Friday, February 17
Canada’s folk/roots/world music ensemble Beyond the Pale goes beyond pure klezmer by uniquely blending it with Balkan, Gypsy, Romanian, bluegrass, jazz, reggae and funk inspirations. They make their Los Angeles stop on their California/Southwest Tour tonight at Genghis Cohen.
10:30 p.m. $10. 740 N. Fairfax, West Hollywood. (310) 578-5591.
Iranian Muslims Brush Up on Shoah
The Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted more than two-dozen representatives from local Iranian Muslim news outlets this month to provide them with information about the Holocaust that they can, in turn, use to educate their readers, listeners and viewers.
“We are looking to introduce the Iranian media to the Wiesenthal Center and to respond to the hatred of Jews in Iran,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, said in remarks to the group. “We want you to expose the lies and hatred coming from the Iranian government.”
Cooper was referring to recent statements by Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader has implied that the Holocaust is a myth; on another occasion he asserted that Israel should be obliterated and that a homeland for Jews could be located instead in Europe or America.
Ahmadinejad’s comments have recently energized the Southern California-based Persian-language media to support Israel publicly and to speak out against anti-Semetic remarks made by Iranian government officials for the first time in the 26 years since the Islamic revolution. A pro-Israel rally in Westwood drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions last November.
At the weekend gathering, Iranian journalists talked of a duty to learn more about the Holocaust so they could properly relay the full extent of Nazi atrocities to their audiences.
“It is our responsibility to give people in the Iranian community the correct information about this issue,” said Parviz Kardan, a Persian-language media personality and host of the radio program “A Spoonful of Sugar” on KIRN 670 AM. “We must be a window for young Iranians everywhere to show history in the proper light.”
Those in attendance were given an electronic card with the name and photograph of a child who lived during the era of the Holocaust. At the end of the tour, they discovered what happened to that child.
“I was aware of the Holocaust, but not to the extent of what I learned from this visit,” said Assadollah Morovati, owner of Radio Sedaye Iran (KRSI), a Persian-language satellite-radio station based in Beverly Hills that broadcasts news into Iran and worldwide. “In Iran we have a dictator like Hitler who is behaving like him and speaking like him.”
The journalists’ tour guide was Holocaust survivor Peter Daniels, who had his own perspective on Ahmadinejad.
“We’ve dealt with Holocaust deniers for years,” Daniels said. “The president of Iran is not anything new. It’s a way for them to be heard and get attention. I try not to take it personally.”
In a question-and-answer period following the tour, Cooper noted that Ahmadinejad’s statements may be an attempt to divert attention from Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. But he urged the Iranian media representatives to respond to them nevertheless.
“The average American thinks the president of Iran speaks for all Iranians,” Cooper told them. “They don’t know the region well, so you need to have a core message.” He also urged them to reach out to U.S. elected officials “to voice your concern for the safety of your friends and family in Iran.”
Local Iranian Jewish leaders George Haroonian and Bijan Khalli were involved in setting up the Museum of Tolerance event. They said they felt a responsibility as Jews to inform their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots about the truth of the Holocaust.
“Forgetfulness about the Holocaust is like committing a crime,” Haroonian told the crowd of Iranian journalists in Persian. The Iranian government is “trying to teach hatred for Jews. We hope this tour will be a step to awaken the Iranian people.”
Bye Bye Diaspora, Hello ‘New Jews’
Bye Bye Diaspora, Hello ‘New Jews’
“New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora” by Caryn Aviv and David Shneer (New York University Press, 2005).
Earlier this month, I participated in a consultation on “Jewish community in an era of looser connections.” Despite the presence of various paradigm-shifting luminaries, more than one reference was made to three absent influences, specifically, two people and a book. The people: Aaron Bisman and Matisyahu; the book: “New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora.” Bisman’s JDub Records seeks “cross-cultural … dialogue” through music indigenous to just about anywhere except Israel; Matisyahu, JDub’s breakout idol, is a baal teshuvah Lubavitcher who sings “Chasidic reggae.” They are the New Jews to whom the book’s authors, Caryn Aviv and David Shneer, refer.
Aviv, a sociologist, and Shneer, a historian, are both native Angelenos who now teach at the University of Denver. They argue that the bipolar models of home and exile, center and periphery, Israel and Diaspora, no longer apply to contemporary Jewish life. “What,” they ask, “does … an upper-middle-class professional, secular Jew in Los Angeles have in common with a working-class Israeli Sephardic religious Jew in Bnei Brak except the fact that each one calls herself a Jew?”
The authors propose a new map with “multiple homelands” that displaces Israel from “the center of the Jewish universe.” They point out that since the mid-19th century, most Jewish religious innovation has originated in the United States, rather than in Europe or Israel. As of 2003, more people emigrated from Israel to Russia than vice versa, and New York is the communal and philanthropic center of Jewish life. Ultimately, the authors find, contemporary Jews are at home wherever they live. “New Jews,” they argue, “connect emotionally and culturally with multiple places and traverse routes across national boundaries but are nonetheless rooted in a specific place they call home.”
In five case studies, Aviv and Shneer explore the implications of their argument. In Moscow, they find an increasingly vibrant Jewish urban center where Jews want to live, not leave. An examination of organized youth tourism to Poland and Israel uncovers a manipulative identity-building agenda that reveals the desperation of late 1990s “continuity” campaigns — but also points toward a future in which Jews crisscross the globe to explore their diverse cultural heritage. Two other chapters complement one another. A minisequel to their previous book, “Queer Jews,” considers collective identities that connect across geopolitical boundaries, and an ethnographic meditation explores the deep diversity cohabiting within the boundaries of New York City.
Finally, Los Angeles stars in a study of the Museum of Tolerance and the Skirball Cultural Center. Aviv and Shneer provide long-overdue histories of the creation of these two institutions — and important critiques of their respective programs. At the Museum of Tolerance, the authors highlight the tension between the universalistic message of tolerance and the particularistic focus on the Shoah, a tension that leaves the visitor “suspicious of the comforts of America.” At the Skirball, they find a deeply assimilationist message in which Jewish values explicitly are presented as indigenously American. Even as the Skirball upends the logic of Diaspora and exile, the authors observe, it remains “intolerant of difference” when such difference might divide Jews from other Americans.
Religion largely is absent from the discussion, though this appears to be by design. Freed from the theological bonds of Klal Yisrael — though by no means dismissing its importance — the authors make no apologies for their challenge to the political centrality of Israel in secular “Jewish geography, culture, and memory.” They question the sociological utility of thinking about some entity called The Jewish People.
“The only thing that Jews have in common,” Aviv and Shneer conclude, “is the fact that they self-identify as Jews.”
To those who grew up within the narratives of the Holocaust and the return to Zion, this will be distressing; to those in Aviv and Shneer’s generation, like Bisman and Matisyahu, as well as to Chabad emissaries no less than Conservative and Reform outreach advocates — it is old news.
“New Jews'” greatest strength — that it is an open-ended introduction to a conversation, rather than a self-contained argument — also may be its primary weakness. Although I agree with Aviv and Shneer’s assertion that contemporary Jews are at home where they are, rather than in exile from an imagined homeland, I would have liked to see them explore some of the more dynamic implications of Jewish cultural transnationalism, or what scholars call “flows.” To study flows is to follow the movement of ideas, money, even music. Debbie Friedman tells of a Polish youth group’s request to hear the “traditional” melody for “Havdalah” (they meant her own, of course); I have sung Adat Ari El Rabbi Moshe Rothblum’s “V’Shamru” at a Czechoslovak Shabbaton. The late Pakistani Sufi musician Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan wrote a qawwali called, “Allah Hu”; a group of Americans and Israelis living in Israel adopted, adapted and exported the chant to the United States, where it was popularized by Debbie Friedman, Danny Maseng and New York’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun as the liturgical song “Hallelu.”
The authors also do not contend with the sporadic but serious conflicts over Jewish being-at-home, whether in Paris and Brussels or on “Bill O’Reilly” and MSNBC. In the United States, controversies last year over Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and this year over “Christianization” and the “War on Christmas” paradoxically juxtapose cultural complacency and communal insecurity. In Western Europe, anti-Semitic attacks by immigrant Arabs reflect both anti-Israel political violence and the jealous rage of the socially marginal against those perceived to have made it “inside,” those who are “at home.” These, too, are the experiences of “New Jews.”
Still, one hardly can fault the authors for provoking the reader to respond. And this is Aviv and Shneer’s greatest achievement with this book: to force us, gently but insistently, to consider the global implications of a world where Zion is a given and not a proposal; where perfectly respectable Jews emigrate from Jerusalem and make pilgrimages to New York; where, indeed, Los Angeles is the center of a Jewish universe.
J. Shawn Landres is the director of research at Synagogue 3000 and a visiting research fellow at UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies.
7 Days in The Arts
What It Takes to Create a Museum
The opening of a new museum by Yad Vashem is an event to be honored by the entire Jewish world whether in Israel or throughout the Diaspora.
For Jerusalem to maintain its primacy, its centrality, the brilliant creation of the 1950s, which was then far ahead of its time, had to be updated to the creative language of 21st-century museum-making. If a museum does not evolve to meet the task of its time, it withers. Witness the cruel fate that has overtaken the Museum of the Diaspora, which had been at the forefront of modern museum-making but which but barely escaped its own demise. A historical museum must be renewed or it dies; without renewal it can no longer speak to a new generation, or reach a contemporary audience.
Tom Segev has written of the competition between the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem; Avner Shalev, the distinguished director of Yad Vashem, has overseen its new reiteration has denied any such competition. Both miss some important points. First of all, competition is good; it improves both creations. Institutions learn from each other, they challenge each other. Harvard has become better because of Yale, and MIT by Cal Tech, and I dare say that the Hebrew University is better because of Tel Aviv University. Without that competition it might have become staid, complacent and arrogant.
When we contemplated creating the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, we looked to Yad Vashem as a model of an integrated institution; a museum that tells the story of the Holocaust, a research institution and archive that is at the forefront of preserving the memory and transmitting it, and an educational institution that teaches teachers and students the history of the Holocaust and by implication its meaning and application to the new generation. And we certainly tried to do better.
We benefited because we had the model of Yad Vashem before us, but our task was different. And over the dozen years since Washington opened, the competition and cooperation with Yad Vashem has improved and empowered both institutions. Yad Vashem would not have been able to garner the support it has to create so magnificent a building and a campus without the presence of Washington and the important need of renewal.
“By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion,” the Psalmist proclaimed.
The place from which you remember an event shapes the way in which the event is remembered.
Every historical museum is a dialogue between the historical event and the audience that walks through its portals. So the story of the Shoah is told differently in Jerusalem than the Holocaust is told in Washington or New York or the Final Solution is described in Berlin or Budapest. Event, perspective and audience all subtly influence the story that is told.
A word about audience: In earlier generations, those who entered Yad Vashem knew the story; they had lived the events described. Thus, they could visit the memorial without seeing the exhibition and thus the exhibition merely had to allude to the events; that was sufficient. The artifacts of the perpetrators would have been inappropriate to introduce to the mountains of Jerusalem and to the Jews who sought refuge in Israel from their tormentors. But a new generation has arisen; conceived in freedom, unacquainted with exile, and to them the events must be portrayed, directly and graphically, far more graphically than was appropriate or even possible a generation ago.
A generation ago, Israelis could be confident that they knew the story, but after the misuse of symbols of the Holocaust — not only by Europeans and Arabs suggesting that Israel is the new Nazism but by Israelis accusing their own government of being Nazi-like and wearing Jewish stars to protest the Gaza withdrawal — our confidence should be shaken.
How is one to view a museum, to judge its success?
The modern historical museum tells a story with a beginning, middle and an end, with points of emphasis and moments of intensity, with a narrative that carries one through the entire museum. Visitors are entitled to ask what that narrative is and is it adequate to describe the event and appropriate to reach the new generation.
Like a symphony, a museum must be organic; themes must be presented and developed. The institution — any institution — is experienced whole by its visitors even if, as is clearly the case with Yad Vashem, it was not created whole but evolved over decades. How successfully will the creators be able to weave all the elements of Yad Vashem — its sculptural gardens, the Avenue of the Righteous, the Children’s Memorial, the Art Museum, the Valley of Communities and the Ohel Yizkor (Hall of Remembrance) with its magnificent simplicity — into one complete experience, which is the way the visitors will go through the site. I did not envy them the challenge. It is more than considerable.
When I saw the site during its creation I was concerned about the nature of the interrelationship between three primary actors in the events of the Holocaust — the perpetrators, the victims and the bystanders. In Washington, we devoted considerable attention to the bystanders, which is, after all, the American story. The sites of destruction in Poland and Germany show the nature of the crime. For many years, they had little interest in the victims of the crime and only the most reserved interest in the perpetrators but they were fascinated by the nature of the crime, its mechanisms and means, the instrumentalities of destruction.
Yad Vashem is rightfully determined to present the Jewish perspective as was New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, but it must all present — and I use these words with the greatest of precision — the human story of the killers. Their inhumanity was human. For the most part the killers were not demonic, even though they committed the most demonic of deeds, and all students of the Holocaust must confront their experience not to understand or excuse, but to comprehend what happened.
Omar Bar Tov once wrote that the German historians so dehumanized the Jews that they believed that nothing that happened inside the ghettos or inside the death and concentration camps impacted on the “Final Solution.” Jews run the risk of the opposite. So convinced are we that the killers were inhumane that we fail to confront the ultimate scandal: they were human and the deeds they performed, horrific as they were, were human deeds, committed by “cultured men and women, the product of western civilization.
Will a visitor to the new Yad Vashem understand the role of ideology and conformity; the desire not to lose face before one’s comrades and the struggle to silence whatever semblance of conscience remained that was the lot of the killers. Will they see the killers as part of our world — and thus a threat to our world — or apart from the world and thus bearing no relevance to our world?
The crime against the Jews will be central and must be central, but the new museum must see the crimes of the Jews in context. Concentration camps were first developed to incarcerate German opponents of the regime; only much later did Jews constitute a majority of those imprisoned. Gassing was first used to kill German non-Jews — mentally handicapped, physically handicapped and emotionally distraught Germans who were an embarrassment to the myth of the master race. It was there that the role of bureaucratic, desk killer was first honed; there that the leadership and staff of Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka received their first training. Jehovah’s Witnesses were martyrs. Had they signed a simple document, they could have been released from the camps. They died for their faith. Jews were victims; they died for the faith of their grandparents. Will Jewish memory be large enough to be both Judeocentric and inclusive?
Will the new museum, with all of its power — and the building is quite powerful, creating its own rhythms and its own logic that must be integrated onto the history — reach the multiple audiences that visit the museum? These Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and non-Israelis, Europeans and Americans, Israeli soldiers who must understand the raison d’etre of the state and of Jewish power and who stand accused — falsely accused, viciously accused — by some in the West and in the Arab and Muslim world of being the new Nazis of our generation. Will they understand — as American West Point Cadets and Naval Midshipmen are taught in Washington — the importance of military ethics of recognizing the humanity of the enemy even while undertaking action against them? Will policemen learn a commitment to human rights and civil liberties by seeing the consequences of its violations by men in the same profession? Great museums address multiple audiences of diverse sensibilities and contain enough to reach different visitors and touch their souls in diverse ways.
A generation ago, it might have been sufficient to learn from the Shoah that the whole world is against us, that powerlessness invites victimization and, thus, the Jewish people must rely upon themselves and only themselves and assume adequate power to preserve themselves in the contemporary world. Those lessons are still valid, still necessary — but they are not sufficient.
A generation or two ago, one could speak of Shoah v’gevurah in one breath as if the two were equally descriptive of the events of the Holocaust and as if gevurah meant only armed resistance. We have learned more; we now know more.
The challenges are many, the difficulties are great, the pitfalls obvious. It takes the endurance of a marathon runner to plan for years and bring it all together for a moment. It takes courage to open a museum, courage, wisdom and vision. I wish my colleagues well. I so look forward to seeing their creation.
Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He was project director of the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Q & A With Sharon Waxman
Letters to the Editor
I read with great interest your article on Jewish special education (“Support Still Lags for Special Needs,” Nov. 12). Like I do with any article related to this topic, it penetrates to my very being because I am a person with special needs.
I was born in the early ’50s with moderate cerebral palsy. Making a place for me in Jewish life was provided by compassionate religious school teachers and camp staff.
I was the token one. Yes, I benefited but could have benefited beyond my wildest dreams if there were programs designed for me.
Today, I’m an advocate for one of the regional centers. Although this agency is not Jewish, our mission is the same – inclusion. Inclusion, that’s the key word we advocate in all our presentations. We have come far in raising people’s consciousness, but we have somewhat further to go.
I’m wondering if the Commission of Jews With Disabilities is still in existence. I was once a member of this group that was composed of members with and without disabilities. We tried hard to shake the Los Angeles community with thought-provoking innovative ways of demonstrating that this population had many viable messages to teach.
I respect the notion that more has to be done in this arena. I look forward to hearing about future progress.
Agriprocessors’ and Agudath Israel of America’s responses to PETA’s accusations are shameful, slanderous and insulting. Whether one believes that shechitah [ritual kosher slaughtering] is humane is irrelevant to this complaint, and PETA’s representative has stated as much (“Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts,” Dec. 3).
Agriprocessors demeans both the Jewish community as a whole and the events of the Holocaust by stating, “We’ll put them [PETA] on the wall with Hitler.” A recent inappropriate advertising campaign by PETA, which equated the meat industry with the Holocaust, was appropriately denounced by the Jewish community; Agriprocessors assertion equating PETA with Hitler should also be denounced.
Whether one agrees with the underlying motivations of the parties involved in this dispute, Jewish organizations should avoid accusations of anti-Semitism where none exist. This habit of crying wolf will seriously undermine legitimate claims in the future.
Dr. Alexander Werner
Shame on The Jewish Journal (“A Happy/Merry Solution,” Dec. 3). Never would I have thought that a Jewish paper would accept interfaith marriages. It is one thing to condone interfaith marriages (95 percent of my friends have interfaith marriages). It is another thing to accept them, and tell them how and where to buy Chanukah/Christmas cards.
Are the Torah and Talmud just antiquated short stories? Does Jewish identity mean nothing to you guys? A Christmas tree does not belong in a Jewish person’s home. Plain and simple.
Interfaith marriages are forbidden by Jewish law. If you don’t believe in that, you might as well change your name to the Jewish-Christian Journal.
L.A. Museum of the Holocaust
As the executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, I feel that I must respond to some recent letters by Rabbi Harry A. Roth and Lawrence Weinman in regard to our capital campaign to build a permanent museum in Pan Pacific Park (Letters, Nov. 26).
The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust is the oldest Holocaust museum in the United States. We have been in existence since 1961 and have been providing Southern California with ground-breaking educational progamming over the last four decades.
Thousands of schoolchildren, mostly non-Jewish, tour our museum annually, and we are the only museum in Los Angeles that is always free and open to the public, a true blessing in a city where many students and school districts simply cannot afford field trips. The museum pays for busing for districts that cannot afford transportation, as well.
The plan to construct a museum in Pan Pacific Park is not a new idea and has been the ultimate goal for the last 20 years. The new building will create a cohesive unit in Pan Pacific Park, as it will encompass the already existing Holocaust Monument that has stood there for many years.
From our new location, we will continue our important work, work that is not repeated by other cultural and religious institutions in the city. The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust has partnered with the Museum of Tolerance, the Anti-Defamation League, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the University of Judaism, the Skirball Cultural Center, UCLA, the Gay and Lesbian Center of Los Angeles, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and countless other organizations.
I would encourage those who have not been to the museum or attended any of our programs to do so immediately. I can assure you, once you walk through our doors, you will not be disappointed.
Finally, I am not sure why Weinman and Roth see a connection between the oldest Holocaust museum in the country and the day school crisis in Los Angeles. Weinman and I disagree: I do not see us as a “community of limited resources” but rather a community of endless talent, resource and possibility.
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust
I was touched by reading “Whose ‘Land’ Is It?” (Nov. 19), Gaby Wenig’s insightful, personal review of Barbara Grover’s photographic exhibit, “This Land to Me,” which helps us listen equally to Israeli and Palestinian stories that matter.
When our fears from this conflict hijack our best judgment and wisdom, art like Grover’s and other shared, positive human experiences can help us realize the equal humanity of the “other” and begin to treat one another far better.
Here on the San Francisco Peninsula, my wife, Libby, and I are part of a 12-year-old Jewish-Palestinian living-room dialogue group, preparing for our 151st meeting, still learning to change “enemies” into partners. There are now 10 similar groups here.
Another art – shared foods – and the human stories behind them, inspired us to print last month a first-of-its-kind 100-page cookbook, “Palestinian and Jewish Recipes for Peace.” Like Grover’s exhibit, it seeks to reveal the humanity of our two fine peoples. It’s described more at traubman.igc.org/recipes.htm.
Since I grew up in Westwood and graduated from University High, I was interested that “This Land to Me” was generously backed by Wally and Suzy Marks, who also helped develop the historic Helms Bakery Building.
I was raised on Helms breads and Knudsen milk. Later in my life, it was educator Gene Knudsen Hoffman, daughter of the creamery’s founder, who first said what I’ve learned is profoundly true: “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.”
When Grover’s exhibit leaves, Libby and I encourage your Jews and Palestinians there to keep listening to one another’s stories. It can do small miracles. And sometimes big ones.
In response to Sandra Helman and Eric Gordon who disagreed with my stand on travel to Cuba (Letters, Dec. 6), I stand by my statements that travel to Cuba really only benefits Castro.
Yes, it feels good to help a few people. It’s nice to think of all the conversions and the revival of the Cuban Jewish Community.
I’m glad you try to stay in Paladors. The ad I complained about promoted tourist hotels.
The most important thing for Cubans is how they are going to survive. This means that they participate in Castro’s rallies, they pretend to be Jewish or Presbyterian or anything to get handouts. Synagogues are a source of needed items. This is not revival this is survival.
Cuba’s recent apparent relaxation of laws regarding religion is deceiving. Religion is infiltrated by and under the control of state security. (Castro’s equivalent of Hitler’s SS). Cuba’s Jewish community relies on many outside organizations for assistance. That’s money, which always ends up in Castro’s pockets, since his Mafia-type regime controls all retail stores on the island.
I won’t enumerate the human rights abuses, the involvement in international terrorism, the trafficking in human persons, the prostitution; this is documented by many sources, including the State Department.
Tourism is Cuba’s most important moneymaker. It is also an apartheid industry. The average Cuban is excluded from the tourist areas, suffers from food shortages, has no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to travel and no freedom to choose how to educate their children.
The island is a prison. The president vetoing the lifting of the travel ban is correct.
The fact that countries do business with Cuba, including Israel, and that tourism is flourishing, doesn’t make it right. I will wait until Cuba is liberated to visit.
Cause for Concern
In the review of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” I can find something of comparable concern in the events of today (“When We Elected Lindbergh,” Nov. 12). I’m sure many of your readers will see the same parallel, also in your article “The Left and the Islamists”
We Jews are in a worrisome situation as a result of the reports following the election. It is astonishing to see the joint support of Kerry by the Jewish community of 75 percent and the Muslim community of 90 percent.
We also worry about Kerry’s desire to seek support from “allies” in conducting his foreign policy. Would he subordinate the American foreign policy to the U.N? Would Kofi Annan be able to veto our foreign policy? In effect would Kofi Annan be president by default?
Jews, typically liberal, and the Muslims currently most threatening to the West is a strange alliance, very dangerous to us Jews.
Of 26 members of Congress who are Jewish, only one is a Republican supportive of the president. Of the ll Jewish senators only two are Republicans supportive of the president’s support for Israel.
If Kerry would have shown an inadequate concern for fighting terrorism, would his election have been a serious cause for concern for Israelis as well as our American Jews?
As a Jew, I appreciate the condemnation by rabbis across the country of the abuses videotaped at the largest kosher slaughtering plant in America (“The Kindest Cut,” Dec. 10). However, simply being outraged by animal cruelty isn’t enough. Each one of us must take responsibility as consumers and realize that our choices have consequences that can’t be ignored.
Slaughtering is a horrific business, and, whether we want to admit it or not, the animals suffer greatly. As if a painful death isn’t bad enough, the animals endure systematic abuses throughout their abbreviated lives on factory farms. The vast majority of farmed animals never go outside, rarely move freely and often endure mutilations without painkiller.
These facts alone should be enough for all of us to truly follow God’s intention of compassion and mercy and remove animal products from our diet. It’s up to us.
Compassion Over Killing
Takoma Park, Md.
I am an Orthodox Jew who is horrified by the reporting of what goes on at the Agriprocessors meat processing plant (“Kosher Slaughter Controversy Erupts,” Dec. 3). Though I am well aware that PETA has a double agenda, promoting vegetarianism as well as stopping the inhumane treatment of animals – and I only identify with the second (though my daughter is a vegetarian) – I wholeheartedly support PETA’s campaign against inhumane killing of animals masquerading as the most kosher type of shechitah.
As of today, I will no longer purchase any Aaron’s Best Meats or Rubashkin’s Meats.
Dr. Chaim Milikowsky
The Orthodox Union is to be commended for initiating an end to the horrible treatment of animals at the Postville, Iowa, slaughterhouse that were revealed on the PETA videotapes. But what about the many other violations of Jewish teachings related to animal-based diets and agriculture?
When Judaism mandates that we treat animals with compassion, can we ignore the cruel treatment of animals on factory farms, where they are raised in cramped, confined spaces without sunlight, fresh air or opportunities to fulfill their natural instincts?
When Judaism stresses that we must diligently protect our health, can we ignore that animal-based diets are major contributors to the epidemic of heart disease, many forms of cancer and other killer diseases and ailments afflicting the Jewish community and others?
When Judaism mandates that we be partners with God in protecting the environment, can we ignore the significant contributions of animal-centered agriculture to air, water and land pollution; species extinction; deforestation; global climate change; water shortages, and many other environmental threats?
For the sake of our health, the sustainability of our imperiled planet, Jewish values, as well as for the animals, it is essential that we consider shifting toward plant-based diets.
Richard H. Schwartz
Staten Island, N.Y.
With regard to the ridiculously sterile opinions article by Cathy Young (“Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality,” Dec. 3). I am going to speak as a humanitarian, to perhaps shed some light on why people believe Bush supporters are “dumb.”
We believe that people like myself (a full-time waitress, full-time student) should not be paying nearly $400 a month in taxes. We believe that fear is not a good enough reason to vote for someone.
We believe that there are more issues to worry about than the war in Iraq and Israel. We believe that the Patriot Act is, first and foremost, an infringement on our constitutional rights. We connect more with a woman and her status as a human being than with a fetus and its pending status as one.
Liberals could care less about political IQ. We’re too busy worrying about the people who inhabit our world.
I found this article to be perplexing, to say the least The implication is that Democrats consider people who voted for Bush to be dumb.
On the contrary, people voted for Bush for a variety of reasons. The voters included those who believed in one or more of the following: the RNP best supported Israel (blatantly false), provided the best defense against terrorism, believed in the Iraq War, held ideological beliefs consistent with the evangelical right-wing Republican Christians or knew their financial future was assured with this candidate.
Of course, there were others who had concerns with Sen. Kerry or perceived that the Democrats lacked a clear message regarding a wide range of topics (e.g., peace, jobs, outsourcing, fairness for everyone, health care, etc.).
However, implying that Democrats are not reflecting deeply on their vision and mission is simply untrue. A quick review of the Op-Ed section of The New York Times (Dec. 8, 2004) reveals no less than four articles regarding the need for the Democratic Party to energize itself. Many ideas are being considered, such as engaging citizens in the rural communities and using new methods to increase Democratic turnout in 2006.
Letters I have received from Sen. Boxer and the New Democratic Network, as well as articles from The Nation, also voice the need and commitment for the Democratic Party members and leaders to reflect deeply regarding a new vision that will attract a new base of Democrats for the future.
I see nothing dumb about this intelligent and thoughtful response.
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Letters to the Editor
Millions More for Shoah Museum
The fundraiser in Bel Air featured yellow rose centerpieces on every table. The DJ played big-band tunes, including Bing Crosby’s “San Fernando Valley.” A gay couple cooed over their infant and Ginna Carter, the 30ish daughter of “Designing Women” star Dixie Carter, traipsed through the party barefoot, wearing a white chapeau that gave the Sunday affair a touch of “The Great Gatsby.”
With well-polished Westsiders, relaxed politicians and dressed-down studio executives, anyone catching a glimpse of the event while driving on Beverly Glen would have been surprised to discover that it was a Holocaust museum fundraiser.
“I’m not part of this sort of chicken-dinner-at-a-hotel fundraising mentality,” said Rachel Jagoda, the 31-year-old director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. “I am young and I do have new ideas.”
The event symbolized a small sea change in local Jewish philanthropy; older donors who built Holocaust museums are learning to work with a younger, less Jewishly oriented generation of donors — people in their 30s and early 40s who are respectful of history yet hip to modern issues.
Central to this generational change will be the Holocaust museum’s planned $5 million new building in the Fairfax District’s Pan Pacific Park. With groundbreaking planned for early 2005, the $5 million capital campaign started nine months ago, with most of that money now raised.
“We’re way over halfway there,” Jagoda said while giving a tour of the 43-year-old museum, which is currently set up on the ground floor of ORT Technical Institute’s building on Wilshire Boulevard. “This is rented space; it’s not a permanent building. It wasn’t meant to be.”
The plan for the glass-rich, semi-submerged museum was designed by architect Hagy Belzberg, who envisions it being built on a grassy hill west of the current Los Angeles Holocaust Memorial Monument. Visitors would enter the building from a downward-angled walkway into a 15,000-square-foot space dedicated to the entire 12 million victims of the Shoah. However, its walls will have 6 million stones to commemorate the Jewish victims.
Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Jona Goldrich, who championed the Holocaust Memorial in Pan Pacific Park, supports Jagoda’s vision. “In another 10 and 15 years, there won’t be any more Holocaust survivors left in the world,” he said.
One of her museum’s board members had a heart attack in October and another, also a survivor, was diagnosed with cancer. “They’re dying so quickly, I’m afraid to answer the telephone,” Jagoda said. “How do you teach the Holocaust in a world that doesn’t have survivors in it?”
The survivors’ ranks are thinning. But the extensive testimonials collected by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation have taken the edge off the Jewish communal urgency to record every survivor’s account in the 1990s.
Nationwide, Holocaust museums are traditionally driven by survivors and their adult children, who feel obligated to keep the museums intensely Shoah-focused and emphasizing their parents’ unbelievable stories.
“It’s a big idea that they have down at Pan Pacific Park,” said John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which funds the museum. Fishel and Jagoda are in ongoing talks about the museum’s planned independence from The Federation.
Fishel said that for decades the survivors and their children wanted “to be fairly narrow cast” in defining what a Holocaust museum should be.
Museum of Tolerance dean Rabbi Marvin Hier said the Tolerance Museum always has focused on telling the Shoah story to non-Jewish audiences. “I’m happy to see that they [Pan Pacific museum promoters] want to follow in our footsteps,” he said. “We have 350,000 visitors a year; more than 80 percent of the visitors are non-Jews.”
Jagoda’s supporters believe the Pan Pacific building will be an L.A. architectural touchstone and evidence of a younger donor generation voicing support for future museum culture.
“As a gay couple, we embrace a museum that is promoting tolerance,” said Sony Executive Vice President Peter Iacono, whose life partner Manfred Kuhnert spent his undergraduate days at Harvard with Jagoda’s husband Ian. (Another Crimson alumnus backing the museum is actor John Lithgow, Jagoda’s father-in-law.)
Kuhnert and Iacono opened their home for the Bel Air fundraiser, co-hosted by Sony Pictures Chair Amy Pascal. “I’m Jewish,” Pascal told The Journal. “Given the mood of the world, I think the Holocaust is something we better not forget about.”
UCLA Forming Israel Studies Program
Jehovah’s Witness Recalls Nazi Capture
A 99-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who survived Nazi persecution has been touring the United States and giving people a face to put on the usually obscure story of the estimated 2,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses killed in the Holocaust.
Once an Austrian farmhand persecuted in World War II after being arrested at a Bible study group, Leopold Engleitner spoke very little at an Oct. 12 Museum of Tolerance evening event, where he shook many hands as he signed copies of a book about his Nazi persecution.
Despite his frailty and advanced aged, he was sharp. During the audience Q and A, the first question was what Bible scripture did he draw strength from while imprisoned.
Engleitner instantly said, in German; “Psalms 35:1.”
Several Jehovah’s Witnesses in the museum theater pulled out Bibles and found the passage, which reads, “Strive thou, O Jehovah, with them that strive with me: Fight thou against them that fight against me.”
Despite Nazi offers of freedom if he renounced his faith, Engleitner refused and remained imprisoned with other Jehovah’s Witnesses at three concentration camps, including Buchenwald. His saga is the subject of a book and DVD documentary by fellow Austrian Bernhard Rammerstorfer, both titled, “Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man.”
Although he was almost executed twice, Engleitner held fast to his faith. After being freed by the Nazis from the concentration camps, he was called up in 1945 for German military service. Being a religious conscientious objector, he fled to the Austrian Alps. It was only when he saw Allied planes flying overhead that Engleitner realized the war was over.
He remained in rural Austria and got married, raised a family, worked more in farming and tended to his dying wife. Since her passing, he has taken care of himself and only recently required a wheelchair while traveling.
His fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses were deeply moved. Unlike Europe’s Jews who had virtually no options to leave concentration camps, “he had choices,” said David Goldfarb, a Jehovah’s Witness church leader in Beverly Hills who grew up Jewish and became a Jehovah’s Witness at age 15. “He had choices — to stand up to the entire Hitler regime by choice.”
“When you actually meet a person, you connect more; you can see that he’s not a superman,” said Claybourne Roberts, a 43-year-old Gulfstream executive and one of almost 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to the museum that night.
At Buchenwald, Engleitner was told by a camp officer to write a final letter to his parents, and when the letter was finished he held a gun to Engleitner’s temple and asked if he was ready to die.
“Yes, I am,” Engleitner said, according to the documentary.
Then the officer removed the pistol and said, “You’re too stupid for me to shoot,” and walked away.
The evening drew working-class Latinos and African Americans from Jehovah’s Witness churches, known as kingdom halls, in the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire. Many were familiar with the purple triangle, which the Nazis used to identify Jehovah’s Witnesses prisoners. The audience was struck by how the documentary noted that because Jehovah’s Witnesses were pure pacifists, they were the only inmates in concentration camps trusted enough to be assigned to shave and give haircuts to Nazis.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, praised Engleitner and other devoutly religious people for, “the tremendous spirit that people of faith bring to the table.”
“No, he is not a survivor of the Holocaust,” Cooper said. “But he is a survivor of Nazi tyranny, targeted because he made a decision about how he was going to pray to God.”
Another audience question was if Engleitner feels bitter toward his tormentors. Through a translator, the longtime farmhand said, “I would have only hurt myself if I had dwelled on this.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was born and raised in Austria, sent a letter of greetings to Engleitner read at the museum by Michelle Kleinert, his Jewish community liaison. Also present was the Austrian consul general of Los Angeles.
At 99, Engleitner’s California trip allowed him to make his first visit to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Engleitner laughed when he heard Cooper, in translation, gave an old Jewish saying a new twist.
“You should live to be 120 years old and one week,” said Cooper, explaining that Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz added the extra week because, “Why should you die on your birthday?”
The Forbidden Food
GO WEST, YOUNG COUPLE
There are some new faces at UCLA. Rabbi Aryeh and Sharona Kaplan were recently hired to be the Torah educator couple for the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC). The Kaplans flew out to Los Angeles from Teaneck, N.J., to replace Rabbi Uri and Julie Goldstein, who will be returning home to the East Coast after three years in Los Angeles.
The JLIC serves to encourage and enhance the observance, commitment and education of Orthodox students and to increase the Torah knowledge of the general Jewish student community on campus.
The Kaplans see their role as salespeople, as well as teachers and counselors, and they plan on making the rounds of Orthodox synagogues in Los Angeles “to get the word out about what exists at UCLA in terms of the kosher opportunities, the learning opportunities and the Shabbat opportunities,” Aryeh Kaplan said. “We want families of prospective UCLA students to know that they don’t have to leave Los Angeles to have a rich Orthodox life as part of their college education.”
For more information, visit www.ou.org.
RETURN TO AUSCHWITZ
Auschwitz is one of the most notorious places of Jewish history – synonymous with gas chambers, slave labor and mass graves. Yet few people know that before Auschwitz became the ultimate symbol of the Holocaust, it was a normal town in Poland known as Oswiecim, which had a thriving Jewish community. During World War II, all Jewish life in Oswiecim was obliterated, except for one synagogue.
In 2000, the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation restored the synagogue, purchased the property adjacent to it and established the Auschwitz Jewish Center.
The center, which is just minutes away from the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, is now the only permanent Jewish presence in Auschwitz. The building functions as a synagogue for people to reflect, pray and say Kaddish.
Since its opening, the center has hosted thousands of visitors from all over the world, and it has also established a number of educational programs and scholarships to educate people about the Holocaust and Jewish life in Poland before World War II.
Now, the center is raising money to transform the Klieger House, the home of the last remaining Jew in Oswiecim, into the first Jewish historic house museum in Eastern Europe to provide a deeper experience and a more profound understanding of what Jewish family life was like before the war.
On July 22, Mark Schurgin, chair of the West Coast division of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation, and Ron Spire hosted a cocktail reception at Spago in Beverly Hills to inaugurate the West Coast division.
Guest speakers were Renee Firestone, a Holocaust survivor who was featured in the documentary, “The Last Days,” and is now a lecturer at the Musuem of Tolerance, and Klara Firestone, founder and president of Second Generation of Los Angeles.
There was also a presentation by Dr. Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and a professor of theology at the University of Judaism.
This month, the Auschwitz Jewish Center will host a mission to Poland and Amsterdam, during which participants will visit the future site of Klieger House.
For more information on the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation, visit www.ajcf.org.
Your days may be for working, but your nights can be for mitzvahs, if you attend Congregation Beth Meier’s new young professionals program, Mitzvah Nights, a series of dinners designed to promote social bonds and give Los Angeles young professionals an opportunity to give back to the community. The first mitzvah night is on Oct. 15, and will feature guest speaker Adlai Wertman, the CEO of Chrysalis, the Los Angeles based nonprofit devoted to helping economically disadvantaged individuals gain self-sufficiency through employment.
“Beth Meier’s mission is to construct community with love for humanity and closeness to Torah,” said Rabbi Aaron Benson of Beth Meier Synagogue. “The work of Chrysalis beautifully embodies these values and we are proud to help them in their noble mission.
Other upcoming Mitzvah Night speakers include, Judea Pearl of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, David Suissa of OLAM magazine, and Ari Zev of the Shoah Foundation.
For more information about Mitzvah Nights, call at (818) 769-0515. Beth Meier Synagogue is located at 11725 Moorpark St., Studio City.
MONEY FROM CHOCOLATE
About 250 fans of Israeli education attended the Sept. 18 chocolate-themed fundraiser for the American Friends of Hebrew University (AFHU), with an evening event held at the one-time Beverly Hills home of mobster Bugsy Siegel.
The host of Chocolate Affaire was AFHU Western Region scholarship chair Renae Jacobs-Anson, who told those assembled that “the new wave of Zionism is our support for education.”
The event attracted Jacob-Anson’s childhood friends, such as Kim Gladstone, who flew in from Detroit.
“It’s a great way to combine higher education and support for Israel,” said Gladstone, a nonprofit executive.
“I knew Renae when I was 8,” said Susan Feinstein, a Valley Village food processing executive. “I gave a big donation so now I come to all the events. Actually, it’s the only charity I’ve given to so far.”
Actress Renee Taylor of “The Nanny” walked through the party barefoot since her shoes were being auctioned along with a chinchilla coat that fetched $2,300 and a $3,500 private jet weekend getaway to Las Vegas.
The event’s honorary chair, Richard Ziman of Arden Realty, said the AFHU’s $10 million Campaign for Students was critical because budget cuts and exhaustive counterterrorism measures mean the Israeli government now is funding less than 30 percent of Hebrew University’s budget, compared to 62 percent in more peaceful years.
“There is no institution equal to the Hebrew University outside of perhaps [schools in] the United States,” Ziman said.
The $150-per-ticket evening included gift bags from Gay Jacobs, the host’s sister-in-law who included all manner of things chocolate, even chocolate chip cookie-scented cologne, chocolate-scented massage oil and soap, a copy of Chocolatier magazine and most, fittingly, a slim volume titled “The Great Book of Chocolate.” – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
West Hollywood’s expansive Pacific Design Center hosted the Liberty Film Festival Oct. 1-3, where Jewish Republicans joined their fellow conservatives in watching decidedly politically incorrect films such as the comedy short, “Greg Wolfe: Republican Jew” and three documentaries dissecting filmmaker Michael Moore.
The festival ended on a Jewish note with a rare print screening of Cecil B. DeMille’s Bible blockbuster “The Ten Commandments,” which was to movie ticket sales in 1959 what Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ, was to this year’s box office.
“If there has ever been a sure-fire box office formula, it’s the religious epic. How can this mighty engine of popular culture that flourishes beyond these walls ignore that?” said radio talk show host Michael Medved, who flew in from his Seattle home on his 56th birthday to introduce the DeMille epic.
KABC radio talk show host Larry Elder, a fixture at the annual Israel Independence Day festival in the Valley, received a standing ovation for his anti-Moore film, “Michael and Me,” about the Second Amendment. Similar standing praise was given to Jewish screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd’s “Celsius 41:11,” which included Medved as a talking head. Besides the Moore films, the festival hosted the pro-Israel documentary “Relentless” and the 1942 drama “Desperate Journey,” starring Ronald Reagan.
In its maiden voyage, the festival received support from conservative scribe David Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the local chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition and RJC leader and Santa Monica dentist Dr. Larry Strom and his wife, Holly. – DF
Partying With the Many Faces of ‘Alma’
Yom HaShoah Events
Friday, April 16
Laemmle Theaters: Release of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, "Prisoner of Paradise," about German Jewish actor Kurt Gerron, sent to a concentration camp and forced to write and direct Nazi propaganda. Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills. (310) 274-6869. Laemmle Theatres Town Center, Encino. (818) 981-9811.
Congregation B’nai Emet: 8 p.m. Shabbat and Yom HaShoah service. Dachau survivor Bernie Simon speaks. 4645 Industrial St., Simi Valley. (805) 581-3723.
Saturday, April 17
Adat Ari El: 7 p.m. Mincha and discussion on "Understanding the Shoah and Human Atrocity: Moving Beyond God as Punisher, Enigma or Absentee." 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.
Southern California Warsaw Ghetto Anniversary Committee: 7:30 p.m. "A Song to the Unsung: Heroines and Heroes of Resistance." Warsaw Ghetto uprising annual commemoration and tribute to the Holocaust martyrs. In Yiddish and English. Institute of Jewish Education, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.
Sunday, April 18
Congregation Mishkon Tephilo: Yom HaShoah Service. 206 Main St., Venice.
Museum of Tolerance: Screening of "The Long Way Home." 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 553-9036.
Temple Sinai: 10:15 a.m. Yom HaShoah Commemoration. Survivor Robert Geminder speaks. 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale. R.S.V.P., (818) 246-8101.
Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary:
11 a.m. Service honoring resistance fighter Hannah Szenes on the 60th anniversary of her death. 6001 Centinela Ave., Los Angeles. (800) 576-1994.
Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust/ Jewish Federation/Los Angeles Holocaust Monument/Second Generation: 1:45 p.m. Community Commemoration. See above.
City of West Hollywood: 6:30 p.m. Candle lighting and klezmer music. Writer Suzan Hagstrom speaks. Plummer Park,
7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-6307.
B’nai David Judea: 7 p.m. Yom HaShoah Seder. Memories, ritual and song. Workmen’s Circle, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 276-9269.
Colburn School of Performing Arts:
7:30 p.m. "Concert of Remembrance" featuring music by four composers, all survivors or victims of the Holocaust. $15. Herbert Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 890-0276.
Monday, April 19
Simon Wiesenthal Center: 10:30 a.m. Annual commemoration. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky discusses "The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism Worldwide" and Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Laszlo Kovacs speaks in honor of the 60th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz. Posthumous honor will be given to Abdol Hossein Sardari, whose work as an Iranian diplomat in Paris during World War II saved Iranian Jews from deportaion. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 553-9036.
Thursday, April 22
Adat Ari El: 7:30 p.m. "Commemoration of Our Six Million." "Kaddish," candle lighting, readings and songs . $2-$4. 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 376-1640.
Friday, April 23
Temple Adat Elohim: 7:30 p.m. Shabbat and Yom HaShoah service. Survivor Marthe Cohn speaks. 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.
7 Days In Arts
Yom HaShoah’s Uncertain Future
Will lighting six candles and reciting "Kaddish" rouse the emotions and intellect of generations of Jews who never met a Holocaust survivor?
Within the next 40 years or so, most Holocaust survivors will no longer be alive, making this question less theoretical. Before that happens, Holocaust scholars and professionals are challenging today’s Jews to take responsibility for either etching Yom HaShoah as a permanent fixture onto the Jewish calendar, or letting it fade into history along with the survivors who founded it.
"I have been alive for every Yom HaShoah in Jewish history. It’s the equivalent of being in the first generation that observed Passover," said Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at the University of Judaism. "We are precisely in that first iteration as that first generation. That is why we are reaching for forms. It is an incredible privilege and an incredible responsibility, and part of that responsibility is how do we shape the forms that will endure?"
The question comes amid increasing debate about how prominent a role the Holocaust should play in American Jewish identity, and whether resources would be better spent on Jewish education and positive cultural activities. At the same time, and pulling in the opposite direction, increasing anti-Semitism and violence against Jews in Israel, Europe and other countries has called into question the comfort of assuming that the world has learned the lessons of the Holocaust.
"A basic rule for the times we live in today is that we should no longer stand in silent tribute to dead Jews with anyone who has no respect or concern for live ones," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But wherever one falls on the balance of how central the Holocaust should be to American Jewry, most agree that remembrance on Yom HaShoah is appropriate, and the only question becomes in what form.
"We are in a transitional period in Jewish history," Cooper said. "The survivors, the witnesses, are slowly but inevitably leaving the scene, and the connectedness to the first-person experience is certainly crucial. It’s going to be a challenge to maintain the poignancy, the educational aspect and the communal commitment to remembering Yom Hashoah. In order to have that, you have to have more year-round education of our young."
To that end, the Wiesenthal Center makes sure that at least half the audience at Yom HaShoah programs are students, and thousands of students visit the Museum of Tolerance every year.
Interfaith memorials and joint ceremonies with other groups who have been victimized — Rwandans, Armenians, Kosovars — have also become common. Marcia Reines Josephy, former director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, said that as long as the uniqueness of the Holocaust is not compromised in such events, such joint remembrances help transmit what she thinks should be the key message of Yom HaShoah.
"The lesson I always tried to tell the students who came to the museum was that the Holocaust is the ultimate degradation of humanity, but if we can learn from that that you don’t have to like everybody you associate with but you can respect differences, than we’ve learned something important," Josephy said.
While lighting six memorial candles, reciting "Kaddish" and the "El Maleh Rachamim" memorial prayer have become standards at most events, some are trying to bring Yom HaShoah into line with other enduring Jewish observances by adding sacred texts and ritual actions.
The Conservative movement last year introduced Megillat HaShoah, a six-chapter booklet written by Rabbi Avigdor Shinan that tells of the Holocaust from six different vantage points.
"We felt there was a need for a sacred text that would be read every year — like the Book of Esther on Purim, or Ruth on Shavuot," said Rabbi Perry Rank, president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation has created a Yom HaShoah seder, where teenagers act out and retell the stories of survivors — both published ones and the personal stories of shul members. Incorporated into the storytelling are ritualized foods — dry bread and watery boiled cabbage. At various points participants are asked to put their jewelry and glasses into a large box, or to get up and move away from their children.
"What I found is that survivors themselves deeply appreciate this kind of observance and have been very forthcoming in giving us their stories for adaptation," said Kanefsky, who picked up the idea for a seder from Rabbi Avi Weiss in Riverdale, N.Y. "The children have a means of connecting to the Shoah in an emotional and intellectual way they wouldn’t otherwise have."
Dr. Joel Geiderman, director of emergency medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, is looking for a more subtle but universal observance. Geiderman, the son of survivors who sits on the United States Holocaust Council, is promoting the idea of everyone — Jews and non-Jews — wearing yellow star lapel pins on Yom HaShoah.
"I think even in the United States there is not enough awareness of Yom HaShoah," said Geiderman, who hopes to launch the pin next year. "I think in the last few years there are more events and community activities, but it would be nice if there was something done in a more routine manner, more universally. This was a tragedy for all mankind."
Berenbaum said he believes more people attend Yom HaShoah events today than did 25 years ago, because rather than fading from memory the Holocaust has gained significance as it moves further into history.
"I think it is safe to say that there are enough institutions that are committed to remembering the Holocaust that they will succeed in preserving the memory," said Berenbaum, who played a key role in creating the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. "In every field of knowledge worldwide — films, museum, literature, historical scholarship — the Holocaust occupies an enormously significant role and that is because it has become the negative absolute of modern society. Consequently it would be wrong to presume that it would not be around in another generation."
Add to that the unprecedented volume of recorded firsthand testimony, and the legacy of the Holocaust seems all but assured.
The Israeli parliament in 1950 established the 27th of Nissan as Yom HaShoah V’hagevurah, the Day of Holocaust and Heroism. While early remembrances were primarily attended by survivors, by the 1960s the date was more universally observed, and in 1980 the United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance, mandating federal agencies to commemorate the Holocaust during the week of Yom HaShoah.
It was then that large communal observances began to take shape, such as the communitywide memorial at Pan Pacific Park, which attracts hundreds every year (see sidebar).
Today, the Jewish community again finds itself at a juncture in Holocaust remembrance.
Berenbaum watches all of these attempts with interest, aware that the searching going on in this generation will help Yom HaShoah to find its natural and hopefully lasting expression.
One of the reasons a satisfactory expression has remained elusive is because the topic itself is so difficult, he said.
Some historical tragedies, such as Tisha B’Av and the destruction of the Temple, are remembered in theological terms — we sinned, God punished us, we repented. Others, such as Purim and Chanukah, are about God snatching the Jews from the jaws of defeat.
But the Holocaust neither makes theological sense, nor can the deaths of 6 million be termed anything other than defeat, despite attempts to train the lens on resistance.
"The Holocaust challenges our religious forms, it challenges our religious responses, it challenges a whole range of things," Berenbaum said. "When we don’t develop an easy language of commemoration in part it is because the reality of how to deal with the Holocaust is complex and tough."
No ‘Idol’ Chatter at Milken SpeechContest
Milken Community High School senior Nona Farahnik was named Milken Idol for her stirring pro-Israel speech in the school’s March 10 public speaking finals, with other competitors talking about bullies, cheating, the homeless and Special Olympics in the “American Idol”-inspired contest.
It was the Duke University-bound senior’s call for Zionist solidarity that captured the $500 first-place prize and the Milken Idol title. The contest combined the 800-student school’s contest theme of “Don’t stand idly by,” with judges and audience voting similar to Fox Broadcasting’s popular talent-search show.
“Show Israel that you care,” Farahnik told the 600 Milken students gathered in the school gym. “Israel is fighting a cold and calculating enemy — an enemy who has been trained to not think twice when blowing himself up in a family-filled restaurant, in a disco with dozens of dancing teenagers or on a bus of children on their way to school. Israel is fighting a sick, repulsive enemy and we must empower her to stop him.”
Upon winning, Farahnik, 18, said she would donate her $500 prize to the school’s fundraising efforts to buy bulletproof vests for Israel Defense Forces members.
The second-place $250 prize went to junior David Ashkenazi, who delivered a speech urging fellow students to “not stand idly by” and countenance cheating.
Tied for the $100 third-place prize were junior Matan Agam and freshman Peter Wasserman. Agam gave a highly personal speech about supporting the Special Olympics, which he participates in with his special-needs younger sister, Danielle. Wasserman’s encounter with the poor outside the Staples Center after a Lakers game prompted his speech prioritizing Southern California’s homeless over volatile issues abroad.
“Many times, these situations overshadow the problems that are in our own backyard,” said Wasserman, who told The Journal that he plans to give his prize money to a homeless shelter.
The $100 fifth-place prize went to freshman Lena August, who turned 15 the same day as the competition’s finals. She spoke about bullies, a common problem among students worldwide. August said victims of schoolyard taunts remember not only their tormentors, but also “they will remember all of the faces of the people standing there watching.”
The final round’s judges were Lowell Milken, Milken Family Foundation chairman and president; Nadia Fay, public speaking consultant; Rob Eshman, Jewish Journal editor-in-chief; and John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Public speaking consultant Richard Greene, father of Milken junior Chiara Greene, organized the competition. The finalists were selected from 600 Milken students and received coaching from Greene, author of “Words That Shook the World: 100 Years of Unforgettable Speeches and Events” (Alpha Communications).
Greene said he wanted to give students tools for public speaking and enable them to offer persuasive arguments regarding Israel and other issues that affect Jewish life. The Milken competition was a pilot program for a national teenage speech program that Greene plans to launch later this year. — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Schwarzenegger to Take Part in MuseumGroundbreaking
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will participate in groundbreaking ceremonies for the $150 million Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem on May 2.
Schwarzenegger will speak at a gala dinner at the King David Hotel to be attended by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Cabinet ministers and other dignitaries.
Plans for the groundbreaking were confirmed Monday by Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who initiated the Jerusalem project.
“Gov. Schwarzenegger has been a friend and supporter of the Wiesenthal Center for 20 years, and we are proud that he will stand with us in Jerusalem,” Hier said.
It will be the first trip outside the country for the former body builder and movie action hero since assuming office. He will also discuss trade relations between California and Israel while in Tel Aviv.
The Jerusalem museum is being designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, who will participate in the groundbreaking. The museum is expected to be completed in three to three and a half years, Hier said.
It will rise in the center of western Jerusalem, on both sides of Hillel Street near Independence Park, and will include state-of-the-art multimedia exhibits, conference center, theater complex, library and atrium.
The museum’s 240,000 square feet of usable space will make it three times larger than the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. The Wiesenthal Center recently opened its New York Tolerance Center.
Supporters of the Jerusalem project, in particular former Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, believe that it will revive the center of Israel’s capital and boost tourism.
Concern had been expressed by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance authority, that the new museum would duplicate its mission. However, Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, said in a statement last week that following discussions with the Wiesenthal Center, “We reached a mutual agreement that the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem will not address the Holocaust. Yad Vashem does not believe there is justification for another Holocaust center in Jerusalem.”
Hier confirmed that the museum will focus on intra-Jewish disputes, relations with other religions and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Deadline Nears on Filing of HolocaustClaims
A final alert to persons with claims against European insurance companies stemming from the Holocaust era has been issued by California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.
The deadline for filing such claims has been extended to March 31, but only for survivors or victims’ families who requested a claim form before Dec. 31, 2003, from the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC).
In addition, the claim forms must be received by the ICHEIC offices in Holland or Washington, D.C., by March 31, warned Leslie Tick, Department of Insurance senior counsel, who joined Garamendi in a phone call to The Journal.
If the claim form is filed and received in time, however, backup documentation can be sent later. However, once the deadline has passed, claimants will have no recourse except for initiating private lawsuits.
Garamendi, a member of the ICHEIC board, has been highly critical of the organization and last fall joined survivors in calling for the removal of its chairman, Lawrence Eagleburger.
There has recently been some improvement in ICHEIC’s operation, Garamendi said, but the organization is still two years behind in processing claims.
Claim forms should be sent to:
Int. Business Reply Service
I.B.R.S./C.C.R.I. Numero 1746
1110 VG Schipol
Claim forms sent to this address are supposed to be postage free but cannot be sent by certified mail.
An alternate address that accepts certified mail, is: ICHEIC, 1300 L St. NW, Suite 1150, Washington, D.C., 20005.
The following organizations will provide help in completing claim forms: California Department of Insurance, (800) 927-4357; Bet Tzedek, (323) 549-5883; ICHEIC, (800) 957-3203. — TT
ADL Assails Hate Crime Targeting CollegeProfessor
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has expressed outrage over a recent hate crime committed at Claremont McKenna College against a visiting professor converting to Judaism.
“Hate crimes tear at the very fabric of our society,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest region director, in a statement. “It is important and commendable for our law enforcement agencies to demonstrate their commitment to the safety of all citizens by their steadfast pursuit of these crimes.”
On March 9, the vehicle of professor Kerri Dunn was attacked by vandals as she spoke at a forum about racial intolerance. They smashed her windshield, slashed the tires and covered the car with anti-Semitic and anti-African American messages.
A couple days later, hundreds of students at Claremont Colleges rallied to protest the attacks. Administrators canceled classes.
College administrators have offered $10,000 for information about the perpetrators of the crime. Susskind, in her statement, applauded the university’s aggressive stance and the police for their efforts. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer
Councilman Offers Help in Keeping CenterOpen
Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti has offered his mediation services to keep the embattled Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center open.
Garcetti, who attended the JCC growing up and now represents the area, thinks the center is a valuable asset worth fighting for, said Glen Dake, the councilman’s legislative deputy.
“With L.A. growing, we need more of these facilities, not fewer of them,” Dake said. “That’s why he wants a strong, vibrant facility remaining there.”
Garcetti hopes to set up a meeting among officials from the Silverlake Independent JCC, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA).
Federation President John Fishel said last week that he was open to a three-party meeting to discuss center-related issues. Nina Lieberman Giladi, JCCGLA executive vice president, said she, too, was amenable to sitting down and working toward a viable solution.
“I appreciate [Garcetti’s] willingness to reach out and look for opportunities that may have not been discussed,” she said.
The JCCGLA, which oversees many of the city’s JCCs, has put the Silverlake center up for sale, partly to pay back its $2.2 million debt to The Federation. The Jewish philanthropic organization has a $550,000 lien on the property.
Officials at the JCCGLA said they have already received an offer for Silverlake, though they declined to reveal the amount.
Janie Schulman, Silverlake Independent president, said she felt optimistic about the outcome of any three-party meeting.
“I am confident that if we could get everyone sitting at the same table speaking openly and frankly, instead of pointing fingers and speaking past each other, that we might make some progress,” she said. — MB
Journalist Attacks Actions of Israel’s PoliticalFringes
Israeli journalist Yossi Klein HaLevi portrayed Jewish far-leftists and far-rightists as mutual failures for their respective attempts at peace with Palestinians and increased West Bank settlements, actions which have ushered Israel into what the author called, “the decade of sobriety.”
In his March 4 lecture to about 100 people at the UCLA Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center, the Jerusalem Post columnist assailed both of Israel’s political fringes.
“What applies to the anti-Zionist left applies to the super-Zionist right,” he said. “We live in a Jewish reality where there are very few moorings. We are a generation of chameleons; we’re almost a Purim generation in that sense. We’re all wearing masks.”
Far-right Jews, he said, smother themselves with the ancient history of Israel so much that they “are ready to commit any atrocity in defense of that story.”
Jews on the anti-Zionist far left, he said, have embraced, “the genocidal intentions of the PLO” and are ready to “violate the most basic self-understanding of the Jewish people, legitimizing those who are demonizing Israel.”
“Neither Jewish camp has the answer,” Klein HaLevi said. “We were a politically immature people that barricaded ourselves in our political certainties.”
The lecture, sponsored by UCLA’s Bruins for Israel student group and the Burkle Center for International Relations, was not a debate. But Olam magazine editor David Suissa gave a supportive response after Klein HaLevi spoke, asking Jews not to be so judgmental of each other.
“We have to transcend this energy that tries to make us judge,” Suissa said. “Judgment is easy. Curiosity is more difficult.”
Klein HaLevi’s perspective differed, saying that anti-Zionist Jewish academics such as MIT professor Noam Chomsky are as removed from Judaism as the late far-right extremist Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 killed 29 Muslims praying in Hebron.
“In the end, everyone is not my brother,” he said. “Noam Chomsky and Baruch Goldstein both have very dubious claims to being my brother.”
Klein HaLevi had one bit of advice for both far-right extremists, who accuse their enemies of being akin to Jewish collaborators in World War II, and far-left activists, who routinely use Nazi metaphors to describe Israeli countermeasures against Palestinian terrorists: “Holocaust talk is off limits; no Holocaust invoking in our mutual taunting, because when we get to that, we are in an abyss to which there is no return — the next logical step is civil war.” — DF
Stanford’s Grunfeld Flies High
Shoah Book Brings Museum Experience
"A Promise to Remember: The Holocaust in the Words and Voices of Its Survivors," by Michael Berenbaum. (Bulfinch Press. $29.95.)
You don’t find an index or bibliography in a museum. You go there for images, for impressions, to be moved, as well as educated — so, too, with "A Promise to Remember."
Michael Berenbaum, a first-rate scholar and writer, who was founding director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., has produced, in effect, a traveling museum, or in barely more than two score pages, a traveling museum exhibit.
More than a catalogue of a museum exhibition, Berenbaum, now director of the University of Judaism’s Sigi Ziering Institute, presents a total museum experience. Instead of walking down aisles and reading information panels, you hold the artifacts in your hands.
Through words (his own and interviews with a small number of Holocaust survivors), photos (mostly sepia, with some in color), reproduced documents (copies of a wartime rabbi’s sermon from Berlin and a politician’s letter from Bulgaria, etc.) and an accompanying CD (audio to complement the visual), Berenbaum emphasizes, subjectively but accurately, some of the most important elements of the Shoah experience.
These Shoah elements include: the background of the Final Solution, ghetto life, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the participants and bystanders, rescue by sympathetic non-Jews and, finally, liberation.
This book is clearly for the novice, for someone uninitiated in the terror that gripped the world in the mid-20th century — for the individual who isn’t likely to enter an actual Holocaust museum. The book is a tactile, sensual experience. Only the sense of smell is missing.
In the introduction, Berenbaum writes, "Nothing this brief could possibly do justice to an event as vast as the Holocaust, which evolved over 12 years and enveloped the entire continent of Europe; which consumed some 6 million dead; and whose implications are seen in headlines and images that have entered the conscious and unconscious of all humanity."
He offers nothing new in these pages, no new facts or novel interpretations, but the totality of the familiar, presented in an unfamiliar way, is striking and unsettling. The product, part coffee table book, part reference guide, is a beautifully designed masterpiece. You read the chapter on "The Decision to Kill the Jews," and you look on the same page into the austere eyes of Richard Heydrich and his fellow henchmen in genocide and you feel a chill.
He offers no footnotes or bibliography — no scholarly sources beyond the identifications that describe the interviewees. They aren’t needed; anyone affected by the book, whose interest is whetted, can contact the institutions cited in the acknowledgments.
The book isn’t meant to be read in one reading. Each chapter, to be absorbed and understood adequately, should be read separately. It will take the careful reader a few hours to go through "A Promise to Remember."
Just the length of time it takes to walk through a museum.
Did You Hear the One About Haman?
Painting Through the Pain
When the Nazis forced artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis into
Terezin, she smuggled in art supplies and taught the concentration camp’s
children to express themselves through art.
“Everyone put us in boxes — the Nazis — and she took us out
of them,” her student, Edna Amit, later said of Dicker-Brandeis, who died in
Auschwitz at age 47.
The Museum of Tolerance is remembering Dicker-Brandies, one
of the founders of art therapy, with a display of her art and that of her
students, as well as a modern-day art therapy project inspired by her
A downstairs gallery displays art by children of Terezin,
which depict harsh camp conditions and life before the war.
Upstairs, 10 life-size puppets — each created by one of 10
students from inner-city Orville Wright Middle School — sit at a mosaiced
table, with decorated cigar boxes archiving the lives of each child. The
school’s 13- to 15-year-olds face modern-day challenges such as pressure to use
drugs and join gangs.
This is the first time that Virginia Marroquin, a
13-year-old Latina, learned about the Holocaust, and it made her see her own
challenging life in a different way: “[The Holocaust] opened my eyes a lot … it
helped me look at life in a better way. It made me realize how much I have,”
she told The Journal.
Art therapist Dr. Debra Linesch created the project with
Regina Miller, the museum’s project director. This past summer they led a
five-day workshop, using Dicker-Brandeis to inspire the inner-city children.
“No matter how bad things are, give voice to it and you are
re-humanizing a dehumanizing experience,” said Linesch, director of the
graduate department of marital and family therapy at Loyola Marymount
University. “That’s what I learned from Friedl.”
The dual exhibit runs through Jan. 15, at the Museum
of Tolerance, Simon Wiesenthal Plaza, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For
information, call (310) 553-8403 or visit
Desperate Days of ‘House’ Director
Zimmer Goes Hollywood
On Nov. 6, the Zimmer Children’s Museum took on Hollywood when the organization honored Barbara Fisher, executive vice president of entertainment at Lifetime Entertainment Services, and actress Cynthia Sikes Yorkin (best known for her roles in “St. Elsewhere” and “L.A. Law”) at the Zimmer’s third annual Discovery Award Dinner.
“We looked to find individuals to honor who have been involved in the betterment of the community in either in their professional lives, personal lives or both and have done so for children, education and the community at large,” said Esther Netter, executive director of the Zimmer regarding the two honorees, both of whom are heavily involved in a variety of children’s causes.
More than 400 industry folks including Sir Sidney Poitier, director-comedian Wil Shriner, comedienne Kathleen Madigan, jazz vocalist Curtis Stigers and many museum supporters gathered at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel to celebrate Fisher and Yorkin’s success, as well as support the future of children and education. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education WriterW
The Southern California Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring honored actor Theodore Bikel Nov. 2 at its annual awards banquet and silent auction. Bikel made a passionate plea for his beloved Yiddish language, which faces continuing obscurity as Israel makes Hebrew more popular among Jews.
“It has become fashionable to say that only Hebrew matters,” said Bikel after accepting the Workmen’s Circle’s Yiddishkayt Award before about 60 people at the Hyatt West Hollywood. “But where is it written that I have to abandon Yiddish to love Hebrew?”
Henrietta Cooper Mirell was honored with the Workmen’s Member of the Year award and state Sen. Sheila James Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) received the group’s Melvin S. and Erma B. Sands Memorial Award for Human Rights.
“It’s always wonderful to be praised by the praiseworthy,” Kuehl told The Journal.
Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) was there to present Bikel and Cooper Mirell with state Senate and Assembly proclamations noting their Workmen’s Circle honors. When Koretz and Kuehl gave Bikel his proclamation, Kuehl said the plaque was being handed to him, “on behalf of the state senate and the whole darned state of California.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer
Los Angeles philanthropists David and Fela Shappell have made it possible for the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem to build their new Visitors Center.
The center, which has an information desk, a cafeteria and a balcony with a pastoral view of the Jerusalem mountains, will be the first stop for many of the visitors to the campus because it provides them with information about the many memorial sites and research and educational facilities on the campus. The exit of the Visitors Center is inscribed with a passage from the Bible: “Has the like of this happened in your days or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell theirs, and their children the next generation” (1 Joel, 2-3). This verse is meant to serve as a reminder to visitors of the need to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust and transmit the legacy to future generations.
The center was inaugurated on Oct. 20 in the presence of the Shappells and their children and grandchildren; Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz; and Avner Shalev, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate.
While many members of the community are scratching their heads trying to figure out what to do about growing intermarriage rates, two Los Angeles synagogues have received awards for their interfaith integration programs that look to actively welcome and interfaith couples and those new to Judaism into their synagogues. Wilshire Boulevard Temple and Congregation Kol Ami of West Hollywood both received the Belin Outreach Award, a $1,000 grant presented every two years by the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) Commission on Outreach and Synagogue Community. This year, the URJ, formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, presented the awards at its 67th biennial convention in Minneapolis.
Wilshire Boulevard Temple won the award for its Learn to Cook like Bubbe Cooked! program, which combined five sessions of Jewish cooking and learning with a Shabbat dinner and celebration. Kol Ami won for its Open Hands, Open Door series, which uses the seasons and the holidays as a launching pad to discuss issues of concern to interfaith families in the synagogue’s diverse communities. Other California synagogues honored were Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, for its Jewish Journeys program, where Jews-by-choice share their experience of choosing Judaism in the congregational bulletin, and Congregation Beth Israel of San Diego, for its Outreach Jewish Enrichment Series, a core curriculum of classes offered throughout the synagogue year to members and nonmembers alike. Congregation Beth Israel also received an honorable mention for its Outreach on the Web program.
The Belin Awards were established in 1995 through the generosity of the late David Belin, the commission’s first chair.
The more dollars raised for cancer research, the closer we are to a cure. On Oct. 21, during Breast Cancer Awareness month Lynn Goldstein, Ilene Eisenberg and Lana Bergstein chaired the John Wayne Cancer Institute (JWCI) Auxiliary’s Membership Luncheon, at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, where the auxiliary presented a check for more than $873,000 to the institute.
The event honored philanthropist Carolyn Dirks, who was presented with the auxiliary’s Angel Award. Dirks is a member of the JWCI Board of Trustees and has served as president of the Joseph B. Gould Foundation. The event also featured Rikki Kleiman, Court TV anchor and author of “Fairy Tales Can Come True: How a Driven Woman Changed Her Destiny.” All guests at the event received a Swarovski pink crystal ribbon label pin and chocolate shaped like a breast cancer ribbon.
JWCI was established by the family of the late actor, who died of cancer in 1979. It is home to the country’s largest melanoma center and it also houses the largest cancer immunotherapy program in the world.
Arthritis Foundation Honors
She may be most famous for being the matriarch on “Falcon Crest” and the first wife of former President Ronald Reagan, but for the past 37 years, actress Jane Wyman has dedicated her own leadership skills to finding a cure for arthritis and related diseases with the Arthritis Foundation, which named their Humanitarian Award after her.
On Oct. 15 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Dr. Bracha Shaham, a pediatric rheumatologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles received the Jane Wyman Humanitarian Award at the foundation’s gala dinner. Shaham, who has been active in medicine for 25 years, is currently a co-investigator on eight separate research projects studying juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Other recipients of the award this year were Dr. Deborah McCurdy, and Amgen Vice President Kevin Young. The gala raised more than $200,000 for the Arthritis Foundation.
2003 — A Library Odyssey
Of course, one shouldn’t eat in a library, but one should eat for a library, especially at library fundraising dinners. On Nov. 3 the Council of the Library Foundation coordinated the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) Literary Odyssey Dinners, 51 intimate dinners featuring well-known authors at private homes throughout Los Angeles. The evening raised $360,000 to benefit the reading enrichment programs for children and teens at the 67 branches of the LAPL.
Among the authors who participated were Michael Crichton, Kirk Douglas, Susan Fales-Hill, Larry Gelbart, David Lipsky and Garry Ross. Dinner hosts included Diane and John Cooke, Joan and John Hotchkis, Judith and Steve Krantz, Ginny Mancini, Mary and Norman Pattiz and Liane and Richard Weintraub. Betsy Applebaum chaired the dinners, and the co-chairs were Tom and Denise Decker and Maggie Russell.
The day before, the champagne and wine were flowing when the LAPL Literary Odyssey Dinners committee hosted a reception in honor of the authors, hosts and sponsors in the Central Library’s Rotunda Room. Council president Donna Wolff greeted guests, which included honorary chair Veronique Peck, actress Angie Dickinson, and authors Jon Robin Baitz, A. Scott Berg, Laurence Bergreen, Leo Braudy and Maxine Hong Kingston. Sandy and Larry Post underwrote the dinner.
On Board With Wiesenthal
At its fall meeting, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s board of trustees unanimously elected Larry A. Mizel to be the new chairman of its board.
He succeeds Sam Belzberg, who served as chair since 1977. Mizel is the chairman and founder of M.D.C. Holdings Inc., founder of the Mizel Center for Arts and Culture in Denver and is a member of the national board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Mizel, who lives in Denver, said that he “considers it a special privilege to chair an organization that has made such a unique contribution to world Jewry over the past 25 years.”
Center Responds to Critical News Story
Since its beginning in 1977 as a one-man institution dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is now perhaps among the most visible and vocal Jewish voices in the United States.
It bills itself as an international human rights organization, claims more than 400,000 family memberships, maintains offices in eight U.S. and foreign cities and its purview now includes Middle East affairs, fighting anti-Semitism anywhere, tolerance education and tracking hate sites on the Internet.
Its high profile — spurred by an aggressive and media-savvy leadership — makes the Wiesenthal Center an inviting target.
Recently, the LA Weekly published charges that reflected some earlier criticisms, though mostly voiced in private, of the center and its founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier.
The alternative newspaper claimed that the center, though a private institution, was receiving substantial and scarce state funds, to the detriment of worthy causes with less skillful lobbyists.
Citing public records, the paper then noted critically that Hier received a salary of more than $400,000 in 2001, and that his wife and two sons were also on the center payroll, drawing substantial salaries. The inference of rampant nepotism was inevitable.
The newspaper article drew some spirited comments from Journal readers.
One member of the center and its Museum of Tolerance, who asked not to be identified, wrote to the editor regarding the reported salaries, saying, "That looks pretty bad! I’m pissed — and as a Jewish community professional, I’m doubly pissed."
The Journal looked into the allegations and was given the full cooperation of the Wiesenthal Center, which operates on an annual budget of $32 million. The center is in the midst of two capital funds campaigns, totaling $215 million, for its New York and Jerusalem Museums of Tolerance.
Hier released the following salary figures as of June 2003, not yet audited or filed with the IRS. Hier received $350,877 in salary and $105,271 in benefits, pension and insurance. His wife Marlene, the center’s membership director, received a salary of $258,899 and benefits of $52,472.
Hier’s son, Alan (Avi), who is in charge of negotiations and planning for the massive Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, received a salary of $134,417 and $16,710 in benefits, while son, Rabbi Aaron (Ari), director of the Jewish Studies Institute at the center, received a salary of $86,092 and $8,976 in benefits.
Samuel Belzberg, the longtime chairman of the center’s board of trustees, acknowledged that having four Hiers on the payroll looks, from the outside, "a little bit nonkosher," adding quickly, "but it’s 100 percent kosher."
The man most responsible for setting compensation levels for the center staff is Ira A. Lipman, who chairs the trustees’ three-person nominating and human resources committee. He is the owner and CEO of Guardsmark, one of the country’s leading security services, with $468 million in annual revenue and employing 18,000 people.
Speaking as a veteran business executive and lay leader of the United Way, Lipman said that before approving salaries, his committee surveys comparable Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and checks the IRS filings of museums, universities and similar institutions.
"Rabbi Hier is basically the CEO of the fastest-growing Jewish membership organization in the world," he said. "I can tell you unequivocally that a number of national Jewish organizations pay their professional heads higher salaries. If Rabbi Hier went to work for a public company, he would command a salary two or three times higher."
"This is a well-run and conscientious organization or I wouldn’t be part of it," Lipman added. "I know that when rabbis Hier and [Associate Dean Abraham] Cooper fly overseas, they take red-eye specials and look for the deepest discounts."
Lipman was equally emphatic that the salary of Marlene Hier reflected the value of her work, not nepotism. A former teacher of statistical analysis at a Canadian university, Marlene Hier is credited by Lipman with creating and directing a "fantastic" direct-mail campaign mainly responsible for the center’s large membership and for bringing in $12 million a year.
Rabbi Meyer May, the center’s executive director, has supervised the work of Ari Hier at the Jewish Studies Institute.
"Ari shares the work ethic of his father and mother," May said. "He is judged as any other professional in this organization and certainly gets no special privileges or considerations."
Larry Mizel is the center trustee overseeing the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance project. The board chairman and CEO of a Denver-based home-building company, with annual revenue of $2.5 billion, Mizel evaluates the performance of Avi Hier.
"Avi coordinates a $150 million project, one of the most important private undertakings in Israel, and is steering it through the complex Israeli bureaucracy," Mizel said. "He is very capable and we are fortunate to have a person of his caliber. The fact that he shares the commitment of the Hier family is a plus, not a negative."
Habush Wrapped Life in L.A. History
Bush at Auschwitz: Troubling Contradictions
On Sat., May 31, President Bush visited Auschwitz, and spoke about the horrors of that place where some 1.5-million Jews were gassed to death by the Nazis. On Wed., June 4, Bush will have embraced a Palestinian Arab leader who has written that the Nazis didn’t murder millions of Jews; that the Holocaust is a myth. How can one explain the president’s apparently contradictory actions?
The president walked across the railroad tracks leading into the death camp, viewed the gas chambers and paused at a display of shoes taken from children and hair cut off women before they were gassed. Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps "remind us that evil is real and must be called by name and must be opposed," Bush said.
This week, he flew to the Middle East where he met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who does not believe that the Nazi evil was real at all. Abbas is the author of a book that depicts the gas chambers and the piles of shoes and hair as a Zionist hoax. His book, "The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement," is based on his doctoral dissertation at Moscow Oriental College. Published in 1983, it declares: "Following the war, word was spread that 6 million Jews were amongst the victims and that a war of extermination was aimed primarily at the Jews…. The truth is that no one can either confirm or deny this figure."
Abbas denies that the gas chambers were used to murder Jews, quoting a "scientific study" to that effect by French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. Abbas has never retracted or apologized for writing the book.
This is not the first time that an American president has expressed seemingly heartfelt sentiments about the Holocaust or taken action to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, but then, for political reasons, said or done something inappropriate regarding the Holocaust.
For example, the Reagan administration ordered the airlift of starving Ethiopian Jewish refugees in 1985, and then-Vice President Bush, who was deeply involved in the airlift rescue, indicated the decision was influenced by David Wyman’s book, "The Abandonment of the Jews" (New Press, 1998), which documents America’s failure to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.
Yet that same year, President Reagan visited the Bitburg military cemetery in Germany, where a number of Hitler’s SS men are buried. Reagan suggested the SS men were just as much victims of the Nazis as the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. American-German relations were deemed politically more important than offending Holocaust survivors.
In 1988, the senior Bush, then the Republican presidential nominee, dismissed a leader of one of his campaign support committees, Jerome Brentar, after it was discovered that Brentar had been active in a Holocaust denial organization. Yet, neither at that time nor later did Bush publicly criticize Pat Buchanan, despite Buchanan’s articles praising Hitler’s "great courage," claiming the gas chambers at Treblinka could not have been used to kill large numbers of people, and defending suspected Nazi war criminals. Alienating Buchanan and his supporters was deemed politically more risky than offending Holocaust survivors.
It was the Clinton administration which presided over the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993, and President Clinton gave a stirring speech in which he said: "Before the war even started, doors to liberty were shut, and even after the United States and the Allies attacked Germany, rail lines to the camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed."
Yet the following year, the Clinton administration sought to orchestrate a visit to the museum by Yasser Arafat, despite the strong objections of many Holocaust survivors and others. Advancing the administration’s diplomatic agenda in the Middle East was deemed more important than whatever offense an Arafat visit would have caused.
President Bush’s praise of Abbas is likewise intended to advance Mideast diplomacy. That goal is regarded by the administration as politically more important than the concerns of those who are offended by Holocaust denial or troubled by the prospect of an unrepentant Holocaust denier serving as the leader of a sovereign state.
George W. Bush is not the first American president to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims and then later say or do something troubling with regard to the Holocaust. But no president has ever done them in such close proximity to one another. To visit the most striking symbol of the Holocaust on Saturday, and then embrace a Holocaust denier on Wednesday — that is a first.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which focuses on issues related to America’s response to the Holocaust,
Explosion of Love in Encino Defeats Hatred
Exhibit to Detail Nazi Persecution of Gays
When Dr. Edward Phillips set out to create the first English-language exhibit on the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, opening Sunday at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, information proved elusive.
Crucial records had vanished when the Allies bombed the Reich’s Central Office to Combat Homosexuality and Abortion in the spring of 1945, Phillips said. While Jews flocked to give testimony after the war, the tens of thousands of gay survivors largely remained silent.
"They couldn’t talk openly about the victimization they suffered, because they were still considered criminals," said Phillips of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
"Homosexuals were imprisoned [after World War II] under the exact same law the Nazis used," said UCLA’s Dr. Todd Presner, who is organizing events related to the Los Angeles show. "The few survivors I met said it wasn’t just a one-time oppression but a continued punishment and embarrassment and deep shame. The case of gays is unique, because their persecution continued after the war."
The exhibition, titled, "The Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals: 1933-1945," joins a growing body of work on gays that is emerging after years of intense focus on Jewish victims, including scholarly books, such as Claudia Schoppmann’s "Days of Masquerade," and films, such as the documentary, "Paragraph 175."
Because so little first-person testimony exists, the exhibit tells the story largely through news clippings, magazine illustrations, cartoons and photographs, including police mug shots and a chilling picture of an operating table on which gays were castrated at Sachsenhausen.
There are also drawings by the late Bauhaus-trained painter Richard Grune, who was incarcerated in camps from 1937-1945 and created some of the first artistic images of inmates after the war. A diagram depicts the pink triangle that gays were forced to wear on their camp uniforms.
The exhibit –the first of its kind to tour this country — dodges the titillating "was Hitler gay" question, because "we look at the victims of the Nazi era, not the perpetrators," according to Phillips.
He added that while the show drew considerable media attention when it debuted in Washington last year, there were a handful of vocal complaints. "They came mostly from Orthodox Jews, who felt a Holocaust museum shouldn’t be talking about gays, whom they consider [sinners] under Jewish law," Phillips said.
At the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Director Rachel Jagoda was so concerned about the potential for controversy that she agreed to host the show only after two weeks of informally polling visitors and board members.
"I was worried some people might be offended, because we’re dealing with a generation where homosexuality was considered taboo," Jagoda, 29, said. "But the survivors blew me away with how progressive they were. The typical response was, ‘I saw them being hurt in camp, and I think it’s terrible what they endured.’"
The show began some years ago when officials at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum decided to create exhibitions on lesser-known groups targeted by Hitler, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and the handicapped. Phillips started researching the project in 2000 by combing documents unearthed for an unprecedented exhibit at the Gay Museum Berlin. Yet locating artifacts to include in the U.S. show proved so difficult, he said, "we had to search for clues about who had what in the footnotes of historical journals."
The resulting exhibit begins with a description of Paragraph 175, the seldom-enforced 1871 anti-gay law that Hitler broadened to include "simple looking" and "simple touching" between men. Lesbians generally weren’t included, because the Reich assumed women were natural wives and mothers.
Photographs depict Nazis ransacking the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin, founded by trailblazing gay Jewish physician Magnus Hirschfeld, several months after Hitler seized power in 1933. Authorities looted the building, before parading Hirschfeld’s bust on a pike and hurling it into a bonfire with all his books.
A year later, Hitler ordered the murder of his openly gay storm trooper chief Ernst Roehm, whose private life had been tolerated until he began spouting controversial political views. "That opened the door for German society to identify homosexuality with treasonous behavior," Phillips said.
Nevertheless, the Nazis soon found themselves in a conundrum over the gay issue. "Because they described everything in medical terms, they saw homosexuality as a ‘contagion’ spread by means of seduction, which was the ‘carrier,’" Phillips said. "But because most gays were Aryan, they were racially important to propagate the master race…. [Thus] the Reich distinguished between one-time offenders, who had merely been ‘tainted’ and could be ‘cured,’ and ‘incorrigible homosexuals,’ who were perceived to have a biological flaw."
In 1940, Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler ordered repeat offenders be sent to concentration camps, where he allowed officials to castrate gays, starting in 1942. He also approved a Buchenwald experiment in which physicians injected hormones into prisoners’ groins to see at what level homosexuals could be "converted" into heterosexuals.
By the end of the war, 100,000 gays had been arrested, 50,000 imprisoned and up to 15,000 sent to concentration camps, where many were assigned to "penalty battalions" and an estimated 60 percent perished. "But I wouldn’t say there was a Holocaust against gay men," Presner said. "It was a persecution. The Holocaust is a term I’d reserve exclusively for Jews."
Yet he is quick to point out that while Jews were free to rebuild their lives after the war, a number of homosexual survivors were transferred to German prisons. Because the anti-gay law, as revised by the Nazis, remained on the books, an estimated 50,000 men were eventually incarcerated — as many as had been imprisoned under Hitler.
Paragraph 175 remained law until 1969. The statute was not entirely abolished until 1994, and victims weren’t officially pardoned until last year. Until the recent $1.25 billion Swiss banks settlement, gays were systematically barred from receiving survivor’s reparations, according to Presner.
At a time when 14 U.S. states retain anti-sodomy laws, Presner believes the exhibit is relevant today. "The equation of homosexuality with degeneracy is still alive and well," he said.
The exhibit opens Sunday, May 18, at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, with a VIP brunch reception at 11 a.m., featuring a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, cabaret music by Jeremy Lawrence and more. Tickets are $100 per person (pay at the door). To attend, leave a message at (323) 761-8170. A free community open house immediately follows at 1 p.m.
Thereafter, 12 events related to the exhibit will include a panel discussion, "Masculinity, Fascism and Homosexual Panic" and screenings of "Paragraph 175" and Rosa von Praunheim’s 1999 documentary, "The Einstein of Sex," on Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld.
For information, call (323) 761-8170. The museum is located at 6006 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
Director, Neighbors Rescue ‘Collector’
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.
The Nonviolent Fighter
“We will study death, but in the service of the Jewishfuture,” said Dr. Michael Berenbaum, explaining the primary mission of a newlycreated institute at the University of Judaism.
The mission is also implicit in the name of the Sigi ZieringInstitute for the Study of Ethics and the Holocaust, for it is Berenbaum’sbelief that many of the cutting-edge ethical issues facing Jewry and societytoday grow out of the seeds sown during the Shoah.
Berenbaum, one of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars,has been named director of the Ziering Institute. He says that by placing itwithin a university focused on the Jewish future and outreach to otherdisciplines, the institute can transmute the lessons of the bitter past intoguideposts for present and future generations.
As one example, Berenbaum cites the field of medical ethics.”The notion of informed consent by a patient, and his right to stop treatmentat any time, was derived directly from the postwar trials of Nazi doctors,” hesaid.
Another frontier issue is rooted in the Nazi experiments ineugenics. “Now that we are nearing the capacity to ‘perfect’ human beings bygenetic manipulation, we must ask whether something should be done, justbecause we know how to do it,” Berenbaum noted.
Turning to business ethics, Berenbaum recalled thesubstantial financial investments by Germany’s I.G. Farben to assure it asteady supply of slave laborers.
“The Nazis perfected the use of humans as consumable rawmaterial,” said Berenbaum, and applies the observation to such contemporaryissues as child labor and sweatshops.
“We must ask ourselves, what is the borderline between anappropriate investment, and a morally compromised one,” he said.
Questions arising from the role of laws and the judiciaryduring the Holocaust are now being studied at dozens of American universitiesand in military academies, Berenbaum said.
One can argue that the Nazis committed no crimes, becausetheir actions were legal under their own laws, he said. However, the Nurembergwar crime trials found that blind obedience to immoral laws, or therationalization, “I just followed orders,” are no longer a valid defense inthemselves.
“Without Nuremberg as a precedent, [former YugoslavPresident] Slobodan Milosevic would never have been put on trial by the U.N.Tribunal in The Hague,” Berenbaum argued. Another thorny legal question is theresponsibility of the bystander who witnesses a crime or a genocide withouttaking any action.
Berenbaum is also convinced that, for example, the UnitedStates would not have interfered in the “ethnic cleansing” campaigns in theformer Yugoslavia by bombing Kosovo, but for the guilt felt by the Americanmilitary for its failure to bomb Auschwitz during World War II.
“I used to think that the Nuremberg trials were a failurebecause they were not far-reaching enough, but now I believe that they setimportant precedents,” he said.
Some of Berenbaum’s conclusions may be startling, but hedoes not arrive at them lightly.
At 57, he has been studying and analyzing the Holocaustsince his graduate student days, and he is the author of 14 books on the tragicera.
Berenbaum was one of the key figures in the creation of theU.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, served as president and CEO of StevenSpielberg’s Shoah Foundation, has held teaching posts at leading universitiesand is currently adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism(UJ).
The institute which he now directs, funded through $3million in donations, honors the life and memory of Sigi Ziering, a Holocaustsurvivor, successful American industrialist and author of a searing play on theHolocaust, “The Judgment of Herbert Bierhoff.”
The institute, which is to become part of a planned UJCenter for Jewish Ethics, will sponsor a range of scholarly and popularconferences, seminars and lectures.
Its initial offering is a three-part roundtable discussionamong Jewish and Christian theologians, philosophers and historians on “The Vatican,the Pope and the Holocaust.”
In keeping with its outreach mission, the first session wasat the Jewish University of Judaism, the second at Catholic Loyola Marymountand the third will be held on Feb. 18 at the traditional Protestant ClaremontMcKenna College in Claremont.
For information, phone the University of Judaism at (310)476- 9777, ext. 445.
Dealing With Divorce
A Museum’s Fate
The rent is paid through December. After that, no one knows where — or if — the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust will have a home.
Competition seems to be squeezing out the venerable museum. Not competition from the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, but competing visions for the future between the museum’s directors and its parent, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
The museum’s struggles with The Federation in many ways mirror the ongoing, sometimes contentious discussions between The Federation and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), another beneficiary agency of The Federation. Issues of falling membership and control seem to be at the heart of both debates.
Currently, the museum shares space at 6006 Wilshire Blvd. with office and storage space for the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA). But JCLLA will be moving those functions into Federation headquarters at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., leaving the Museum of the Holocaust to pay the full rent with reduced funding.
Two years ago, The Federation provided more than $180,000 for the museum. This year, the allocation was $60,000, according to Dr. Gary Schiller, the museum’s board chairman. Federation President John Fishel says that Federation support for the museum is actually higher than allocated funds would suggest, as The Federation underwrites budgeted expenditures not covered by the museum’s fundraising. Schiller estimates the operating costs, including rent, programming and salary and benefits, to be $200,000 a year. "We run lean," he says.
"The issue for them is how does one offer Holocaust education and Holocaust memorialization in a place that’s as vast as L.A.?" Fishel says. "Regrettably, the number of people visiting the museum on Wilshire Boulevard is not dramatic. The cost of maintaining this museum requires a real decision on where the money is spent. It’s very important that Holocaust education continue to be a priority."
The Federation has suggested a plan that would allow the museum to spend more of its limited budget on programming rather than rent. It would like to see the museum move from its pricey rented Wilshire location to space in The Federation-owned Milken JCC in West Hills.
"They’ve done their own fundraising in a very minimal way, which to date has not been sufficient," Fishel says. "If [the museum] can even raise the money, is it best used to pay rent? I look at [moving] as an opportunity."
Museum officials, however, believe their outreach programs — both for survivors and schoolchildren from throughout the city — are best served at their current location. Though Federation officials suggest that competition with the nearby Museum of Tolerance hurts the Museum of the Holocaust, the comparison rankles museum officials.
Schiller says, "We are not constrained by some political objective, ours is merely a historical museum. We’re not in a position to teach about Armenia or Rwanda. We have a discrete niche, while [the Museum of Tolerance’s] mandate from the state is to teach tolerance."
The museum’s supporters are not anxious to move from the Museum Row location, says Schiller. "We can’t imagine a more accessible place" and will not have the same outreach ability housed in a "hallway in the Milken Center."
Michael Hirschfeld of the Jewish Community Relations Committee, the liaison between the museum and The Federation, was asked by The Federation not to speak to The Journal about this matter.
Rather than squabble about the location, museum officials are focused on increasing their fundraising efforts. Regardless of where the museum sits, major community support will be necessary to maintain the museum for the more than 6,000 student visitors a year, as well as such successful projects as the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration and the Shalmoni Holocaust Arts and Writing Competition.
To keep it all going, the museum’s board is applying to foundations and funding agencies. Museum Director Rachel Jagoda says, "I’d love to see us raise a million dollars. We need it," and adds that donors have come up with approximately $10,000 in the last three weeks.
Jagoda just wants to see the museum stay alive. "This isn’t a story about two Jewish organizations fighting with each other," she says. "This is about getting what this museum needs. We have this precious museum that’s going to rot if the community doesn’t support it."
Remembering the Comedians
Expressions of Evil
I have seen each of the works planned for the "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art" exhibit slated to run March 17-June 30 at the Jewish Museum in New York. I have seen the video and have most recently, after the exhibition became controversial, been party to the discussion. While not every piece is to my liking, every work in the show has a point. (The show focuses on 13 contemporary, internationally recognized artists who use imagery from the Nazi era to explore the nature of evil.)
Each tells us something important, either about our world and ourselves or about the killers and their world. Some pieces offend — deliberately and provocatively. (Exhibits include "Giftgas Giftset," by Tom Sachs, which features colorful poison gas canisters with Tiffany, Chanel and Prada logos; Zbigniew Libera’s "LEGO Concentration Camp Set," and Alan Schechner’s "It’s the Real Thing: Self-Portrait at Buchenwald," a self-portrait of the artist holding a Diet Coke superimposed over a photo of Buchenwald inmates.)
Religious Christians who have never faced the dark side of Christian anti-Semitism will be offended to see that with proper lighting, the cross can be transformed into a swastika, but the offense reveals a painful truth that it is better we — Christians and non-Christians alike — confront than avoid.
Menachem Rosensaft, the distinguished child of survivors and brother of one of the 6 million Jews who were killed, was offended by the Lego set that resembled a concentration camp, replete with barracks and perhaps even crematoria. Perhaps they are right. But, perhaps Robert Jan Van Pelt is more insightful when he recovered the plans that allowed architects and ovenmakers, builders and planners to create a place where 35,000 prisoners were herded into barracks with only 70 latrines, without adequate water and with only one exit. Van-Pelt has demonstrated that the excremental assault, which Bruno Bettelheim once blamed on the victims for succumbing to their infantalization, was a deliberate part of the architectural planning, the most predictable result of their planning efforts.
Boys can assemble toys — ugly toys. Men can build big toys –death camps where systematic murder is commonplace. If a Lego set can make that point, it has much to say, even if it offends. If it is seen in this light, it will not offend.
I am not fond of the picture in which a child of concentration camp survivors puts himself inside the Buchenwald barracks with a Diet Coke can. As one who has wrestled with the exhibition of Holocaust artifacts and photographs, I do not like retouching or transforming original images. It falsifies, even if it reveals.
Yet, by their masterful writings, Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi have put those of us who were not there back into the concentration camp. What child of survivors has not put himself/herself in the camp? What student of the Shoah has not attempted to penetrate the inner kingdom of night?
The Passover hagaddah bids the Jews: "In every generation one must see oneself as if he emerged from Egypt." Future generations may hear the same admonition regarding the Holocaust. The picture may teach us humility. We cannot enter that kingdom of night. We can only approach as if we were there.
Those of us who study the experience of life and death within the camps have learned to respect the experience of the survivors. Wiesel has said, time and again, that "only those who were there will ever know and those who were there can never tell." That cannot be the end of our journey, because we have to listen to those who have spoken — however inadequate may be some of their words. But in the end, our attempts to get there are futile, as this artwork so clearly demonstrates.
I don’t like confronting the eroticism of the Nazi world, but unless we do, we will neither understand its power nor our ongoing fascination with its perpetrator. At its best, art raises provocative questions. And this exhibit, together with its catalogue and its public programs will certainly provoke. Such is its virtue. But it is not provocation for its own sake. This art provokes because the Shoah provokes.
Abraham Foxman, a survivor of the Holocaust and the longtime director of Anti-Defamation League, has said that the exhibition is premature. "Not in the life of the survivors," he said, but he too may be wrong. The exhibition deals with not how we understand victimization, but how we approach the perpetrators. The offense is not a trivialization of the dead or the means by which they were killed but a confrontation with their killers.
Let the question be asked: Can we confront the perpetrators without in some way doing violence to the victims? Permit me to speak from experience. I worked as a consultant to HBO’s Emmy Award-winning film, "Conspiracy," which was a reenactment of the Wannsee Conference, the Jan. 20, 1942, meeting convened by Reinhard Heydrich and attended by 15 high-ranking German and Nazi party officials, at which the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" was coordinated. The victims were not present at that table; they were inconsequential.
The killers spoke a language that did violence to their victims and to portray that history, we had to use that language. Not every portrayal of the Holocaust can be a memorial to its victims. Even some great works of history, such as Raul Hilberg’s magisterial work, "The Destruction of the European Jews," which considered the Holocaust from the record of German documentation, offended the victims.
But there is a corrective. Let survivors speak with these artists. Let the artists speak in the presence of the survivors. Let the conversation be genuine. The chambers of the Jewish Museum are safe enough, open enough and respectful enough for it to be the forum where generations talk to one another deferentially, openly, seriously.
The Jewish Museum has responded to the complaints by doing what museums do best: preserving the exhibition and respecting the freedom of the visitor to see the exhibition without imposing the most controversial works on those visitors who want to see the rest of the exhibition but not the controversial pieces. By its signage, it will warn visitors of what they are about to see. By the exhibition path, no one will have to come across one the three pieces that some found offensive.
To realize what this means, we should understand the difference between a film and a museum exhibition. A film has a captive audience and moving imagery. A museum has captive imagery and a moving audience. The Jewish Museum will respect the freedom of movement of the visitors so they can see what they want to see and — equally importantly — not to see what they do not want to see. By signage, by placing a piece or two behind a screen and by providing a mouse for the visitor who chooses to see a computer screen, the visitor’s freedom is preserved — all visitors — those who appreciate these works, those who are offended by them and even those who appreciate the work even as it offends.
Let the exhibition open, let the works be seen in context and then let the criticism begin. Perhaps Rosensaft and Foxman are right and their views will prevail, or perhaps we have reached a moment where the intergenerational transition is well underway. Better such a discussion should occur in the presence of those who were there — with their overwhelming moral stature — then when it is too late to receive their searing criticism and respond.
‘Big Bad’ Debra