a 6-by-12-foot sub-cellar — “a cellar dug under a cellar” — with his mother, brother and uncle, paying a non-Jewish Polish family to bring them food. For the last eight months, his father and three others joined them. Only one night in those two years was he allowed outside to see the moon.

Out of hundreds of blood relatives on both sides of his family, only an uncle and two cousins, in addition to his immediate family, survived. Ashkenazy left Poland in 1946, eventually making his way to the United States with his family in 1957. Later, in the early 1970s, while doing business in Russia as a real estate developer, he began traveling back through Poland. Each time, he was told only a few thousand old Jews were left in Poland. But gradually, after meeting many people who appeared to be Jewish, he came to realize that there was a community that deserved to be nurtured rather than abandoned.

In 1999, he co-founded Beit Warszawa, to give the Jews in Poland a non-Orthodox place to study, practice and explore their Judaism. The synagogue, which currently has more than 200 members and more than 1,000 on its mailing list, hosts weekly Shabbat dinners, services and concerts; Saturday morning services; and preschool and religious school. And beginning in July, Beit Warszawa will have its first full-time rabbi, Burt Schuman, an American Reform rabbi who has served Temple Beth Israel in Altoona, Pa., since his ordination in 1995.

Ashkenazy and others estimate there could be more than 50,000 Jews living in Poland today (a figure much higher than the 5,000 to 7,000 Jews March of the Living officials publish in their educational materials).

One of those is Malgorzata (Gosia) Szymanska, 25, who discovered that her father was Jewish about 12 years ago, when she asked him why he tuned into news about Israel more than other news. The revelation didn’t mean anything to her at the time but later, at 16, while visiting her father’s family in Canada, she was introduced to Shabbat and to her relatives’ close-knit Jewish community, which resonated with her. Returning to her hometown of Lodz two months later, she began learning Hebrew. A few years later she moved to Warsaw, where she became involved with the Polish Union of Jewish Students, which now claims about 300 members, and Beit Warszawa.

Szymanska is currently in Los Angeles getting a joint master’s degree — in Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and public administration at USC. After graduating in May, she plans to return to Poland and become Beit Warszawa’s first full-time administrator. She is especially upset by people she meets who say Poland is anti-Semitic and Jews shouldn’t be living there.

“The fact is, we are there,” she said. “And we are comfortable being Poles and Jews.”

Latent anti-Semitism does persist, especially among less-educated segments of the population. More historical than political in nature, it’s typically expressed in the form of graffiti and verbal slurs rather than actual physical harm. It’s also in decline, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. State Department, and officially condemned. When the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw was firebombed in 1997, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski issued a statement expressing his outrage that day.

Polish Jews interviewed for this article say they feel safe in Poland. They are comfortable publicly identifying as Jews, telling strangers they meet that they are Jewish and wearing kippot or Stars of David. Their synagogues do not have visible armed guards at the entrances, as in Sweden and other European countries. According to Ashkenazy, even Chasidic Jews, in full religious garb, feel safe traveling alone.

Furthermore, Poland is a solid friend of Israel. One of its first moves, when it became a democratic country in 1989, was to establish diplomatic ties. Since then, Poland has officially apologized for crimes that Poles committed against Jews and made denying the Holocaust a crime. It entered into an agreement to purchase $350 million worth of Israeli anti-tank missiles and has allocated land and $26 million for the building of a Jewish museum in Warsaw.

Additionally, many Poles note that the death camps in Poland were the primary responsibility of German Nazis. And while many Poles aided and abetted the Nazi, others risked their lives to help the Jews. In fact, Poles constitute the largest number of Righteous Gentiles honored at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Leaders of the March are not entirely insensitive to the criticisms. Phil Liff-Grieff, associate director of Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), has led groups of marchers three times. He says the depiction of Poland should be balanced. Over the years, he has arranged meetings with various groups of Polish and Jewish young people.

This year’s group of 60 Los Angeles teenagers, under the leadership of the BJE’s Monise Newman, is hoping to spend one Friday morning celebrating Shabbat with students at the Lauder-Morasha Primary and Elementary School in Warsaw, a Jewish day school established by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation. They also will spend a day helping to restore a cemetery in Otwock along with a group of Israeli students, a project of the Jewish Federation’s Los Angeles-Tel Aviv Partnership. Along the way, they hope to meet with Polish Jews from the Polish Union of Jewish Students.

Some 55 Jewish Poles will be participating in this year’s March and others will be meeting separately with visiting groups of Jews, said Yossi Kedem, executive vice chairman of International March of the Living, in an e-mail. But outreach to Poles and local Jews is simply not part of the March’s core program.

“It’s always a logistical nightmare,” Liff-Grieff said, especially given the tight schedules, bus availability and Shabbat observances.

Several adult groups, who can provide their own transportation, have arranged to celebrate Shabbat at Beit Warszawa during this year’s March.

“It’s a pity no young people can come,” Ashkenazy said.

Still Liff-Grieff and others defend the fundamental goals, which include creating the next generation of witnesses and celebrating Jewish survival.

“It’s not all roses and light,” he noted.

For their part, educators in Poland are working to enhance cultural ties that would add nuance and balance to the March. Professor Annamaria Orla-Bukowska works with specific group leaders from Australia, Israel, New York and Connecticut to arrange student meetings, often coordinated months in advance.

But she had to aggressively instigate such contacts. Four or five years ago, while at Birkenau waiting for the commemoration services to begin, she recalls running around from group to group asking, “Would you like to have a meeting with real Polish people?”

Participants were surprised to learn that this was possible and several accepted her offer.

Orla-Bukowska, a practicing Roman Catholic born and raised in the United States by non-Jewish Polish parents, moved to Poland in 1985. She’s now an associate professor of sociology at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Orla-Bukowska has been involved with several organizations working on improving Jewish-Christian relations, trying to get both sides over what she calls “this plexiglass wall” — where people see each other but don’t touch.

She recognizes some benefits in the March, especially for her non-Jewish students. Going on the March and spending the entire Holocaust Memorial Day embedded with a group of Jewish teenagers is the best way, she said, to understand the Jewish perspective.

But it wasn’t until 1998 that non-Jewish Poles were allowed to take part in the March, and only two years earlier that even Jewish Poles were permitted.

Today, the number of non-Jewish Polish students allowed on the March is a negotiation between March of the Living officials and the Polish Ministry of Education. This year, 1,000 Polish students will participate, although the number of those wishing to be involved is larger, said Andrzej Fowarczny, president of Forum for Dialogue among Nations and a former member of the Polish National Parliament. He also recalls that up to three or four years ago non-Jewish Poles were relegated to the back of the line. Fowarcyzy’s organization works on Jewish-Polish reconciliation, fighting anti-Semitism and breaking down stereotypes. While he feels that March of the Living deepens those stereotypes, he also tries to arrange meetings between Jewish and Polish high school students.

“This is a golden opportunity for dialogue and for Polish students, many of whom are meeting a Jewish person for the first time, to fight their anti-Semitism,” Fowarczny said.


Fading Numbers

“Zayde, what are those faded numbers on your arm?”

Without completely understanding, I quickly realized that I had revived painful memories of Auschwitz as tears slowly ran down my grandfather’s cheek. Little did I know, back when I was 6 years old, that my grandfather’s ability to tell his story would change my life.

Presumably, it would be safe to assume that everyone is educated about one of the most well-documented events in history. But in fact, many Jews, especially those of my generation, are either misinformed or uninformed about the Holocaust. Surprisingly, I know of very few Jewish day schools or high schools that offer a Holocaust education course.

In my own 10 years in Jewish day schools, every year for Yom HaShoah, a Holocaust survivor would come and tell us his or her story. This year, as Yom HaShoah approaches, my school, YULA, an Orthodox high school, will be taking the entire high school to the Museum of Tolerance, which, like YULA, is part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

However, I have never been offered a Holocaust education class. Last year at Emek Hebrew Academy, as the vice president of the student council, I appealed for a junior high trip to a Holocaust museum. The administration felt that the students were too young and immature for such graphic education.

As a grandson of four Holocaust survivors, I have heard the stories firsthand. My adolescence has been saturated with Holocaust education — stories of how my grandparents escaped working camps, survived concentration camps such as Dachau and Auschwitz, were separated from their families or hid for long periods.

Because this is my family’s story, I have always felt a responsibility to make the story of the Holocaust well known among my peers and have written Holocaust poems, essays and historical fiction to inform my fellow classmates. At the young age of 14, I recognize the importance of Holocaust education in our Jewish day schools, or the lack thereof.

To understand the extent of this gap in our educational system, I conducted a survey among my classmates at YULA. Among 40 students, only 53 percent knew what Kristallnacht was — 40 percent did not know, and 7 percent tried to answer and got it wrong.

My guess is those numbers are even worse among non-Jewish youth, since our public schools offer very little Holocaust education and the students do not have grandparents at home telling their stories.

Recently, MTV launched a campaign to inform viewers about the Holocaust. An MTV representative stood in the middle of Times Square asking random people what they knew about the Holocaust. People gave various answers ranging from, “When a few thousand Jews died” to “When Jews light candles and receive presents.”

An uninformed mind leaves a person with an easily manipulated mind. For those who know nothing about the Holocaust, it is just a matter of time before they are taught a falsehood and buy into Holocaust denial.

The chances of another Holocaust occurring are slim, with the State of Israel, historians, Holocaust museums and Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, which has recorded over 50,000 Holocaust survivor testimonies. But anti-Semitic outbursts are not as uncommon as they should be.

A 2005 Anti-Defamation League national poll revealed that although the percentage of those holding anti-Semitic views declined from 17 percent in 2002 to 14 percent in 2005, the fact still remains that roughly 35 million American adults hold strong anti-Semitic views.

With many Holocaust survivors entering their 80s and 90s, we cannot rely solely on their stories to keep the story of the Holocaust intact. For the uninformed, a charismatic preacher of Holocaust denial will seem much more believable than a recording of an old woman telling her story. For this reason, now is the perfect time for Holocaust deniers to initiate mass manipulation; for this reason, now is the perfect time for us to initiate mass education.

The least we can do is initiate Holocaust education within our own day schools. In the near future, I will be meeting with the principals of YULA to discuss a monthly or even weekly Holocaust education class to supplement the modern Israel class taken by seniors. Eventually, I hope to take my case to the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), asking for a new requirement of a Holocaust education class in all BJE-approved high schools.

We have the history. We have the facts. We have everything we need to stop Holocaust deniers right in their tracks. I invite every Jew, no matter what sect or religious status, to take a stand in this campaign and fight for Holocaust education.

Ever since my eyes met with the faded numbers on my Zayde’s arm, I wondered what would happen when those numbers are gone forever. What will happen when my Zayde’s piercing but important voice telling his story can no longer be heard? What will happen when there are no Holocaust survivors to come into our schools and tell their stories? Will we be prepared?

Adam J. Deutsch is a ninth grader at YULA High School.


The Leah Doll

Tante Mina sat on her couch and slowly tore away the wrapping. When the paper fell and she saw the porcelain doll her nieces had molded, painted and dressed for her, her breath caught in her throat and she let out a little gasp. As Tante Mina continued to stare at the doll, Mali, my mother, told her 81-year-old aunt about the next step.

“Now you have to name her.”

“Her name is Leah,” Tante Mina said right away. Mali looked at her twin sister, Tova, slightly stunned.

“Tante Mina, how did you do that so quickly? It usually takes people a little while to let the doll’s name come to them.” Mali said.

“No, her name is Leah,” Tante Mina said again, “she looks exactly like my sister who died in the Holocaust, her name was Leah.”

Mali and Tova slowly sat down.

“My sister, Leah, had black hair, freckles and the same face as this doll,” Tante Mina said.

“Do you have a picture of her?” Tova asked.

“No, the only picture exists in my mind, and now here she is,” Tante Mina said gesturing to her heart and then to the doll sitting in her lap.

My family talks about everything. We laugh, giggle and involve ourselves in one another’s lives. But for everything that is talked about and laughed at, there is the same equivalency of things not being said. For all of our plans and hopes, my family’s past is never mentioned. It is known, understood and remembered but never talked about. It’s a past farther back than how I’m related to a certain person. It’s all the stories of my relatives who lived and died during the Holocaust.

When I was younger I would ask questions about why some of my great aunts had never had children, and my mother would start to answer and then emotion would take over. Her eyes would start to water as she quickly explained how their bodies never recovered from what happened during the war. I was given the facts but the details were hidden behind tears and sadness that my family would rather repress then delve into again and again.

Of course, growing up, I learned in school what the Holocaust was and heard all of the horrible stories about what happened during those dreadful years to millions of Jews. The most education I received on the subject outside of school was through a trip to the Museum of Tolerance, and from the movie, “Schindler’s List,” which my mother made me go see with my dad.

There is the famous saying when it comes to the Holocaust — never forget. As long as we never forget, these horrible things can never happen again. However, there is a distinct difference between never forgetting, and remembering and honoring the lives lost.

The Holocaust survivors in my family, like Tante Mina, don’t mention the hardships they endured or the family they lost. It is something that they keep inside, never forgetting, yet never revealing. The faces of their lost loved ones, like Tante Mina’s sister, Leah, exist only in their memories, growing fuzzy with time yet always hovering near them.

When my mother called me and told me about Tante Mina’s doll, I could hear the emotion in her voice: “Isn’t that weird, of all of the choices of doll molds, of hair colors, eye colors, styles of clothing, it all turned out to be the image of the sister she lost in the Holocaust. A sister we didn’t even remember existed in the first place.”

Leah now sits on Tante Mina’s dresser in the Jewish Home for the Aging. A small, freckle-faced doll with black, braided hair, a straw hat and a beautiful green dress, a sense of loss behind her green painted eyes yet an aura of hope around her. She’s a constant reminder of the sister she had and serves as a guiding force, watching over Tante Mina as time passes, a presence to remind her that she has never, and will never, be alone.

An amazing connection can exist between past and present that, if strong enough, will present itself in ways never thought possible. This mystic connection graced my family when a doll was created that, unbeknownst to those who created her, also had a past.

There is so much sadness, pain and secrecy in the past that holds onto people’s souls for the duration of their lives. Although it is hard to recount these memories of loss, it is such an important first step to remembering and honoring — the past of who lived — while also being dedicated to not forgetting those who died.

Caroline Cobrin is a writer living in Van Nuys.


Survivor Voices Come to Classrooms

In the backlot at Universal Studios, somewhere between the lake where Jaws lurks and the courthouse square where Michael J. Fox sped back to the future, researchers in nondescript trailers are finishing up one of the most ambitious projects involving the Holocaust.

It is here, at the unlikely international headquarters for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, that cataloguers, archivists and researchers are viewing and indexing the last batches of 120,000 hours of videotaped testimony from Holocaust survivors, liberators and rescuers.

By the end of this year, all of the 52,000 testimonials in 32 languages from 56 countries will have been digitized and indexed using 30,000 keywords, so that amateurs and scholars can search the collection electronically.

With this work winding down, the Shoah Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 after he produced “Schindler’s List,” has shifted resources toward education aimed at overcoming bigotry and prejudice. One of the fruits of this shift is Echoes and Reflections (, a just-released comprehensive, multimedia curriculum for American secondary schools produced in a first-time collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.

The groundbreaking venture is geared toward middle and high schoolers. Lesson plans and student handouts, as well as online supplements, include photos, poems and diaries from Yad Vashem’s vast holdings. The units are designed so teachers can use the curriculum for a day, a week, or an entire semester. The lessons also are designed to fulfill educational standards in all 50 states.

The material integrates two and half hours of filmed witness testimonials, lending it the power of personal stories that can affect students more than hard-to-grasp numbers like the figure of 6 million killed. Students and teachers are encouraged to apply the lessons to contemporary situations, both personal and societal.

“Studying the Holocaust would be an arid and somewhat silly thing to do if we didn’t draw from it lessons that we could apply to our own lives and to our own futures,” said Douglas Greenberg, president and CEO of the Shoah Foundation. “If we have all this information and know so much about genocide, how do we go about preventing it? How do we identify societies at risk?”

While there is some resistance in the Jewish community toward comparing genocides or implicitly challenging the uniqueness of the Holocaust or the purity of memory, Greenberg said scholars such as preeminent Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer talk of the need to universalize the message.

“If we remembered and learned the Holocaust, a lot of things that happened in the last 60 years wouldn’t have happened — in Rwanda or Kosovo or anywhere else,” said Yossie Hollander, an Irvine-based pioneer in the Israeli software industry who, with his wife Dana, donated more than $1 million to fund Echoes and Reflections.

The Shoah Foundation’s new emphasis on anti-bias education is what enabled the collaboration with ADL — which for 30 years has built programs around teaching tolerance — and Yad Vashem, which in the last decade has focused anew on what goes on in classrooms.

In 1993, Yad Vashem built a school dedicated to Holocaust education, and now spends more than a third of its budget on training teachers and educating young people, a dramatic increase from a decade ago.

“It was clear to me and my colleagues that this was the next step. We still have a great responsibility to take records and build the knowledge historically, but we understood at a certain point the real challenge was to go through the changing generations,” said Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem. “The Shoah should be part of our conscience, become part of the bricks, the essential elements that build our society.”

In 2004, about 11,000 educators in Israel and abroad participated in Yad Vashem teacher training. Last year 100,000 Israeli and foreign youths visited its International School for Holocaust Studies, and another 30,000 had Yad Vashem mobile educational units visit their schools.

In the United States, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., makes education of teachers and students a central priority. More than one-third of the 350,000 visitors a year at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles are children. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League and Facing History and Ourselves, which have always focused on anti-bias education, are forming partnerships with a growing number of organizations looking to tap into their expertise.

The Shoah Foundation is relying on such partnerships to make its archive as accessible as possible — currently the organization’s biggest challenge. There are five sites with full access to the testimonials. Centers are set up at the Tapper Research and Testing Center at the Shoah Foundation offices at Universal Studios; at the University of Southern California; Rice University in Houston; Yale University; and the University of Michigan. Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, will have access to the complete collection by 2008.

At these archive centers, researchers, genealogist or amateurs can use a sophisticated search engine to pull up testimonies relating to a specific person, a certain concentration camp or town, or to a type of experience, such as hunger in the Ukrainian forest, or Jewish girls raised in convents in eastern Poland.

But outside those five centers, access is limited, even online. Visitors to the Web site can review some short clips and fact sheets about the eyewitnesses, but tapes or DVDs of the testimony must be ordered from the foundation.

The foundation has distributed smaller collections to libraries, museums and universities at 42 locations in 16 countries, so that places like the public library at Jackson, Miss., have a few dozen testimonies and a printed index to go with it.

The foundation also offers programming and follow-up for schools in the area.

And over the past four years, the Shoah Foundation has produced 16 CDs and videos for classroom use that have reached 2 million students, along with 10 feature-length documentaries and teacher training on how to use visual testimony in the classroom. The foundation’s interactive Web exhibits get about 25,000 hits a month.

In 2003 The Shoah Foundation teamed up with Facing History and Ourselves for a program at Los Angeles public high schools to accompany the film “Schindler’s List” and a documentary with testimonies from Schindler Jews.

One million high schoolers in Germany are using an interactive CD produced by the Shoah Foundation, and the foundation has or is setting up relationships with education ministries in many countries.

Getting into the classroom is actually more difficult in the United States, where education is controlled at the state and district level. While many states mandate Holocaust education, getting the material into hands of capable teachers is not easy. In California, a bill mandating teaching of the Holocaust was passed unanimously by the legislature in 2002, but was not funded.

For Echoes and Reflections, the ADL is taking on the challenge of distributing the curriculum. The ADL has 30 regional offices, and 50 education staffers were at Universal Studios last month for a three-day seminar on Echoes and Reflections, in the hopes that they can teach teachers in their regions. ADL national staff is going out to state boards of education, Holocaust education commissions, school districts and private and parochial schools to sell the product, which costs about $100 for a three-inch binder with the lesson plans and a DVD or video cassette (group packages are available).

Jenny Betz, project director of the ADL’s A World of Difference Institute, went through the training, and said she and the other educators cried as they listened to survivors tell their stories.

The effort and the response encourage project funder Hollander.

“There is no other subject that can teach more than this subject,” he said. “There isn’t another subject that they learn in school that makes them cry. And if they can cry, it opens their hearts and it opens their minds.”

For more information on Echoes and Reflections, visit, or


The Circuit

Boxer Praises FOUNDATION

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently recognized Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation in Washington, D.C., by bestowing on it the Boxer Excellence in Education Award.

“I am pleased to present my Excellence in Education Award to the Shoah Foundation,” Boxer said. “The Shoah Foundation has done an outstanding job of educating people about the tragedy of the Holocaust. Through the use of video testimony, they are teaching the next generation about the importance of working for justice and tolerance around the world.”

Accepting the award, Shoah Foundation President and CEO Douglas Greenberg said, “We are pleased and honored to receive this award. Sen. Boxer’s dedication to fostering social justice and cross-cultural understanding among Californians and all Americans, strengthens and reaffirms the mission of the Shoah Foundation. Her recognition — through this award — of the potential of education to defeat prejudice, intolerance and bigotry helps us face the task ahead with renewed confidence.”

The Shoah Foundation was established in 1994 by Spielberg to tape and preserve video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. After recording almost 52,000 video testimonies in 56 countries and 32 languages, the Shoah Foundation’s mission today is to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry — and the suffering they cause — through the educational use of the foundation’s testimonies.

Hadassah Happenings

Andrea Silagi of Encino was elected to her first term as a national vice president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, at the organization’s 91st annual convention, which just concluded in Washington, D.C. She will also serve as the chair of foundations.

Also elected were: June Walker, of Rockaway, N.J., to her third term as the 23rd national president of Hadassah; Ruth B. Hurwitz, as national treasurer, and Mona Wood, as national secretary, both of Baltimore, Md.

Some 1,500 Hadassah members from 37 states held 150 meetings with their local congressional representatives, both in the House and Senate to discuss Hadassah’s positions on foreign aid for Israel, stem cell research and genetic discrimination and the Iran Freedom Support Act.

This year’s Henrietta Szold Award, Hadassah’s highest honor, was awarded to a husband-and-wife team: Daniel C. Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, and his wife, Sheila Kurtzer. In awarding them this honor, former Hadassah National President Bonnie Lipton announced that Hadassah was establishing an annual scholarship for Young Judaea’s Year Course in the Kurtzers’ name.

For complete information about Hadassah, visit

Programming award

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) has announced that B’nai Tikvah Congregation of Westchester has been selected to receive the Solomon Schechter Award for Excellence in Synagogue Programming. This award is presented to congregations affiliated with the United Synagogue that have distinguished themselves during the preceding two years in aspects of congregational life.

Ileene Morris was honored for her work with Hazak, whose chapters were developed to successfully reach out to the senior population.

“Ileene is a blessing. Her hard work and devotion are appreciated by all members of the congregation, especially the seniors it benefits,” Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen said.

The award will be presented in a ceremony at the USCJ International Biennial Convention to be held at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, Mass., from Dec. 4-8.

Social Justice for All

Eighteen Reform Jews from across North America traveled to Israel to participate in 10 days’ worth of social justice service learning as part of Tzevet Mitzvot: Israel Mitzvah Corps. Sponsored by the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, the July 3-14 trip engaged participants with hands-on projects, study and discussion with religious and political leaders and the hospitality of Israeli Reform Jews.

“As Reform Jews, we are driven by our vision of a world redeemed by justice, mercy and peace, and our role in making that a reality,” said Evelyn Laser Shlensky, leader of the mission and immediate past chair of the URJ Commission on Social Action.

Participants worked on a variety of projects throughout the land of Israel. In Tel Aviv, they explored the plight of Israel’s foreign workers at the Workers’ Hotline; in Jaffa, they learned about the realms in which the Israeli Reform Movement is involved in social action and awareness; outside Jerusalem, they discussed the ramifications of Israel’s security fence with members of Rabbis for Human Rights, and inside the capital, they met with a member of the Knesset to talk about social justice and visited Yad Lakashish Project, a multifaceted workshop for senior citizens and the disabled.



A Real Rabbi

We can’t speak for our entire congregation, but Rabbi Karen Deitch’s article (“SWF Rabbi,” April 1) did not embarrass us (Letters, April 29). We invite you to attend one of our erev Shabbat services when Deitch is officiating. She is a well-spoken, insightful and relevant teacher. Your criticism of the Reform movement is also misguided. Today’s Reform movement is energetic, innovative and with the unique influence of women redefining what Judaism can be. If you really want to see how colorful our clergy is, come to our temple on Purim. You will plotz.

Jeff and Rivi Shulman
Mel and Sharon Janis
Temple Ahavat Shalom

[Harry Finkel’s] comment that Rabbi Karen Deitch is “supposedly a rabbi” is out of line. He should come visit our temple and see the great work she is doing. A rabbi is a person just like the rest of us and it’s nice to know that she can go into a bar, have a beer and look to meet someone. I look forward to Deitch’s sermons as I know our congregation does.

Ron Friedman

Never Again

The Journal is to be commended for its article on Holocaust education (“Learn to Remember,” April 29). Your article gave much-deserved attention to the California Center for the Study of Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights co-directed by professors Sam and Carol Edelman of California State University, Chico. Readers should be aware that L.A.-area teachers and professionals will have the opportunity to learn from the Edelmans in a special summer course, “Teaching the Holocaust and Genocide,” offered at CSUN from June 21-July 7. The course is being funded by grants from the 1939 Club and the Jewish Community Foundation. For more information, contact (818) 677-3007 or

Jody Myers
Jewish Studies Program

Your feature article on how to teach Shoah and who is teaching students and teachers failed to mention important sources of Holocaust education in the Los Angeles region.

The “1939” Club Chair on Holocaust Studies at UCLA was approved by the regents of the University of California in January 1979. The first chair on Holocaust studies in a public university in America has since educated thousands of undergraduate students. Classes at some point reached as many as 300 students.

The graduate program under professor Saul Friedlander has educated dozens of doctoral students who presently hold positions in many American universities. Together with recently established Jewish studies center at UCLA under professor David Myers, lectures and symposia are held at UCLA on various aspects of the Shoah.

In addition, in recent years the “1939” Club, under the presidency of Bill Elpherin, has sponsored a major Holocaust writing contest at Chapman University — hundreds of high school students participate.

Dr. Sam Goetz
Past President
The “1939” Club

No Rights

When are we going to say that this “right of return” to an Arab nation that never existed is bogus (“Right of Return — War of Words in L.A.,” April 29). It is just another attempt by the Arabs to get rid of what galls them i.e. a non-Arab non-Muslim entity in the Middle East. If that isn’t racist and imperialist I don’t know what is. They know damn well that if that land became a “secular” state it would very quickly be overrun by Arabs and become another racist imperialist Arab country in the region.

[Nader] Abuljebain and his ilk seem to forget that in 1948 the Arabs attacked Israel not in order to establish a secular state but to destroy Israel and rid the area of Jews. There were no Arab refugees until the war that they started in order to create Jewish corpses and refugees. Had they succeeded, who today would be arguing for justice for the descendants of those Jews? It is the same for the 1967 and 1973 wars. A secular state would not exist; only an Arab one and a lot of dead Jews. Would Abuljebain be fighting for their, or their descendants rights? Come on mister at least be honest. You are not just looking for your grandfather’s house. You are looking for what I just described — the whole “falafel.” But if you were honest there would be a dialogue, and I don’t think a dialogue is what you want.

No I don’t think a secular state is the right solution. It seems there will have to be an Arab state next to a Jewish one. If you sincerely want to help your people perhaps you ought to help them build a secular Arab state in the land to be negotiated. But that is hard work. It is a lot sexier to rail against Israel, and macho to kill them.

Robert Miller
Sherman Oaks


The late Pope John Paul II lived a life filled with good works for all of humanity. In his will there was no material wealth, but his legacy was full of good will.

Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian people for the last 40 years, lived a life of corruption and terrorism. When he died, he left a fortune estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet, Arafat always claimed that the Palestinians were impoverished, so much for his credibility.

It is questionable whether the new Palestinian leaders are more reliable. The Arabs have tried to destroy Israel in every war they started since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, with no success. The Palestinians are of course part of the family of Arab nations. It is therefore highly likely that the Palestinians now are trying a new ploy using public relations to manipulate public world opinion. In the end they might not have truly changed their goal of destroying Israel. Can a leopard really change his spots?

Bernard Nichols
Los Angeles