The Eternal Flame memorial in Baku, Azerbaijan

Yom HaShoah: A Day of Remembrance and Reflection


We recently took in the news of chemical weapons used to murder children in Syria, an act few considered possible since a time 70 years ago, when over 1 million children were murdered by the Nazis. Our shock and outrage as a global community never fades, and our understanding of history seems to grow with the decades between then and now. But the sheer brutality with which these attacks have occurred reminds us of the true nature of evil and contempt for human life, as well as the capacity of intolerance to rearrange the human condition and spirit. The attack in Syria weighs on our minds, and is an important reason why we must never let the memory of a great tragedy as the Holocaust slip into the annuls of history past.

Yom Hashoah begins on the evening of April 23, 2017, a day to remember the 6 million Jews, the 5 million others, and the heroes that risked everything to save lives from the perpetrators and accessories to the Holocaust.

In my homeland of Azerbaijan, the remembrance of the Holocaust has always felt personal and close to home. Azerbaijan has always stood against hatred and fascism, and this was the case during the time of Nazism, as it is true today. History remembers Hitler’s vain attempt at capturing Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku, which was key to his eventual defeat, when en route, his army endured Stalingrad. Azerbaijan was then, as it is today, a haven for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and neighboring regions.

In 2016, the Baku International Center for Multiculturalism and Baku Slavic University organized a roundtable of high level scholars to discuss the implications of the Holocaust today, and to do so through the lens of our own national tragedy, the Khojaly Massacre. This massacre was committed against innocent Azerbaijani civilians, including hundreds of children, women and elderly in February 1992 by invading Armenian troops. The Human Rights Watch called it the “largest massacre” in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and condemned the “unconscionable acts of violence against civilians” by the Armenian forces.

The said 2016 memorial in Baku for the 6 million Jews was mostly attended by Muslim students of the Baku Slavic University. And it is no coincidence. Holocaust studies are a part of the majority-Muslim Azerbaijan’s educational system, and with our strong Jewish population, deep ties to the State of Israel for 25 years, and our own experience during World War II, the Holocaust has, in many ways, left a permanent impression on Azerbaijan.

The Holocaust is one of many connections that tie Azerbaijan to the Jewish people. Jewish communities have also shown immense support to Azerbaijan for the endurance of our own tragedy. For the past several years, the Khojaly Massacre has been memorialized in Los Angeles, with Rabbis and synagogues leading the way in this compassionate, cross-cultural effort. Survivors that have participated in these remarkable memorials have noted the impact of feeling cared for by another, and how especially meaningful the memorialization of their tragedy was under the leadership of Jewish communities, to whom such tragedy is unfortunately very familiar. But it is precisely in that space of familiarity that remembering atrocities such as the Holocaust yields hope for a future free from the evils of hatred that made the Holocaust, and many other tragedies, possible.

Remembering the Holocaust is a truly universal undertaking. And yet, it should be looked at in context for a new generation of young people that have no connection to the experience of the past.  With so few survivors left to tell their stories, with few children of the children of survivors feeling the direct connection to a page in history in a world driven by 15 minutes of fame relegates this important time to ancient history.

No matter where you come from, no matter your religion or culture, every human life is precious and deserving of freedom and dignity. If we can cross the barriers of difference to memorialize such a tragedy, we can surely cross it for many other reasons and on many more days.

Belarus Holocaust memorial vandalized


A Holocaust memorial in eastern Belarus was vandalized.

Brown paint was poured over about 60 percent of the marker, on the site of the Jewish ghetto in the Belarusian city of Mahileu, according to Radio Free Europe.

It is not known who damaged the memorial.

Jews have lived in Mahileu since the 16th century, Radio Free Europe reported.

Budapest Holocaust memorial defaced


A Holocaust Memorial on the banks of the Danube in Budapest was defaced just days after unknown vandals hung pigs’ feet on a statue of Raoul Wallenberg.

Hungarian media on Friday published a photo of the monument with spray-painted stars of David and the phrases “This is not your country, dirty Jews” and “You are going to be shot there,” with an arrow pointing to the river.

Many Hungarian Jews were shot on the banks of the Danube by local Arrow Cross fascists during World War II.

The memorial, erected by the then-communist government in 1986, is a copy of a memorial statue at the Mauthausen camp in Austria. It honors “resistance fighters, deserters and persecuted ones who were murdered on the bank of the Danube in the winter of 1944-45.”

The vandalism apparently took place Thursday night, just days after the defilement of the statue of Raoul Wallenberg that is the centerpiece of a monument honoring the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Shoah.

ADL national youth conference inspires and empowers


On an overcast afternoon in Washington, D.C., sitting with about 120 other high school students from around the country, I listened to the empowering words of Holocaust survivor Henry Greenbaum as he described his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. He declared that it wasn’t one particular beneficial trait or talent that enabled him to survive the Holocaust, but just the fact that he had been fortunate. It wasn’t survival of the fittest in the concentration camps but survival of the luckiest.

Greenbaum was speaking during the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 10th annual National Youth Leadership Mission, which took place over a four-day period in our nation’s capital. The mission sought to educate and empower teens around the country by relating the lessons of the Holocaust to current issues of bigotry.

Having grown up in Los Angeles and attended a private school for the past five years, one of the things that particularly excited me was being able to connect with people my age from completely different backgrounds and perspectives.

The main highlight of the conference was visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I discovered the true horrors of hatred and silence. One section that specifically affected me was a hallway filled with Holocaust victims’ shoes, where I saw a literal, concrete representation of the true enormity of lives taken in the concentration camps.

It seems my feelings were similar to Greenbaum’s, who mentioned that this is the one section of the museum he tries to avoid, for fear of becoming too overcome with emotion. When asked why, he said that it was entirely possible that one of those shoes had belonged to a member of his family or to one of his friends, and this was just too haunting for him to bear.

In addition to Greenbaum, we heard from a professional Nazi prosecutor, an activist fighting current discrimination in places around the world, and also from many people from the ADL who have made abolishing discrimination their life’s work.

We were fortunate enough to talk with Dr. Leon Bass, an African American who fought in World War II. He explained how he has sometimes questioned why he was even fighting for a country that did not treat him as a capable, equal citizen, and how he has constantly struggled with others’ belief that he “wasn’t good enough.”

Through every aspect of the program, I began to recognize all forms of discrimination and bigotry. Jeremy Browning, a conference delegate from Detroit, said, “You really can’t talk about community and peace without meeting and getting to know people who aren’t like you.”

Feeling similarly to Browning, I especially enjoyed developing relationships with people my age from all over the country, who possess unbelievable qualities of leadership and empathy, and have given me hope for our future generations.

Throughout the conference, I began to realize that not every German citizen — and not even every German soldier — had been an evil, cold-blooded person. They had been misled by ingenious propaganda, stifled by severe fear and, in many cases, had become simply too lazy to care about what was going on around them, as long as it didn’t directly affect them.

Comprehending this made me adamantly decide that I refuse to be a bystander of hate; I refuse to be silenced and to become a living example of the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Stephen Czujko, a student from Washington, D.C., who also attended the program, said, “I feel like my experience has helped me to mature and has given me the confidence to really make a difference.”

Czujko and some of his classmates are planning to have a Holocaust survivor visit their school and also want to raise money and awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

Browning and his peers are planning to lobby the Michigan state government for legislation requiring that the Holocaust and other genocides be taught in public schools. Erica McMahon, a conference delegate from Washington, D.C., is in the process of initiating a STAND (Students Taking Action Now Darfur) chapter at her high school.

“We are determined to make a difference, and I know that I can, because there are 120 people [that she met at the conference] doing the same thing,” she said.

With this in mind, the 10 Los Angeles delegates that attended the conference, in addition to about 10 more teens from the city dedicated to inspiring social progress, are beginning to formulate a social action project targeted to benefit our city. Hopefully, our vision will spread to many other communities.

Teenage leaders are beginning to act throughout the country, and I know that it is my generation’s turn to stand up and fight for the changes that we are certainly capable of achieving.

For information about ADL youth programs, visit For information about ADL youth programs, contact mromo@adl.org or go to

Not everyone forgot Jews in Shoah, Polish official says


“During the Holocaust, not everyone abandoned the Jews. Not everyone forgot about you.” So spoke Poland’s Undersecretary of State Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, and her words were backed by the photos and stories of 21 surviving non-Jews from Poland recognized as Righteous Among the Nations that lined the hallway at the UCLA Hillel Center.

According to the strict standards of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Authority, 5,941 Polish Christians — more than from any other Nazi-occupied country — risked, and many lost, their lives to shelter and rescue Jews.

Cynics might say that there were a lot more Jews in Poland — some 3.5 million before World War II — to rescue than anywhere else in Europe. And, as everywhere else, the large majority of non-Jews looked the other way, while a substantial minority collaborated actively with the Nazis.

On the other hand, the Germans selected Poland as the only country where aiding a Jew, be it only to give him a slice of bread, was immediately punished by death. Failure to inform on a neighbor hiding Jews meant deportation to a concentration camp.

In a book accompanying the exhibit at Hillel is a photo of the Ulma family of Markowa, who were caught hiding eight Jews. The parents and their six children were shot by the Nazis alongside the Jews.

During a discussion last week on “Polish Heroes: Those Who Rescued Jews,” inaugurating the exhibit as part of a conference at UCLA on Polish-American relations, Adam Daniel Rotfeld spoke from personal experience. Hidden in a monastery during the war, the Jewish boy grew up to become foreign minister of Poland.

At Yad Vashem, statistics show that between 20,000 to 40,000 Polish Jews like Rotfeld were saved by their Christian compatriots, but other figures go as high as 50,000.

At least 800 Poles were executed for their courage and compassion by the Nazis. Those who argue that there should have been more rescuers in Poland, France and Holland might ask themselves the question Rotfeld posed: “How would I have acted? Would I have taken in a stranger and risk death for myself and my family?”

Accompanying the exhibit, organized by the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, is an article written by Konstany Gebert, editor of the Polish Jewish magazine Midrasz.

“No one has the right to demand heroism,” he writes. “Even today, many descendants of the Righteous refuse to accept their Yad Vashem awards. They do not want to irritate their neighbors or invite burglars to take the Jewish gold the Righteous must have amassed.”

Gebert adds, “Hashem [God] would have saved Sodom for the sake of 10 righteous. Yet, there were many more than 10 Righteous in Poland, some of whom saved my grandfather. I will not be more demanding than my Maker. The memory of the Righteous is indeed a blessing.”

The exhibit continues through March 26 at UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For information, phone (310) 208-3081, ext. 108.

African-American pilots over Auschwitz


Last week, President Bush remarked that the United States should have bombed the Auschwitz death camp in 1944. Next week, Americans will commemorate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and the struggle for Civil Rights.

What do these two occasions have in common? More than one might think.

The link between the two is the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, the first African American pilots in the United States military. The Tuskegee veterans, who have come to symbolize the early years of the civil rights struggle, often speak at events honoring Dr. King. Again and again, these pilots were victimized by racist War Department officials who regarded them as inferior and did not want them to fly. Yet again and again they persevered, and their extraordinary achievements in battle undermined the claims of their racist opponents.

Tuskegee squadrons shot down a total of 109 German planes and repeatedly won Distinguished Unit Citations and other medals for performance in their missions over Europe. They were so admired by their fellow pilots that bomber groups often specifically requested the Tuskegee units as escorts for their bombing raids.

One of those raids took place in the skies over Auschwitz.

Which is where President Bush’s statement comes in. The president made his remark about bombing Auschwitz while visiting Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where he viewed an aerial reconnaissance photo of the death camp.

Those photos were taken by U.S. planes in the spring and summer of 1944, in preparation for bombing the area — not for bombing the gas chambers or crematoria, but rather for bombing German oil factories nearby.

On the morning of Aug. 20, 1944, a group of 127 U.S. bombers called Flying Fortresses approached Auschwitz. They were escorted by 100 Mustang fighter planes. Most of the Mustangs were piloted by Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group. The attacking force dropped more than one thousand 500-pound bombs on oil targets less than five miles from the gas chambers. Despite German anti-aircraft fire and a squadron of German fighter planes, none of the Mustangs were hit and only one of the U.S. planes was shot down. All of the units reported successfully hitting their targets.

On the ground below, Jewish slave laborers, including 15 year-old Elie Wiesel, cheered the bombing. In his bestselling memoir, “Night,” Wiesel described their reaction: “We were not afraid. And yet, if a bomb had fallen on the blocks [the prisoners’ barracks], it alone would have claimed hundreds of victims on the spot. But we were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not of that death. Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life. The raid lasted over an hour. If it could only have lasted 10 times 10 hours!”

But it did not. Even though there were additional U.S. bombing raids on German industrial sites in that region in the weeks and months to follow, the gas chambers and crematoria were never targeted.

The Roosevelt administration knew about the mass murder going on in Auschwitz, and even possessed diagrams of the camp that were prepared by two escapees. But when Jewish organizations asked the Roosevelt administration to order the bombing of the camp and the railways leading to it, the requests were rejected. U.S. officials claimed such raids were “impracticable” because they would require “considerable diversion” of planes needed for the war effort.

But the Tuskegee veterans know that claim was false. They were right there in the skies above Auschwitz. No “diversion” was necessary to drop a few bombs on the mass-murder machinery or the railways leading into the camp. Sadly, those orders were never given.

The decision to refrain from bombing Auschwitz was part of a broader policy by the Roosevelt administration to refrain from taking action to rescue Jews from the Nazis or provide havens for them. The U.S. did not want to deal with the burden of caring for large numbers of refugees. And its ally, Great Britain, would not open the doors to Palestine to the Jews, for fear of angering Arab opinion. The result was that the Allies failed to confront one of history’s most compelling moral challenges.

The refusal to bomb Auschwitz remains the most powerful symbol of that failure. As President Bush said at Yad Vashem, Auschwitz should have been bombed. And the Tuskegee Airmen are eyewitnesses to the fact that it could have been.

Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

Beyond Remembrance


If you want to get in trouble in the Jewish world, critique anything that has to do with Holocaust remembrance. It’s a pretty untouchable subject, and for good reason. The Holocaust is a horror that melts the human heart, especially the Jewish heart. I’m not immune.

For three years I lived next to a survivor, and I choked up every time I would hear another story. I was haunted for years by the scene in “Sophie’s Choice” when Meryl Streep had to decide which of her two kids would go to the gas chamber.

The Holocaust overwhelms me with grief.

So it is with some trepidation that I share with you my problem with the Jewish world’s obsession with Holocaust remembrance.

Maybe it’s a personal thing. I don’t like feeling like a victim. It makes me smug, arrogant and constantly outraged. It feels good in the moment, but I never feel like doing anything except remind the world that I’m a victim, over and over again.

Feeling like a victim doesn’t encourage me to improve myself. It just gives me instant righteousness. When I see how Jews are hated throughout the world — especially how certain enemies threaten another Holocaust — my righteousness goes off the charts. I get so worked up, so focused on our enemies, that I stop looking inward — at the beauty of my Judaism, for instance, and how I can get closer to it.

Feeling like a victim makes me Jewishly lazy.

This is why the best way I’ve found to honor Holocaust victims without feeling like a victim is to celebrate the Judaism they wish they could have celebrated. As I see it, wearing our Judaism on our sleeves is the best revenge.

So when I see hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into Holocaust memorials and Holocaust remembrance, I see an unspeakable tragedy for my people, yes, but I also see a missed opportunity. I see this enormous effort to tell us how Jews die, but so little effort to tell us how Jews live — more specifically, to tell us what is so extraordinary about this Judaism that those 6 million Jews died for.

I wonder what the Jewish world would be like if the slogan “never again” also came to mean: “Never again will we not help Jews get closer to their Judaism.” Could you imagine if we took half of the money we spend on Holocaust memorials and put it into Jewish education for all ages? Instead of forging a Jewish identity based on fear and suffering, we’d be forging one based on pride and knowledge. Ironically, because the Holocaust would be part of any curriculum, Holocaust education would also increase, but it would be in a classroom, not a museum.

It’s clear, though, that because the Holocaust is such a sensitive subject, we haven’t yet had a tough debate on the best way to commemorate this seminal tragedy. In the meantime, the promoters of victimhood have hijacked the agenda, and the fundraising pit to build more memorials seems bottomless. But think about it. What will better prevent another Holocaust: more fancy memorials to our suffering, or a generation of proud and committed Jews who love their Judaism and would do anything to defend it?

Proud, committed Jews are human museums. They’re walking memorials to the power of the Jewish faith. They remember Hitler, but they study Heschel. They honor Holocaust victims not by acting like victims, but by fearlessly living their Judaism. They honor the dead by helping the living.

Having said all this, the other day I was lucky enough to meet someone who volunteers at one of the crown jewels of Holocaust remembrance, right here in the hood: The Museum of Tolerance.

Her name is Sally Schneider, and she’s a former high school teacher from the San Fernando Valley who, for more than 10 years, has been a volunteer tour guide at the Museum of Tolerance.

When I talked to Sally on the phone, she overflowed with enthusiasm on the importance of Holocaust memorials. I was eager to hear a passionate opinion that was different than mine, so we met at her place in Santa Monica.

I have been to the museum, so nothing I heard surprised me: examples of the horror of the Holocaust, the universal dangers of prejudice and evil, the importance of tolerance, etc. I decided to make things more interesting by sharing my personal skepticism. I challenged her: I asked whether her experience at the museum has strengthened her connection to Judaism.

Schneider is a straight shooter — she told me that her work didn’t necessarily strengthen her connection to Judaism, but it did open her eyes to something else.

The non-Jewish world.

You see, the thing that has moved Schneider the most is not what the museum does for Jews, but what it does for non-Jews. She has seen former skinheads transformed after seeing their evil and hatred so graphically depicted.

She saw the daughter of a Nazi quietly sob because she couldn’t shake her sense of responsibility for the horrors her father participated in.

She saw how the grandson of Gandhi and his wife were riveted by the tragedy of another people. She saw Latino, African American and Asian kids of the inner city learn about hatred and prejudice, but more importantly, about tolerance — not just as a Jewish ideal but as a universal one.

What Schneider was telling me, in her sweet way, was that the evils of prejudice and hatred that Jews have faced and are still facing may be obvious to us, but they aren’t to everybody else. She clearly sees the tragedy of the Shoah as an opportunity to teach the world some important lessons, and her fondest wish is that in the end, many lives will be saved.

Schneider was passionate about Jews staying Jewish by staying alive, and I was passionate about Jews staying alive by staying Jewish.

Maybe there’s room for both.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

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.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council distances itself from Prager


Leaders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council,
ensnared in a raging controversy over one of its
members, this week moved to distance themselves from the cause of the furor.

Conservative commentator Dennis Prager, a member
of the Council that oversees the Holocaust Museum
on Washington’s Mall and the nation’s chief
academic center for Holocaust study, ignited a
firestorm of criticism when he wrote that Keith
Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat about to become the
first Muslim member of Congress, should not be
allowed to be sworn in on a Quran.

Allowing congressional oaths on a Quran, Prager
wrote, “undermines American civilization.” If you
are incapable of taking an oath on (the Bible), don’t serve in Congress.”

Prager was slammed by groups as diverse as the
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and
the Anti-Defamation League both for his lack of
tolerance for Muslims and for his inaccuracy;
House members are sworn in by the Speaker,
without any holy books, although many use Bibles
at private photo-op ceremonies after being sworn in.

Last week, former New York Mayor Ed Koch, also a
Council member, called for Prager to step down
for the good of the Museum, and promised to
introduce a resolution critical of Prager at this week’s Council meeting.

But the showdown was averted when neither Prager
nor Koch showed up. Council officials, wary of
heaping new fuel on the controversy, ruled that
Koch’s resolution would not be taken up.

“I did not go because I was told the matter would
not be put on the agenda,” Koch said in an interview.

At Monday’s meeting, Council chairman Fred
Zeidman read a statement acknowledging the
controversy but stating that the press of other
issues — including the genocide in Darfur and
the situation in Iran — made it inappropriate to
bring up the Prager matter at that time.

Zeidman told members that he is “heavily
involved” in the issue and expected a resolution shortly.

After the meeting, Zeidman worked with fellow
executive committee members to work out a
statement distancing the panel from the controversial talk show host.

The statement, issued on Friday, cited the
Museum’s role as a “living memorial to the
victims of the Holocaust devoted to teaching the
lessons of the Holocaust for the benefit of all
mankind,” and stated that Prager “has recently
publicly expressed and disseminated certain
statements which have been widely interpreted as being intolerant.”

Therefore, the executive committee, “while
recognizing that Dennis Prager has the right to
express his personal views freely, disassociates
itself from Mr. Prager’s statements as being
antithetical to the mission of the Museum as an
institution promoting tolerance and respect for
all peoples regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.”

A Museum source said he hoped Prager would get
the message and resign — but said he had no
indication the controversial commentator would do so.

Members of the Council are appointed by the
President, and can only be removed by the White House.

Al Qaeda urges Israel attacks; Israeli Arab lawmakers represent Hamas in court


Al Qaeda Urges Israel Attacks
 

9/11 Museum Head Uses Shoah Lessons


Alice Greenwald vividly recalls touring the Auschwitz concentration camp with a Holocaust survivor and watching how the woman shared her story with her children and grandchildren.

It was as if she was trying to instruct her heirs as to the kind of people she wanted them to become, Greenwald remembers.

“What struck me about that experience was that in a world that exists after something like Auschwitz happens, every one of us is her grandchildren,” she said. “We all are obligated to understand what it means to be a human being and the kind of people our parents and grandparents want us to be.”

For more than two decades, Greenwald has been helping to give people a palpable understanding of the Holocaust through her work with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Beginning this month, she will turn her attention to another terrible atrocity: Greenwald was named in February as the first director of the World Trade Center Memorial Museum in New York, which will commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their nearly 3,000 victims.

“Where the two [events] intersect for me in my professional life is in the area of memorialization,” she said recently in her Holocaust Museum office in Washington. “We deal with great loss here at this museum, incomprehensible loss. And we deal with trying to integrate that loss into our collective understanding of history, our personal history of what it means to be a human being.”

Greenwald was a member of the Holocaust Museum’s original design team, working from home as a consultant after stints with Jewish museums in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago. She joined the museum full-time in 2001 as its associate director for museum programs.

Gretchen Dykstra, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, said Greenwald immediately understood the memorial’s goals.

“What struck us so quickly was how immediately she understood the sensitivity of what we were doing,” she said. “She’s not somebody who comes knowing a lot about 9/11, but she knows a lot about memorializing and education.”

The hardest part in designing the New York museum, Greenwald said, is that “there isn’t a human being on the face of the planet who doesn’t have a 9/11 story.”

Greenwald herself was unpacking boxes in her new Washington home on that day, having just moved from Philadelphia. Her husband, on an Amtrak train bound for New York, had called to ask if she knew why he and his business associates weren’t moving.

The carpenter working in her home heard her gasp when she turned on the television. They watched the second tower fall together, and immediately embraced.

“This was a man I knew for 10 minutes,” she said. “And we hugged each other in an embrace, watching the television in complete disbelief, because we needed to be with another human being in that moment.”

Emotions are still very raw for those who survived the Sept. 11 attack, and for the families of those who died. But Greenwald has experience dealing directly with survivors and families who may visit the museum.

“Other museums have other constituency issues, but I don’t think they have to deal with the sensitivities we have [at the Holocaust Museum],” she said. “We are immensely fortunate to have the voice of authentic witnesses.”

The proximity in time to the event will be one of her biggest challenges in New York, she said.

“The institution will have to be flexible, because the world will keep moving forward and we don’t know what events will re-characterize our understanding of 9/11,” she said.

She has watched the Holocaust Museum evolve, noting that it was built before “Schindler’s List” and other mass-media portrayals of the Shoah.

The Sept. 11 museum will be part of several structures planned for the area where the World Trade Center stood. The foundation is constructing the museum and a separate memorial, Reflecting Absence, that will honor those killed on Sept. 11 and in a previous attack at the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993.

A visitor’s center and performing arts building also are being planned. Half the site has been zoned for new office buildings, which are being erected separately.

The museum will highlight the magnitude of the attacks, as well as the global response and civic rebuilding.

“You are dealing with a site that is a burial site. People died there. That gives it a sacred quality one has to respect,” Greenwald said.

She compared it to the Holocaust Museum, which she said garners its power from its proximity to other memorials and buildings of power in Washington.

Dykstra said she has been struck by the Holocaust Museum’s impact on visitors, and hopes to replicate that.

“I think what the Holocaust Museum does so beautifully is it takes a historic series of events and personalizes them in a way that universalizes them,” she said. “It’s overwhelming but not didactic.”

The Sept. 11 museum is slated to open on the eighth anniversary of the attacks, in 2009. Greenwald said there is much to be done before then, and she is excited to be a part of this “thrilling” stage of a museum’s birth.

“Each stage will have its own challenges and its own rewards,” she said. She calls it a “Dayenu situation,” saying that if she can at least advance the plans, it would be enough — although she hopes to see the museum built and operating.

“We have to remember that it’s about people,” she said. “There’s a tendency to want to memorialize the building, and there is some significance to that. But this is not a memorial to a building; it’s a memorial to people.”

 

‘Paper Clips’ Continues to Link Crowds


Until recently, the riveting and much-acclaimed 2004 documentary, “Paper Clips” — which chronicles the attempt by the small, rural town of Whitwell, Tenn., to educate its students about the enormous number of Jews killed in the Holocaust — could be seen mostly at special screenings and community events. After an initial exclusive release of the DVD version to Blockbuster, as of March 7, the DVD has gone into general release so everyone can finally get a copy, which is sure to broaden the film’s exposure. And there’s also the book, “Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial,” by German journalists Peter W. Schroeder and Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand, who played an instrumental role in helping the film succeed.

The book and the film were the focus of a recent gathering at the Museum of Tolerance’s Peltz Theatre, which featured a screening and a Q & A session with the writers and Miramax producer Matthew Hiltzik.

“Our 94-year-old friend, Lena Gitter, found out about the ‘Paper Clips’ project on the Internet,” Schroeder-Hildebrand explained during the talk following the screening. When the journalists learned of the project, they pitched in by sending letters to their press contacts, authoring nine articles about the project for a German newspaper and subsequently writing a book. Due to their efforts, the students’ collection went from 160,000 to more than 22 million.

A spirit of collaboration marked the filming process as well.

“So many people wanted to give of themselves to this project. The beauty was in the simplicity and letting it speak for itself … it shows what people can do together,” Hiltzik said.

“It’s unbelievable how many people were involved,” Schroeder-Hildebrand added.

By the project’s end, the children just needed to find a place to house the clips, as a memorial to the victims. The journalists volunteered to locate an authentic German railway car that had transported Jews to the gas chambers, so the children could transform it into a monument of hope.

“As Germans, did you find yourselves coming up to walls of prejudice?” one audience member asked.

“We encountered some resistance,” Peter Schroeder answered. “The German newspaper we write for grumbled that we were taking too much time off.”

In their book, the authors recount other hostile reactions, among them: “Another Holocaust memorial? It’s time to forget what happened 60 years ago.” Others, however, responded with good will. Finally, the pair found car No. 011-993 and raised the funds to bring it to Whitwell.

Elana Samuels, an assistant director at the Museum of Tolerance, praised the film for its message of tolerance and its positive portrayal of educators.

“Good teaching needs motivated educators … not necessarily with all the information, but with the desire to get it.”

She said this event meant a lot to the museum because it “brings history to life … it shows the beauty of interchange, of intergenerational dialogue.”

“Showing the film in Tennessee for the first time, I was the only Jew there,” Hiltzik said. “But a lady came over to me and said she’s also an outsider — because she was from Mississippi! I went to the cattle car, and putting on my tefillin there and knowing the circumstances … you did feel the souls.”

 

New Berlin Memorial a Sign of Hope


 

Each year our congregation travels to a different corner of the Jewish world, and last Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating persecutions and destructions that have befallen the Jewish people, we found ourselves in Berlin.

We entered Germany’s gleaming, dynamic capital with ambivalence, eyeing its people, especially those over age 75, wondering what they did during World War II. We sat and watched, discussing our reluctance to be there, but acknowledged that nearly 60 years have passed and accepted the fact that most contemporary Germans had nothing to do with the Shoah.

And while we felt haunted during our stay, we enjoyed Berlin as a lively and lovely city, and took comfort in the numerous Holocaust monuments we saw.

The newest memorial, Peter Eisenmann’s Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe, will be officially unveiled May 10, two days after ceremonies mark the 60th anniversary of World War II’s end.

The memorial’s opening comes nearly six years after the Bundestag originally passed a resolution for its construction, and almost four years after the official opening of the city’s Jewish Museum.

Situated in a five-acre field near the Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin, The Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe is made up of 2,751 concrete blocks, emulating gravestones of varying heights. Visitors can enter the memorial from all four sides and can walk through the narrow paths between the blocks. Its wave-like design is haunting in its simplicity, and the unevenness intentionally evokes a sense of being disoriented and lost.

An information center is located beneath the memorial, supplying biographies of individual victims and their families.

Berlin’s Jewish Museum is the city’s second most visited site and is well complemented by the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by architect Daniel Liebiskind, who is now creating the World Trade Center Memorial, the museum teaches its mostly non-Jewish visitors about the Holocaust, but it also explores the pivotal role that Jews played in Germany over the last 800 years.

Architects often say their buildings tell a story. The Jewish Museum is no exception. Its Holocaust spaces evoke feelings of fear and claustrophobia with slanted floors that disorient, mazes that confuse and confined spaces that make escape just out of reach. Never have I seen architecture used more effectively, especially in the Garden of Exile.

When Germans walk by the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (since 1999, once again the seat of Germany’s Parliament) or the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, purposely left partially destroyed, they are reminded of the past.

Located just outside of the Wittenbergplatz subway station, in the center of town, a large sign lists the names of extermination camps, urging passersby never to forget the horrors. It rests a few yards from where one of our synagogue members lived as a child. And at Levetzowstrasse, where another member was deported to Riga, there are powerful sculptures depicting horrors of the Shoah and plaques that mark where synagogues once stood.

One synagogue still standing is The New Synagogue. Built in 1867, with 3,000 seats and modeled on the Alhambra, the synagogue is now a glorious museum of Berlin’s Jewish religious past, from traditional to liberal.

While there, we joined our cantor, Ruti Braier, in singing “Mah Tovu,” with music written by the New Synagogue’s former Cantor Moshe Lewandowski. For a moment, present and past were joined.

We wanted to see how Jews in Berlin live, so we visited the Jewish Community Center, which is built on the site of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, where another of our members sang in the children’s choir on High Holidays. All that is left of the original building is an arch over the center’s main door.

So much of Berlin’s Jewish life is like that — the void is more powerful than what exists.

And, yet, Germany’s Jewish population is growing to fill the void left by the Shoah. Before the Holocaust there were 535,000 Jews in Germany; after, only 15,000. Today the country’s Jewish population is more than 110,000, many whom are from former Soviet countries and have a minimal religious background. As part of its reparations, Germany admits Jewish refugees, providing them with welfare benefits and, ultimately, if employed, citizenship after eight years.

We saw other signs of hope around Berlin. There were long lines for a wonderful Chagall exhibit in artist Max Liebermann’s home, next to the Brandenberg Gate, where six decades earlier Hitler drew adoring crowds. In Pottsdamerplatz, where 60 years before, both blacks and Jews were considered undesirable “untermenschen,” the Klezmatics and American gospel singers performed together, with young Germans singing, clapping and dancing.

Dealing with one’s past — personal and communal — is always a path to healing pain and facing the future more openly. Sixty years later, the situation isn’t black and white. There are many shades of gray. But hate, anger and avoidance aren’t as constructive as engagement and discovery.

Arnold Rachlis is rabbi of University Synagogue in Irvine.

 

Auschwitz Memorial Marks ’45 Liberation


The last time Trudy Spira was in Auschwitz, she was 12 years old. The day of liberation “is my second birthday — I was reborn on that day,” said Spira, who came from Venezuela with her son, Ernesto, 48, to show him the place that robbed her of her childhood.

Ziggy Shipper, 75, and his grandson, Elliott Stern, 16, arrived together from London.

“He will never forget till the day he dies that he came here with his grandfather,” Shipper said.

Ted Lehman came from the United States, wearing the cap he was wearing when he was liberated 60 years ago.

“How does a 16-year-old boy explain that in one moment I was all of a sudden alone?” he asked.

Spira, Shipper and Lehman were among about 1,000 survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp who returned for ceremonies Jan. 27 marking the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, in what may be the last major ceremony to include significant numbers of survivors.

Close to 40 heads of state and foreign ministers attended, together with liberators of the camp from the former Soviet army. Some 7,000 people attended the memorial — about the same number still imprisoned there when Soviet soldiers liberated the camp six decades ago.

Despite the presence of so many dignitaries, it was the survivors who took center stage.

Israeli President Moshe Katsav praised the survivors “for returning to life, for daring again to feel that you belong to the world, for finding the inner strength to again raise families, for again believing in man.”

After he spoke, an unidentified woman took the microphone in an unscheduled move and spoke briefly. The woman said she was born in Poland and had been imprisoned in Auschwitz.

Taking off her jacket despite the frigid weather, she showed the number on her arm. The Nazis had taken away her name and given her a number, she said, and they had brought her to Auschwitz naked. But now she has her name back, she has a country and she has a president.

The ceremony ended with Cantor Joseph Malovany of New York singing the El Malei Rachamim prayer.

Other speakers at Auschwitz included Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski; Russian President Vladimir Putin; survivors Wladyslaw Bartoszewski of Poland, a Righteous Gentile; Simone Veil of France, president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah; and the Jewish-born Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of France, who read an address from Pope John Paul II.

Romani Rose, chairman of the Central Council of Germany Sinti and Roma, spoke on behalf of the 220,000 to 500,000 Gypsies killed in the Holocaust.

Guests included Vice President Dick Cheney, French President Jacques Chirac, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Polish Culture Minister Waldermar Dabrowski and Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

The nearby city of Krakow was full of formal and informal conversations, press conferences and receptions dedicated to anniversary events. Education was a key theme at all events connected with the memorial.

Before the Auschwitz ceremony, an educational program for teachers on the Holocaust’s lessons was launched in Krakow at the “Let My People Live!” forum organized by the Polish Ministry of Culture, the European Jewish Congress (EJC) and Yad Vashem, together with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

“The fact that so many leaders of the world are gathered here today demonstrates the continued importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive and offers the promise of a better tomorrow,” said Moshe Kantor, chief organizer of the forum and chairman of the EJC’s board of governors.

The forum included speeches by Cheney; Nobel laureate and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel; Israel Singer, World Jewish Congress governing board chairman; and Yona Metzger, Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

The official ceremony at the camp began with the symbolic blast of a train’s horn.

“May today our common cry sound from this place,” Kwasniewski said, “the cry for a world without hatred and contempt, without racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, for a world in which the word ‘human’ will always ring with pride.”

Putin, remembering “the immortal heroic deed of the allied armies that broke the backbone of the fascist beast,” turned to the memory of more than 1 million victims whose ashes were buried or scattered at the site.

“We must ensure that everything that happened here will never repeat again,” he said.

By many accounts, Poland has undergone a major transformation in its view of its role in the Holocaust since 1995, when survivors gathered for the 50th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation. Today, Poles not only celebrate the heroism of citizens who risked their lives to rescue Jews but have begun to accept that some Poles participated in the killing — and that most Auschwitz victims were Jews.

Approximately 1.3 million people died in Auschwitz, about 1 million of them Jews. In 1995, however, the Polish government was still so uncomfortable about stressing Jewish suffering at the camp that at first it barred a group recitation of the Kaddish, recalled Rabbi Andrew Baker, director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee.

This year, the program was organized by Jewish groups and included prayers. Moreover, Baker said, “10 years ago, there was no Israeli president here.”

He also called Kwasniewski, the Polish president, “one of the most eloquent voices on Polish-Jewish relations.”

Kwasniewski publicly apologized for the events at Jedwabne, Poland, where Poles helped Germans murder the local Jewish population. The story of Jedwabne was uncovered in 2001 and threw Poland into turmoil.

“Jedwabne opened up a very bad wound in Polish society with regard to their share in the murders,” Yad Vashem’s Shalev told JTA. “President Kwasniewski believes that coming to terms with the truth is an essential part of building a democratic society.”

From the time they arrived in Krakow from points around the world, survivors were gripped with a fever of remembering something that most had tried hard to forget.

Not all were liberated here. Some were sent on death marches to other camps, where they worked as slaves until the end of the war. But all shared a profound need to return to Auschwitz — and then to walk out again.

“How is it possible that such a maddening system like this worked so well?” asked Mel Mermelstein, 78, who was sent on a death march from Auschwitz on Jan. 18, 1945. Standing in front of the former crematorium, his son, David, at his side, Mermelstein said, “The civilized world should come here and see what man can do to man.”

David Hermann, who had come from London with Shipper and Berek Obuchowski, 76, recalled arriving at Auschwitz when he was 16.

“The train came to a standstill,” he said. “It was silent. Suddenly, I heard soldiers marching and dogs barking. They pulled the doors apart, and it was pitch black.”

“The cold air hit us,” Hermann continued. “And then the lights came on. I saw SS men lined up all along the platform with dogs, and guns pointing at us. Everybody was frozen. Nobody wanted to move.”

A Jewish prisoner advised Hermann in Yiddish to lie about his age and to say he had a trade, so Hermann told camp doctor Joseph Mengele that he was 18 and a carpenter. Hermann and his four siblings all survived the death camp and found each other after the war.

Toward the end of the ceremony, a small elderly man stood alone, singing a mourning prayer along with Malovany. With shaking hands, he took a small prayer book from a zippered pouch.

“I am a Jew, and so I pray,” said Chaim Ziderer, 86, of Bytom, Poland, whose family died at Auschwitz. He was spared their fate because he was in the Polish military. Putting the prayer book back in the pouch, he said, “Today I am alone.”

“[Nazi Germany] gave prizes to scientists and engineers for finding a better way to kill people, and faster,” Spira said. “It never happened before, and we hope it will never happen again.”

She said people asked her “how come I was willing to come to the place where my childhood was robbed.”

“I am coming of my own free will,” was the answer she gave.

“I brought my son,” Spira explained, “because before, no one had the chance to walk out of their own accord. And today we can.”

Aspirations and Anxiety in America


“The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000” by Hasia Diner (University of California, $29.95)

In the late 1970s, a time when Jews in the United States had arguably achieved more status and social acceptance than in any previous era of their long Diaspora, American Jewish groups began work on a project that culminated in 1993 with the dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Mall, of course, is the heart of monumental Washington. It pays tribute to the nation’s most revered icons and heroes. The new museum was a powerful symbol of how thoroughly integrated Jews had become in the fabric of American life and culture. The museum itself was dedicated to the memory of Jewish victims of Nazi fascism. At the very moment that Jews had become an accepted part of the majority culture, they were memorializing their history as a persecuted minority.

The dueling combination of aspiration and anxiety has always characterized the American Jewish experience. But paradoxically, over the past several decades, as Jews have risen to admirable prominence in U.S. society, victimization has become ever more central to American Jewish identity. Even as the last vestiges of anti-Semitic barriers were removed and the vast majority of Jews achieved comfortable, upper-middle-class lives, the Holocaust was elevated to iconic status. The struggle against oppression and discrimination remained at the core of the American Jewish narrative.

But unlike in Europe, where they had long been the quintessential “other,” Jews were never the paradigmatic outsiders in America. While they were at times stigmatized for not being Christian, Jews were nonetheless white people in a nation whose social hierarchy was based on race, not religion. Although some may have questioned Jews’ claim to whiteness, no movement in the United States ever sought to strip them of their citizenship, nor deny them the political rights — voting, holding office and serving on juries — to which white men were entitled. In other words, the discrimination that Jews did face was never comparable to that experienced at various times by blacks, Chinese and other nonwhite groups. Indeed, since the Colonial era, the religious and ethnic tolerance of America has been a relief to the many Jews who’ve arrived on these shores.

In her book, “The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000,” Hasia Diner, a professor of American Jewish History at New York University, seeks to recast history in light of that fundamental fact. Without ignoring the significant anti-Semitic episodes that did occur nor disavowing the real sense of vulnerability that Jews have often felt, she nonetheless attempts to balance the realities of prejudice and progress. She chronicles Jewish life in America since the first Sephardic refugees arrived in New York City from Brazil in 1654. She explains how both the fluid nature of American identity and the pragmatism at the core of American culture worked to the benefit of Jews. In the 17th century, the relative tolerance Jews enjoyed stemmed from their usefulness to the colonial enterprise. As Diner writes, “trade made the colonies, and Jews made trade.”

Under European colonial rule, Jews did not enjoy full political rights, but from their earliest days of settlement in America Jews sought relief from the highest seats of power. Indeed, their refusal to accept America as it was is what distinguishes the Jewish experience from so many others.

When Peter Stuyvesant sought to exclude the first Jewish refugees from the colony for fear they would destroy its Christian character, the settlers appealed to the Jews of old Amsterdam to intercede on their behalf to the Dutch West India Company. By the time of American Independence, a handful of Jewish merchants had amassed huge fortunes and become pillars of society. Some, like Haym Salomon, who has been called the “financier of the American Revolution,” utilized their trade connections on behalf the colonies’ struggle for independence. The Constitution, which framed America as a society built on individual entitlement rather than on corporate identity, created a “Jewish comfort zone.”

From 1820 to 1920, millions of Jews, primarily from Russian and Eastern Europe, migrated to America. Their growing numbers brought greater confidence and communal diversity. They also drew greater resistance from society at large. By the 1880s, a racialized view of Jews had emerged and some rights were compromised. Jews were refused entry into luxury hotels and denied access to jobs at some elite universities and law firms. At the same time, however, their political rights remained unchallenged. Indeed, their political influence only grew. As anti-Semitic rhetoric rose, greater numbers of Jews entered the political arena. Indeed, political participation, along with philanthropy and programs for self-improvement, were part of a broader effort at Jewish self-defense. As Diner writes, Jews “believed that if they met with the right officials, showed their deep patriotism as Americans and behaved respectably, they could prevail.”

And they did. Even at the peak of American anti-Semitism from the 1920s to the 1940s, Jews progressed. Elite colleges imposed quotas on Jewish students, and affluent neighborhoods sometimes imposed restrictive covenants to prevent Jews from buying homes. But there is nonetheless little indication that these restrictions hampered Jewish mobility. Furthermore, they were also an indication of Jewish ascendance in American society. By the mid-1940s, the majority of Jews were white-collar workers. In terms of education and income, they “far outpaced” the children and grandchildren of other European immigrants. In the postwar years, Jews could afford to suburbanize more than most other Americans. As of 1953, one-sixth of American Jews had graduated from college, compared to one-20th of the population at large.

Even as they moved out of their ethnic urban enclaves, Jews tended to cluster in suburbs that had a strong Jewish presence. Their choice to live with other Jews was driven by preference rather than anti-Semitism. Unmoored from the neighborhood bakeries, bookstores and delicatessens that once defined Jewish life in the city, suburbanites had to redefine what it meant to be Jewish. Suddenly, American Jews, who had been observing fewer and fewer aspects of Jewish ritual, returned to synagogues as the locus of their religious and ethnic identities. The postwar years saw a remarkable explosion in synagogue construction. Between 1945 and 1950, American Jews spent upwards of $500 million erecting new religious buildings. More Jews were affiliated with synagogues than at any other time since mass migration began in the early 19th century.

By the last quarter of the 20th century, no fields of endeavor denied access to Jews. That Jews were prominent in nearly every sector of American life was no longer a subject of much discussion. Indeed, this very diffusion of Jews into all aspects of American society challenged Jewish identity. For many, Jewishness no longer determined “with whom they socialized, whom they married, where they resided, or how they spent their leisure time.” To be Jewish increasingly became a matter of choice. As a result, many of the organizations that had been founded to defend Jews began to spend more energy on preserving Jewish culture and identity in America.

Diner pays particular attention to the ebbs and flows of Jewish identity throughout American history. Just as Jews never felt obliged to accept America as they found it, neither were they afraid to reinterpret Jewish identity to fit the times. “The Jews of the United States” is both balanced and comprehensive. For that reason, however, it is not Diner’s finest work. The sweeping format prohibits her from injecting the texture of the Jewish experience into her interpretation.

While solid and authoritative, “The Jews of the United States” lacks the intimacy and detail that characterized two of Diner’s previous books, “In the Almost Promised Land” and “Hungering for America.”

Still, Diner’s willingness to take on some of the shibboleths of the popular American Jewish narrative is welcome. Indeed, it is what keeps this book from being just another history textbook.

Gregory Rodriguez is an Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

Only Iranian Shoah Survivor Shares Life


In August 1939, Menashe Ezrapour could have escaped the horrors of the Holocaust by boarding a train in the French city of Grenoble, but instead, he chose to stay, ultimately becoming the only known Shoah survivor of Iranian Jewish descent interned in concentration and work camps during World War II.

Recently, Ezrapour, 86, came forward for the first time in more than 60 years to publicly share his story of survival, perhaps bringing the local Persian Jewish community closer to the Shoah.

A number of Holocaust experts, including ones from Yad Vashem in Israel, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Ezrapour is probably one of the few — if not the only — Iranian Jewish survivors held captive in the camps during WW II.

“To my knowledge, I have not heard of any Iranian Jews being held in camps during the war,” said Aaron Brightbart, head researcher at the Wiesenthal Center.

Upon learning of Ezrapour’s Shoah experience, several local Iranian Jewish leaders said his story may personalize the Holocaust for Iranian Jews who in the past may not have been as impacted by its effects as most European Jewry was.

“We [Iranian Jewry] have always felt a close bond with the Shoah,” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. “This new revelation for the community just makes it so close to a personal experience for us.”

Talking with The Journal at his residence on Wilshire Boulevard near Westwood, Ezrapour can still recall the names, dates and events surrounding his internment in various camps in southern France.

Ezrapour’s life-altering experience began when he and his brother, Edward, left their home in the Iranian city of Hamadan and went to Paris in September 1938 to pursue higher education. In August 1939, Ezrapour and his brother journeyed to Grenoble in southeastern France. Shortly afterward, when war in Europe seemed imminent, they decided to return to Iran.

“As we were preparing to leave, my friend from Baghdad, Maurice, who was an Iraqi Jew, encouraged me to stay,” Ezrapour said.

His brother returned to Iran, but Ezrapour remained in Grenoble and continued his engineering education at a local university. For the next three years, Ezrapour said that neither France’s German occupiers nor the Vichy government bothered him. However, he was eventually forced to register as a Jew in 1941, because Vichy laws required Jews to identify themselves.

In late 1942, he and several hundred Jews in the area were rounded up and sent to nearby detention camps. The French police took Ezrapour to a work camp called Uriage. He said the prisoners there were worried that they’d be deported to Germany.

“After one month there, I got permission to return to Grenoble for two days, and I never returned to the camp,” Ezrapour recalled.

Ezrapour said he stayed in the Grenoble home of a Christian woman for two weeks and used false identification papers to get around. He was ultimately arrested after the Christian woman was tricked by a police officer into revealing his whereabouts.

After 45 days in jail, Ezrapour said he was convicted of using false papers and sentenced to serve 40 more days in the Shapoli work camp. From Shapoli, he and other Jewish prisoners were taken to the infamous Gurs concentration camp, 50 miles from the Spanish border.

According to the “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust” (Facts on File, 2000), Gurs was the first and one of the largest concentration camps in France, with approximately 60,000 prisoners held there from 1939 to 1945. According to the 1993 book, “Gurs: An Internment Camp In France,” the internees included approximately 23,000 Spanish Republican soldiers who had fled Franco’s Spain in 1939, 7,000 International Brigade volunteers, 120 French resistance members and more than 21,000 Jews from all over Europe.

Ezrapour said living conditions were unbearable at Gurs, with too many people crowded together into small barracks and very little food.

“Every day, the only food available was one bowl of watered-down turnip soup and 75 grams of bread, which is the size of a teaspoon,” Ezrapour said.

Gurs held thousands of Jews prior to their final deportation to the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Sobibor in Eastern Europe. However, more than 1,000 detainees at Gurs died of hunger, typhoid fever, dysentery and extreme cold conditions , according to the “Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.”

After a month at Gurs, Ezrapour said he and 40 other prisoners were sent to a work camp in southern France called Meyreuil near Marseilles, instead of being deported with thousands of other Jews to Auschwitz.

“After two days there [at Meyreuil], an officer issuing identification cards asked me if I was Jewish, and I told him I was not, and he luckily did not identify me as a Jew,” Ezrapour said. “This was an incredible miracle, because later in 1944, two Gestapo officers came to the camp and saw my Jewish name on the list and asked for me. The camp commandant told them I was an Iranian-Iraqi, and they didn’t ask for me any further.”

Ezrapour said he was subsequently sent to labor long hours in the coal mines near Meyreuil. He also worked as an electrician.

In August 1944, Ezrapour said, Meyreuil was liberated by American forces, and he left the camp. He sought refuge with rebels in the Spanish underground living in a nearby border town.

For the remainder of the war, Ezrapour returned to Grenoble, where he completed his education in engineering. He returned to Iran in June 1946 and worked in the automotive spare parts business.

Despite enduring tremendous hardships at camps, Ezrapour said the experience has not made him bitter but only reinforced his belief in God.

“After witnessing all of the miracles I encountered then, I have always been grateful to God,” Ezrapour said. “I had, and still have, a strong belief in God and his powers, that’s what got me through the experience.”

The list of Dachau prisoners in Paul Berben’s book, “Dachau 1933-1945: The Official History” (Norfolk Press, 1975), indicates that there was one survivor of Iranian nationality at the camp in Germany when it was liberated by U.S. forces in April 1945. However, the list does not identify the prisoner’s religion. Berben’s book also indicates that non-Jews were also interned in Dachau during World War II.

Records from Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names reveals that a total of five Jews born in Iran perished in the Holocaust.

This past April, the Wiesenthal Center posthumously honored the Abdol Hossein Sardari, the Iranian ambassador to German-controlled France during World War II, who forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris at the time. In addition, Sardari was also honored for saving several hundred non-Iranian Jews in Paris in 1942 by giving them Iranian passports to escape Nazi persecution.

Ezrapour said that while he did not encounter any other Iranian Jews during his internment in the French camps, most Iranian Jews he has known over the years have expressed great sorrow over the loss of their brethren at the hands of the Nazis.

“They do feel great pain, because their co-religionist brothers were murdered,” Ezrapour said. “Perhaps my experience will give them a better idea of the seriousness of what happened.”

Bush Names Friend to Museum Council


Century City lawyer Donald Etra has been appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by President Bush, a close friend since their undergraduate days at Yale.

Etra is joining the governing body of the Holocaust Memorial Museum as the Washington landmark celebrates the 10th anniversary of its founding. During the past decade, there have been approximately 19 million museum visitors, of whom 13.8 million were non-Jewish.

In a sense, Etra’s appointment marks a generational change. "We are the first generation that didn’t see what happened during the Holocaust," said the 55-year-old attorney.

A native of Manhattan, Etra came to Los Angeles as assistant U.S. attorney in 1978. He has been in private practice since 1981, primarily in criminal defense and occasional civil litigation. Among his clients have been actors Eddie Murphy and Fran Drescher.

Etra first met the Bush at Yale, when they attended some of the same classes and shared the same dormitory. According to press reports, they both belonged to Skull and Bones, but in keeping with the secretive rules of the society, Etra declined comment.

Though close friends for more than 30 years, the two men are on different sides of the political fence.

"I am a liberal Democrat," Etra said. "When the president and I talk politics, we disagree, but we both agree on Israel."

Bush and his wife, Laura, attended the Etras’ wedding at Shaarei Tefila, an Orthodox congregation, in 1985, and the Etras have reciprocated with visits to Texas and the White House.

The nuptials were one major payoff for Etra’s Jewish activism. He met his wife-to-be, Paula, on a Jewish Federation mission for singles to Israel.

"There were 21 singles on that trip, and 10 ended up marrying each other," recalled Etra.

He has been involved in Federation activities since as former chairman of its Legal Division, member of the planning and allocation committee and vice chairman of the United Jewish Fund. Etra currently is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Committee and has also served as chairman of the regional Jewish National Fund chapter.

During the coming weeks and months, the Holocaust Memorial Museum will mark its 10th year with special exhibits commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s and with the first display in the United States of Anne Frank’s writings.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

A coalition of Southern California Jewish organizations comes together today for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 60th Anniversary Commemoration. Theodore Bikel narrates the program, which includes the lighting of six memorial candles by Holocaust survivors in honor of the 6 million, poetry readings in Yiddish and English and performances by Bikel and the Workmen’s Circle Mit Gezang Yiddish Chorus, led by Dr. Michelle Green-Willner.

8 p.m. $5 (requested donation). Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Sunday

Getting a jump-start on Tuesday’s holiday, the Zimmer Children’s Museum hosts Celebrate Earth Day! Artist and environmentalist Ruth Askren teaches your little ones all about endangered species and ways to protect the Earth. The hands-on fun also includes collage-making with recycled materials.

1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Free (members), $3 (nonmembers, plus museum fee). 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 761-8998.

Monday

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, KCET has a host
of films airing this month. First, brush up on your World War II history with
the documentary, “Yalta: Peace Power and Betrayal,” tonight. Then tune in
Wednesday for the broadcast premiere of Academy Award-winning documentary, “Into
the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport,” and next week for “Elie
Weisel: First Person Singular.”

World Briefs


Ramon Memorial Service Held

A state memorial service for Israel’s first astronaut was
held at an air force base near Ben-Gurion Airport. A plane carrying Col. Ilan
Ramon’s remains from the United States landed Monday and was taken to the base
for the ceremony. Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon were among those participating in the service.

“Your pain is the pain of the whole nation,” Sharon told the
Ramon family at the service. A private burial service, attended by Ramon’s
family and close friends, will be held Tuesday at Nahalal, a moshav in northern
Israel located near an air base where Ramon served.

Court Leaves Way Open for Sharon
Trial

Belgium’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon cannot be tried while in office for alleged war crimes,
but left open the possibility of a trial once he steps down. The court upheld Sharon’s
diplomatic immunity, but did say that charges could be brought against
nonresidents of Belgium. That means that there could be further legal moves
once Sharon retires. The court also ruled that investigations could proceed
against former Israeli army commander Amos Yaron, who was also named in the
original complaint filed with Belgian prosecutors two years ago.

Expanded Benefits for Some
Survivors

Some Holocaust survivors will receive an increase in
compensation payments as a result of an agreement negotiated Wednesday by the
Claims Conference with the German government. The Article 2 Fund, which
currently pays more than 46,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors in 40 countries,
will now distribute monthly payments of approximately $290, up from about $275,
according to the Claims Conference. Monthly payments from the Central and
Eastern European Fund, which pays 16,000 people in 23 countries, will increase
from about $137 to $145.

The programs are administered by the Claims Conference on
behalf of the German government. The negotiations also led to the expansion of
eligibility criteria for the two programs. As a result, some 4,000 additional
survivors, including some people from Romania, Hungary and some Western
European countries, may now get compensation.

Storm Over Quebec Jewish Magazine

The publisher of a Canadian Jewish magazine called Montreal
a “fascist and totalitarian” city because of recent anti-Semitic and
anti-Israeli incidents. Ghila Sroka, publisher and editor of Quebec’s
French-language Tribune Juive, wrote in the magazine’s recent issue  the cover
of which read “Montreal: Capital of Palestine” that the city’s facade of
open-mindedness hides a dark side of anti-Semitism in the trade unions,
universities and media. Her comments were criticized both within and without
the Jewish community.

“We don’t think that Quebec is fascist or anti-Semitic,”
said Joseph Gabay, president of the Quebec region of the Canadian Jewish
Congress. But Gabay did admit that the community was witnessing acts of
anti-Semitism. “It’s scary, it’s becoming worrying. Nobody is hiding,” he said,
but “the Jewish community cannot stay quiet. There is an ill-smelling smoke
over the city and over the country.”

Quebec Premier Bernard Landry and Montreal Mayor Gerald
Tremblay both said Sroka crossed a line. “Her language is clearly excessive and
unjust for Montreal. It saddens me and I hope that in other texts, her issues
will be more measured and in-line,” said Landry, who added that he considers
Sroka a friend.

A spokesman for Tremblay said, “We must wish that people
make efforts to not uselessly aggravate situations and conflicts that are
already quite complex.”

One-third of Tribune Juive’s funding comes from the Quebec
government and the separatist Parti Quebecois.

Changes in Mideast Panel

There are several new faces on the Mideast subcommittee of
the U.S. House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee. The
subcommittee make up, announced Tuesday, now includes new members Nick Smith
(R-Mich.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Thaddeus G. McCotter (R-Mich.), William Janklow
(R-S.D.), Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.) and Katherine Harris (R-Fla.). Chris Bell of Texas
is the only new Democrat on the panel. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will
replace retired Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) as chair of the panel, and Rep.
Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) will remain the ranking minority member. Reps. Brad
Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks.) and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) left the panel to become
ranking minority members of other subcommittees.

Briefs Courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Community Briefs


Assembly Passes Holocaust-RelatedBills

Two bills pertaining to the Holocaust era, one creating a state center for Holocaust study, the other extending the deadline for claims to recover artworks, were passed by the Legislature last week.

The Assembly passed and sent to the governor’s desk a bill creating a comprehensive Holocaust-genocide education program for teachers.

Introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), son of a Holocaust survivor, the bill provides for the establishment of a state Center of Excellence on the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance.

“With the enactment of this bill, teachers will finally receive the necessary training and tools to effectively present this difficult subject matter to students,” Koretz said. The center will work in conjunction with California State University, Chico, said Scott Svonkin, Koretz’s chief of staff.

In the second action, Gov. Gray Davis signed into law a bill extending the current three-year statute of limitations on filing claims to prove ownership of stolen artworks to Dec. 31, 2010.

“The very nature of Holocaust-era artwork requires detailed investigation involving numerous historical documents in multiple languages, and sometimes requires international research,” said Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance), who introduced the bill. Under the new law, persons whose claims were denied for failing to meet the three-year statute of limitations are entitled to resubmit their claims. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

No Complaints on Messianic Signs

They’re lined up once again across the southwestern San Fernando Valley, just in time for the High Holidays. No, not people seeking last-minute tickets, but banners advertising services that include a Jew rarely discussed during the holidays: Jesus.

Since 1998, Adat Y’shua Ha Adom, a Messianic congregation in Woodland Hills, has hung 24 banners on streetlights and power poles in areas around the West Valley heavily trafficked by Jews. But the banners aren’t provoking the kind of reaction they have in years past.

Adat Y’shua’s banners were deemed legal after an investigation by Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson, following several complaints registered in 1999. The congregation continues to hang the banners every year during the High Holidays.

“We’re just letting people know about our High Holiday services,” said Michael Brown, Adat Y’shua’s pastor.

One banner sits directly across from Kol Tikvah’s High Holidays banner on Ventura Boulevard near Winnetka Avenue, while another two banners near the intersection of Ventura and Topanga Canyon boulevards sit directly in front of a shopping center that is home to Noah’s Bagels, Western Bagel and Jerry’s Deli.

“I know people get upset by it, but there’s so many other things that are more important right now,” said Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Kol Tikvah. “This is not hurting Jews. It’s not a threat to us.”

The signs continue to raise the hackles of a few Jews, but none have entered a formal complaint with Jewish or city agencies.

“We’ve gotten some people who have notified us about it, but we haven’t gotten complaints from people saying please rip them down,” said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the countermissionary group, Jews for Judaism, who credits the lack of complaints to stronger Jewish education and self-confidence.

“As far as I know, nobody has complained about it,” said Sheree Adams, Woodland Hills and Tarzana field deputy for City Councilman Dennis Zine.

Brown acknowledged that his congregation regularly receives some negative feedback when the banners go up.

“There’s a small set of people who, for whatever reason, don’t agree,” said Brown, 47, who grew up in a Reform home and became a involved in Messianic Judaism 10 years ago. “But the vast majority of calls we get are very positive.”

And while Jews for Judaism wouldn’t mind if Adat Y’shua packed up their signs for good, they aren’t going to hold their breath.

“In a society with freedom of speech, it’s very difficult to keep people from handing out pamphlets or putting up banners,” Kravitz said. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor

Mourning Season

Kever avot, the custom of visiting graves of loved ones between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, has its roots in Eastern European Jewish traditions. “Visiting is a sign of respect, said Rabbi Moshe Rothblum of Adat Ari El in North Hollywood. “We are also thinking about how we’ve acted in the past, and taking time to remember,” he said of the timing of the custom.

Mt. Sinai Cemetery will hold its 48th annual kever avot service at its Hollywood location. This year it will be held from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sept. 15. It will also simultaneously host its first kever avot service at the new Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 6150 Mt. Sinai Drive, Simi Valley.

At both ceremonies, Mt. Sinai staff will collect food donations for the SOVA food bank, the free food distribution program of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. For information, call (800) 600-0076.

For those looking for a less traditional approach, Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer, creator and star of the one-man show, “Religion Outside the Box,” has planned an innovative kever avot service that includes a video presentation, a meditation on death by Buddhist priest John Daishin Buksbazen and a Franciscan dirge, in addition to the usual “Kaddish” prayers. It will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. For more information, call (323) 469-1181. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

Hebrew University VictimsRemembered

About 100 people came to Temple Beth Am’s Lainer Library on Aug. 29 to pay tribute to the July 31 victims of the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing, nearly a month to the day of the tragedy. Organized by American Friends of Hebrew University, the 80-minute tribute was dedicated to the memory of Revital Barashi, Marla Bennett, Benjamin Blutstein, Dina Carter, Janis Ruth Coulter, David Gritz, David Diego Ladowski, Levina Shapira and Dafna Spruch, as well as the 80 people injured in the attack. Most of the nine murder victims were under 30.

Even the liveliness of Beth Am’s brightly lit, modern sanctuary could not overcome the sadness and solemnity of the occasion, as Cantor Yonah Kliger sang “El Maleh Rachamin.” After opening remarks by Jeff Rouss, executive director of the Western Region American Friends of the Hebrew University, Beth Am’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Perry Netter, led the ceremony and a “‘Misheberach,’ for healing.”

For Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, a 1986 Rothberg International School graduate, Hebrew University, the oldest college in Israel, is a very special place. “It’s not just an academic but a sacred institution,” Bouskila said, “because of the progress it represents.”

Rabbinical student Deborah Bock, who also spoke with eloquence and emotion at a UCLA memorial a few weeks ago, returned to paint a loving picture of Bennett, her former Hebrew University roommate. Two other Rothberg International School friends of Bennett, Ari Moss and Emma Lefkowitz, also shared personal memories of their friend as they tried to suppress their emotions. “I’m going to miss the person she was going to be,” Moss said. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Poles Remember Massacre


Sixty years after hundreds of Jews in a Polish village were slaughtered by their neighbors, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski offered an apology.

"For this crime, we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness," Kwasniewski told about 3,000 people gathered in the pouring rain at a ceremony in the village of Jedwabne.

"This is why today, as a citizen and as the president of the Republic of Poland, I beg pardon," he said. "I beg pardon in my own name and in the name of those Poles whose conscience is shattered by that crime."

Joined by government officials, Jewish leaders, survivors and relatives of Jedwabne victims, Kwasniewski walked in silence from the village center to the site of the barn in which as many as 1,600 Jews were burned to death on July 10, 1941. Other Jews already had been butchered in a frenzy of violence.

At the site, New York cantor Joseph Malovany said "Kaddish." Jedwabne-born Rabbi Jacob Baker led prayers, and a new wood-and-concrete monument to the victims was unveiled.

For decades, a smaller monument on the site had attributed the slaughter to German Nazis and the Gestapo.

This was removed in March after a book, "Neighbors," by Polish American scholar Jan Gross — followed by a documentary film and other on-site research — revealed that the massacre was carried out by local Poles.

"I learned about the massacre as a big secret, as a child," recalled Marta Kurkowska-Budza, who was born in Jedwabne and is a young social historian at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University.

"Neighbors" — and the ensuing debates and media attention — exploded these taboos. For some, it was a catharsis. For others, it was a valuable key to rethinking history. For still others, it provoked further denial.

"To contemporary Jedwabne inhabitants, but also Poles in general, the murder of Jews is this kind of traumatic, undomesticated history; the public debate is painful, but was inescapable," Kurkowska-Budza has said. "Public discourse is a battleground."

Many considered the controversy healthy. Even one of the policemen shepherding the crowds said he thought it was a valuable process. "We must talk about the Holocaust," he said, fumbling for the words. Over and over again, Poles urged outsiders to recognize that the country has changed, and that Jews should now feel welcome.

As the crowd streamed from the ceremony site to the place where the barn once stood, villagers, more curious than angry, watched from their windows or from within their gardens.

On Tuesday, three young Israelis were among the victims’ relatives at the site, brought there by their grandfather. They were carrying an Israeli flag, a poster listing the names of 40 victims and one honoring the villagers who rescued the few Jews that survived the massacre.

The rain, described by Baker as tears from God, soaked their white shirts, and the wind unfurled their flag as other family members laid flowers and stones on the monument. For a few moments, all the controversy was forgotten.

New Jersey Jewish News Staff Writer Elaine Durbach contributed to this story.

Concerned Christians


Strains of somber organ music resonated in the large sanctuary as the eight Holocaust survivors told their stories. As each spoke about horrors endured, loved ones lost and, ultimately, faith reclaimed, the congregation punctuated their speeches with murmurs of “Thank You, Jesus.”

Clearly, this was no ordinary Holocaust memorial. The survivors spoke as part of the First Annual Varian Fry Committee of Concerned Christians Awards at the Church on the Way, a prominent Pentecostal church located in the San Fernando Valley. Co-sponsored by Stephen S. Wise Temple, the educational gathering brought together more than 900 Christians of seemingly every color and age, as well as some Jewish guests, to honor Holocaust survivors and their rescuers.

“I was blown away,” said Dean Jones, one of the event organizers. “I never expected the survivors to be so spiritually dynamic and to bring so much hope to that congregation.”

Jones, a veteran actor (his credits include “The Love Bug” and “Clear and Present Danger”) and member of the Church on the Way, said that he expected the event to serve as a model for similar ones nationwide. As spokesperson for the 8-year-old Committee of Concerned Christians (CCC), he sees Christian awareness and involvement as critical in the fight against anti-Semitism. Recognizing the history of Jewish persecution and noting that much of it came from people professing to be good Christians, Jones firmly believes in the work of the Committee in curbing anti-Semitism worldwide.

“It’s mind-boggling that the Holocaust happened in this century,” said Jones. “I believe that Christian people who really want to follow Christ have a lot of credibility to regain with Jewish people the world over.”

The CCC’s main goal is education. Most of the organization’s efforts are directed toward providing instructional materials for schools and churches throughout the country. These include “The Diary of Anne Frank” as well as educational videos on the Holocaust. Funding comes from private donors.

Co-founded by Los Angeles Jewish businessman Ben Friedman, CCC has enlisted more than 2,000 Christian priests and ministers of all denominations. These clergymen have agreed to devote at least one sermon a year to teach about the Holocaust and the dangers of anti-Semitism.

Acknowledging the limitations of the organization, Jones said: “It’s true that the skinheads are not going to be sitting in church, hearing a sermon on the dangers of anti-Semitism. However, if the religious community is sensitized and united, and they take a firm stance against any outbreaks of intolerance, I believe that anti-Semitism can be contained.”

According to Friedman, the organization’s biggest obstacle today is the indifference of Jews. Friedman said that Jewish media and organizations have been resistant to publicizing his group.

Indeed, many in the Jewish community wonder why Jews should bother lauding steps that should have been made long ago.

“How much Jewish blood had to be shed before a major figure in Christianity finally debunked a belief that has been either implicitly or explicitly passed on for centuries?” said one local Jewish activist, who did not wish to be named.

“The beneficiaries of this are the Jews,” countered Friedman. But he stressed that “the real goal of CCC is for Christians to understand that they have to appeal to Christians to solve the problems of Christians hating Jews for the last 1,600 years.”

Ebi Gabor, one of the survivors who spoke at the church gathering, concurred. She was 16 years old when she was taken to Auschwitz from her upper-middle-class home in Hungary. “Churches are the most influential, and the most convincing. We need their help to educate people about what happened,” she said.

Almost every seat was filled in the church on June 4. A large gospel choir stood at the back of the pulpit, while a five-piece band played on the side. The stage was flanked by two large video screens that projected words to hymns and psalms.

In his opening prayer, Dr. Jack Hayford, senior pastor of the Church on the Way, invoked, “the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, and Ruach HaKodesh.” As he spoke, many congregants murmured words of praise or raised their arms and heads upward in prayer.

Throughout the evening, the mood was somber yet uplifting. The attendees were clearly disturbed by an intensely graphic 15-minute clip from the miniseries “War and Remembrance,” of the journey from the cattle cars to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Cantor Nathan Lam of Stephen S. Wise Temple, who helped initiate plans for the event a year ago, sang “Sim Shalom.” After the proceedings, Lam recalled that his initial concern about the group’s intentions were unnecessary. “It was truly an evening of spiritual brotherhood, with everyone respecting the other’s religious beliefs and being moved by the other person’s sincerity.”

There are tentative plans between the two congregations for a “thanksgiving” event, either during Sukkot or during the actual November holiday.

Rabbi Eli Herscher spoke about his own background (his family left Germany in 1935) and noted that the key to the evening lay in the fact that “we are here, Jews and Christians, as partners in memory.” Both he and Lam received standing ovations.

Named for the first American to be given recognition by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, the Varian Fry awards were presented to Barbro Osher, Consul General of Sweden, in recognition of her country’s work in saving the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, and to Dr. Marcel Verzeano, an associate of Varian Fry who helped smuggle thousands of people out of Vichy France.

Hayford spoke of how only “halfway into the 40 years of [his] ministry” did he learn about the history of anti-Semitism in Christian tradition. “I didn’t know that the viciousness of the Inquisition, the Crusades or other pogroms were often conducted in the name of Christ.”

He stressed the importance of education and awareness in combating intolerance, ignorance or just apathy, especially by those who consider themselves true Christians.

“The Bible teaches us that repentance is what you do when you finally understand. And that’s what we’re trying to do, now that we finally understand,” he said.

For more information on CCC, call (818) 848-3442.


Shlomit Levy is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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