November 13, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Film Fest Finale, Holocaust Education

The Israel Bonds luncheon drew (top row, from left) Nancy Sloan, Rochelle Boren, Ambassador Danny Danon, Talie Danon, Sharona Nazarian, Daniel Nazarian and Dalia Farkas and (bottom row, from left) Ghazal Rokhsar, Vera Liebenthal, Jacqueline Burdorf, Myrtle Sitowitz and Ruth Low. Photo courtesy of Israel Bonds.

The Israel Bonds Los Angeles’ Women’s Division Council held its 2018 Golda Meir Luncheon on May 1 at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Husband-and-wife Talie and Danny Danon, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, served as the event’s guest speakers. Talie discussed “The United Nations: A Women’s Perspective.”

Gina Raphael, the Los Angeles co-chair on the Israel Bonds L.A. Women’s Division Council, led an awards presentation honoring Abigail Kedem Goldberg; Georgette Joffe; Vera Liebenthal; Jennifer Meyers; Sharona Nazarian; Hannah Niman; and Ghazal Rokhsar.

Additional speakers included Karin Eliyahu-Pery, the consul for public diplomacy and culture at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles; Mark Goldenberg served as master of ceremonies; Jean Friedman, women’s division council chair, delivered welcoming remarks; Sinai Temple Cantor Marcus Feldman sang the national anthems; and Jerry Friedman led the invocation and hamotzi.

The event acknowledged Israel’s 70th anniversary since its founding in 1948.

Israel Bonds is a broker dealer that underwrites securities issued by the State of Israel. It ranks among Israel’s most valued economic and strategic resources.

Producer and talent manager George Shapiro (left) and film composer Alan Bergman attended the screening of “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast” on the closing night of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival. Photo courtesy of RozWolfPR.

“We were focusing on what the spirit of life is and what makes them live,” Gold said.

The work features more than showbiz folks. Ida Keeling, one of the individuals profiled in the film, is a 100-year-old woman who, after losing two of her sons while in her late 60s, takes up running.

Classic film and music expert Michael Schlesinger moderated the discussion, which also featured film composer Alan Bergman (“Yentl,” “Toostie”).

LAJFF Director Hilary Helstein introduced the film in front of a nearly sold-out audience. She expressed gratitude to those who had turned up throughout the week to the various films screening around the city.

Holocaust survivor Joe Alexander showed his tattoo from Auschwitz to high school students Eli Sitzman, Sara Schechter and Adora Dayani during a Witness Theater: Voices of History production. Photo by Michael Canon.

Holocaust education program Witness Theater: Voices of History staged a student-led Holocaust remembrance program on April 16 at the Norman Pattiz Concert Hall at Hamilton High School.

More than 30 students from 11 local high schools wrote, directed and acted in dramatic vignettes inspired by the stories of Holocaust survivors Mary Bauer, Eva Wartnik, Tomas Kovar and Joe Alexander. Alexander, born in Poland, survived 12 camps during the war.

Ann Noble and Talya Waldman directed the performance, which culminated with the students and survivors appearing together onstage in front of an audience of more than 500 people.

This marked the first year that Witness Theater has staged a production in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Beth Jacob Congregation served as partners on the production.

From left: Friends of Sheba Medical Center supporter Marilyn Ziering and 2018 Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award recipient Dvorah Colker attend the Friends of Sheba Women of Achievement luncheon. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.

Friends of Sheba Medical Center held its annual Women of Achievement Luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on April 26, raising more than $350,000 to benefit Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer.

Drawing 450 attendeees, the event honored Judy Flesh Rosenberg with the Women of Achievement Award and Dvorah Colker with the Marjorie Pressman Legacy Award. Helene Boston and Parvin Djavaheri co-chaired. Lynn Ziman served as the honorary chair and Beverly Cohen the vice chair.

Serving as the emcee, Israeli-American actress Moran Atias (“Tyrant”) highlighted Sheba Medical Center’s position at the forefront of the fight against cancer. Sheba patient Tamir Gilat discussed his battle against an aggressive form of cancer under the care of Sheba Medical Center, thanking Sheba’s remarkable staff for providing world-class treatment, hope, and support to him and his entire family.

“We were very happy to welcome so many new friends to our community and together make a direct impact on cancer treatment worldwide,” Friends of Sheba Medical Center President Parham Zar aid after the event.

Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer is the largest and most comprehensive medical center in the Middle East. It combines an acute care hospital and a rehabilitation hospital on one campus, and it is at the forefront of medical treatments, patient care, cutting-edge research and education. As a university teaching hospital affiliated with the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel-Aviv University, it welcomes people from all over the world. ”

Esther Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, and human relations consultant Lloyd Wilkey speak at the Museum of Tolerance screening of Katie Couric’s new National Geographic series. Photo courtesy of Museum of Tolerance.

The Museum of Tolerance on April 25 screened “White Anxiety,” the fourth episode of Katie Couric’s new documentary series, “America Inside Out,” which is airing on the National Geographic Channel this month.

Couric’s six-part series is about social upheaval across the United States, which is why the Museum of Tolerance was interested in screening the film for the Jewish community of Los Angeles, Museum of Tolerance communications director Michele Alkin told the Journal.

“The Museum of Tolerance plays a crucial role in bringing people together for solutions-oriented community dialogue that has a call to positive action,” Alkin said. “We are working with people with whom we have worked many times in the past on films with a social action message.”

The audience of 300 at the Museum of Tolerance enthusiastically  embraced the theme of Couric’s series.

Speakers included human relations consultant Lloyd Wilkey and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change.

“White Anxiety,” which premiered on May 2, is about large numbers of immigrants pouring into small, insular communities often dominated by a single industry, and about technology taking over traditional working-class jobs. Both developments ignite social and labor upheaval.

The Couric series carries titles including “Re-Righting History” and “The Muslim Next Door.” The series’ finale, “The Age of Outrage,” will air May 16 on the National Geographic Channel.

Ari Noonan, Contributing Writer

Yom HaShoah Event Looks Back, Forward

Screenshot from Facebook.

“Since the 1950s, Holocaust survivors have taken on two simultaneous missions: shaping and preserving the memory of the Shoah on the one hand, and constructive social action on the other.”

Those were the opening remarks by Museum of Tolerance Director Liebe Geft, emcee at the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration event on April 12 at the museum, part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The event’s standing-room-only crowd included dignitaries and guests from more than 15 countries, along with speakers, students and survivors.

As attendees entered the hall before the official ceremony, images of survivors, along with their birthdates, birthplaces and Holocaust stories unfurled onscreen with the Simon Wiesenthal quote: “Hope lives when people remember.”

The quote aptly highlighted the fact that, throughout the year, Holocaust survivors speak at the Museum of Tolerance four or five times a day to share their experiences and life lessons. However, with the number of survivors dwindling, it also emphasized the importance of continuing education and commemorating the solemn anniversary.

“You are truly an inspiration to us all,” said Consulate General of the State of Israel Sam Grundwerg, himself a grandson of Holocaust survivors and the great grandson of those who perished.

“Today we fulfill our sacred obligation to remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered,” he continued. “The sacred obligation is not merely to remember the past, it’s an obligation to learn its lessons, and most importantly to apply them to the present in order to secure the future of our people.

“Let us pay tribute to the heroes that contributed substantially to the State of Israel and the rebuilding of Jewish families and communities throughout the world. And also let us be grateful and proud that the Jews are once again a sovereign nation.”

“If there is a flourishing Jewish state in 2018, it is because of the sacrifice of our survivors, who clawed their way out of despair to fight in the War of Independence in 1948.” — Rabbi Abraham Cooper

A high point of the event was the emotional reunion of Alice Weit (nee Gerstel) and Simon Gronowski, two Belgian Holocaust survivors who hadn’t seen each other in 76 years. (After Weit discovered her maiden name mentioned in Gronowski’s book, they connected online and via phone, and finally met in L.A.) Gronowski’s mother, Hannah, hid the Gerstels, and later helped Gronowski, who was 10 at the time. He was the only one in his family to survive.

Belgian Consul General Henri Vantieghem said it was important for Belgium to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust, to promote equality between people and tolerance among the population. He referred to Gronowski’s story as one of love, hope and humanity. “Thank you for [showing] happiness can triumph over disaster,” he said.

Perhaps the most impassioned remarks came from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He shared anti-Semitic memes and images, and talked about the mainstreaming of Holocaust denial, last month’s brutal murder of Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris, and other horrors around the world.

“The Nazis had two goals: murder all Jewish lives and eradicate Jewish life,” he said. “If there is a flourishing Jewish state in 2018, it is because of the sacrifice of our survivors, who clawed their way out of despair to fight in the War of Independence in 1948, married and brought children into the world, rebuilt Jewish life in Israel and across the globe, despite the horrors and losses they experienced.”

The program closed with the singing of Psalm 22 by Cantor Arik Wollheim of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills.

After the event, attendees were on hand for the reopening of Pulitzer Prize-
winning photographer Marissa Roth’s “Witness to Truth,” a permanent exhibit of portraits of survivors who serve as the museum’s docents.

The rapper and the rabbi: Ice Cube and Rabbi Abraham Cooper heal old wounds

Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper and rapper, actor and event emcee Ice Cube. Photo by Marissa Roth

Ice Cube, the well-known rapper and actor, was about the last person anyone might have expected to emcee the recent Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum of Tolerance 2017 National Tribute Dinner.

It wasn’t so long ago that Cube and the Center had a nasty feud over lyrics to a 1991 song that some interpreted as anti-Semitic.

Yet there he was at an event on April 5 at the Beverly Hilton to honor Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBC Universal, who had requested that Cube — real name, O’Shea Jackson — lead the festivities.

“It was an opportunity to close a circle that was a long time in the making. “We did a schmooze before the event,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, who was embroiled in the controversy with Cube at the time.

The song at issue, “No Vaseline,” had called out Jerry Heller, the manager of the Cube’s rap group, N.W.A., before Ice Cube started a solo career.

Cube blamed Heller, who was Jewish, for problems that had befallen N.W.A.

“It’s a case of divide and conquer, ‘cause you let a Jew break up my crew.” Cube rapped on “No Vaseline,” which drew immediate condemnation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Cooper responded, “We’re not asking Ice Cube to mask the reality of the streets. By all means flag the social problems, but don’t exploit them by turning a professional spat between a former manager and an artist into a racial dispute.”

“I respect Jewish people because they’re unified. I wish black people were as unified,” Cube shot back.

Cooper and Cube took their back-and-forth to television screens, appearing on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“The last time [we saw each other] was spending an hour-plus on the set in Chicago with Oprah and back then in those days, the early Oprah days, we were more like guests in the middle of a lion’s den,” Cooper said in a phone interview this week. “It was a very raucous crowd.”

Cooper told the Journal he’d never been a fan of rap music – he said he was “from a generation before.” He described himself as more of a “Four Seasons guy.”

It was possible, he said, he had been too hard on Cube due to his lack of understanding of what informed his lyrics, adding that their “interaction [at that time] was right at the beginning of that stuff,” when people did not think rap music had any kind of cultural future.

“He was claiming at the time, and I think he probably was correct, that there was an authenticity to his anger,” Cooper said. “He was reporting from a different part of the planet.”

Betty Cohen: At 95, ‘bionic woman’ still going strong

Betty Cohen, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor, is unsure if all the time she spends telling her story has amounted to anything. 

“Is it worth it, or do I make a fool of myself?” Cohen says at the conclusion of a recent interview in the apartment on Beverly Glen Boulevard that she shares with her daughter, Hedy van der Fluit, and their two dogs, Lady and Ace.

A widow, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Cohen was born in the Netherlands, interned at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and lost both of her parents to the crematoria. She said she last saw them on May 22, 1944, and has lots of questions for God.

“I ask Him all the time,” she said. “ ‘Why did it happen?’ ”

Cohen has regular speaking engagements at the Museum of Tolerance and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, where her video testimony is featured in the “Tree of Testimony” permanent exhibition.

But that’s not the half of what she’s up to these days. Despite her age, Cohen volunteers every Thursday at the UCLA Medical Center gift shop and has been volunteering at the medical center in some capacity for almost 30 years. It’s one way that she has kept busy, she said, ever since she stopped working for her son’s music retail business 33 years ago at the urging of her children. 

Cohen takes Uber multiple times a day to the various routine destinations in her life, including the medical center and Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Koreatown, where she studies Torah every Saturday morning with her daughter and volunteers every Sunday for the synagogue food bank. 

Her work at the hospital began with spending time with young patients. She recalls bonding with a boy with autism before she left for a visit to Holland. Upon her return, the boy was gone. He had died. 

“He was a sick boy,” she said. Afterward, she decided she did not want to volunteer with child patients anymore, so she started visiting patients just out of surgery. As she grew older, she felt the need to do simpler work, and today she helps in the gift shop. 

Among her responsibilities for the Wilshire Boulevard Temple food bank are picking up day-old bagels from Noah’s Bagels on Larchmont Boulevard — her Uber driver always waits while she retrieves them — and helping to distribute fresh vegetables, potatoes, bread and yogurt to food bank visitors. She said she is grateful to have somewhere to go every Sunday morning and enjoys her relationship with the other volunteers as well as the regular guests at the food bank.

She goes most places by Uber and sits in the front passenger seat, a chance to get to know her drivers. Just back from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where she related her survivor story to a group of 35 law enforcement officials, she said the Uber driver who brought her home was a young Israeli man who wanted to take her to Las Vegas. 

The sprightly Cohen exercises regularly at the senior center in Culver City, despite having a pacemaker, hearing aids and two new hips. She calls herself the “bionic woman” and says she talks to God every night — that she is ready to go as soon as He’ll have her.

Her daughter and roommate, who is a high school teacher, says no one is more deserving than her mother of being recognized for good deeds in the local community.

“She’s one of a kind,” she said.

Why are liberals bashing Michael Oren?

After interviewing former ambassador Michael Oren last week at the Museum of Tolerance, and reading countless articles attacking him, I think I’ve figured out why his new book, “Ally,” has struck such a sensitive nerve, especially with pro-Obama liberal Zionists.

In case you’ve been on Mars lately, Oren has been under relentless attack for his candid and sharp criticism of President Barack Obama and his policies, which he believes have hurt Israel. As his friend Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in the Times of Israel, “Michael has been called everything from a publicity hound to a virtual traitor sacrificing Israel’s relations with its most important ally for the sole purpose of selling books.”

What is disappointing is that much of the criticism has little to do with the main thrust of the book, which is Obama’s record on Israel and the Middle East. Why is that?  .

After all, it’s not as if liberal Zionists who support Obama can’t handle criticism of their president – they live with that all the time. What is it about Oren’s particular criticism that has made so many of them so defensive?

The candid analysis in “Ally” serves as a cautionary tale for all future leaders and activists who care about the two-state solution.

It’s not just what you’re hearing — that the Obama administration and its supporters are concerned that Oren’s criticism of the Iranian nuclear deal will undermine final negotiations. That is a part of it, but there’s more.

Think about it. What is the crown jewel of liberal Zionist aspirations? What is the one thing they crave above all else that will secure a Jewish and democratic Israel? That’s right, the two-state solution.

Oren’s book is threatening to liberal Zionists because it makes a compelling case that their hero Obama has severely undermined the very thing they crave – negotiations towards a two-state solution.

With the sharp eye of a historian, Oren explains how, in Obama’s zeal to create diplomatic “daylight” with Israel while reaching out to the Arab/Muslim world, Obama brought terminal darkness to the peace process.

By making Israeli settlements the major obstacle to peace, Obama ignored fundamental obstacles such as chronic Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state and the teaching of Jew-hatred in Palestinian society. By pressuring only Israel — the one party that has, in the past, evacuated settlements and made peace offers that got rejected — he gave Palestinian leadership zero incentive to negotiate, let alone make any concessions.

While Prime Minister Netanyahu’s grating style and bunker mentality certainly didn’t help matters, Oren reminds us that, despite opposition from his own party, Netanyahu declared support for a two-state solution and implemented a settlement freeze that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “unprecedented.” In any case, once Obama launched his “pressure only Israel” policy at the beginning of his term, the die of failure was cast.

From the get-go, Obama’s approach turned off the majority of Israelis and made them unwilling to take more risks for peace. In one of the crucial insights of his book, Oren notes that Israelis take risks when they feel secure there is no daylight with America, and that having no daylight on military security but plenty of daylight on diplomacy simply doesn’t work in the Middle East.

The irony, of course, is that Obama’s obsession with pressuring Israel ended up killing the incentive for both sides to negotiate. This is not a personal criticism of Obama, it’s an anatomy of a failure. Even if you believe that the president was motivated by “tough love” for Israel, it’s hard not to conclude that his policy resulted in one big failure for both sides.

This is a painful pill for many liberal Zionists to swallow, especially when delivered by a reputable historian and longtime champion of the two-state solution. Oren’s credible voice has forced his critics to confront the unpleasant possibility that it was their man Obama – and not the hated Netanyahu – who failed them the most on a cause they so cherish.

The candid analysis in “Ally” serves as a cautionary tale for all future leaders and activists who care about the two-state solution. Instead of demonizing Oren, his critics should engage him on the substance. For starters, a good debate coming out of his book would be this: Who is most responsible for the failure of the peace process — Obama, Netanyahu or Abbas?

Right now, because most of the attention is on the endgame negotiations with Iran, it’s easy to overlook the sorry saga of the failed negotiations with the Palestinians. But this is an issue that will not go away. If you want to better understand the hysterical reaction to Oren’s book, his analysis of this saga is a good place to start.

Oren had the chutzpah to tell diehard Obama supporters something they never wanted to hear, and, in return, he got weapons of mass distraction.

Watch the full event: A Special Evening with Michael Oren


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Michael Oren responds to ‘Ally’ backlash at local event

Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren’s dual loyalties — and his frustration with the growing separation between Israel and America — were evident in his remarks July 1 when he appeared at the Museum of Tolerance to discuss his recently released, controversial memoir.

“Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide” (Random House) is an autobiographical account following an American native who made aliyah and renounced his American citizenship in order to serve in the Israeli government.

“I always thought of myself as a person who can span the divides,” Oren, who is based in Tel Aviv, said during the 90-minute event, which was billed as “A Special Evening with Michael Oren” and drew a crowd of about 300 people.

The book is, as times, critical of President Barack Obama’s approach to Israel, alleging that he hurt the U.S.-Israel alliance by putting “daylight” between the countries and by implementing policy decisions that caught Israel by surprise. 

Watch the full event. Story continues after the video.

Museum of Tolerance Director Liebe Geft delivered an introduction, and Oren then spoke for approximately 20 minutes before participating in a lengthy back-and-forth with Journal President David Suissa, who joined the former ambassador onstage. Oren attributed the current divide between the two countries to the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama just see the world differently. 

“You have two men who have profoundly different worldviews,” said Oren, a historian who served as ambassador from 2009-2013 and now is a member of the centrist Kulanu Party in the Knesset. 

He called Obama “political correctness incarnate” and said that Netanyahu has no patience for that trait. But he also laid blame, in part, on American-Jewish writers who, he said, author op-eds criticizing Israel. 

“Open up any op-ed page — it’s a bunch of Jews yelling at each other,” he said in one of many remarks that garnered laughs from the audience. 

A theme in the book is dual loyalty, Oren said, explaining he is open about being loyal to both the U.S. and Israel. But, he added, somewhere along the line he made the conscious decision to prioritize his loyalty to Israel. (That said, he still loves his native land, particularly American football.) 

Oren has acknowledged the intentional timing of the book’s release coinciding with the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, of which he is a critic. 

At the Museum of Tolerance event, he discussed the backlash he has faced since the book’s June 23 publication as well as the reaction to op-ed essays he published in advance of the book. Some critics have been from the Jewish community itself, including Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman, who described a section of an Oren essay published in Foreign Policy Magazine that draws a connection between Obama’s attempts to create inroads with the Arab world and the president’s relationship with his “Muslim father” as “amateur psychoanalysis.”

“What’s sad to me is it has to do with the state of American-Jewish leadership,” Oren said regarding the backlash, referring to how American-Jewish leaders are far from united in their opinions about Israel. 

He also said he is unhappy with how personal the criticisms have become over the last couple of weeks. 

“The attacks on the book haven’t been about the book. They’ve been about me,” he said.

The crowd skewed older and was, judging by the frequent breakouts of applause, sympathetic to Oren’s message. But he also spoke of the importance of cultivating young Jewish leaders in their 20s and 30s who would dedicate themselves to nurturing positive relations between the U.S. and Israel. This, he said, is the key to improving frayed relations between the two countries. 

He treated the crowd to a discussion of, among other things, his experience writing a book from the first-person point of view, which was an intense and personal process. 

“Yes, it took me a year to write, but it really took me more than five decades to write,” he said. 

“I urge you to accept my earnestness in saying if I hadn’t written the book, I don’t know if could have lived with myself. … I wrote it for the love of my country and the love of my people,” he said, “and I hope that comes across in the book.”

‘A Sacred Culture Rebuilt’ at Museum of Tolerance

Just inside the fluorescent-lit room, six picnic-style tables were supplied with arts and crafts essentials: scissors, glue sticks and stock photos. 

“A lot of survivors don’t have pictures,” said Lori Shocket, artist and curator of the hands-on exhibition, so she came prepared with a Ziploc baggie filled with spare images: cut-outs of Auschwitz, yellow Jude stars and cattle cars.

On Nov. 9, five Holocaust survivors attended the first of four workshops held at the Museum of Tolerance (MOT). (The final workshop will take place on Dec. 7 and a fifth workshop will be held in Las Vegas on Dec. 14.) 

Survivors were told to bring pictures, documents and memorabilia — anything that held meaning and helped to tell their story. 

Those artifacts were scanned, printed, cut out and placed on a 10-by-10 canvas board. The boards will be displayed and digitized in an exhibition called “Memory Reconstruction: A Sacred Culture Rebuilt.” 

“The exhibit, although it’s conceived by me, is actually done by the survivors,” Shocket said. “They’re the artists, in essence.” 

At the workshop, a 15-year-old volunteer, part of the museum’s MOTivating Youth Volunteer Program, helped Holocaust survivor Albert Rosa, 98, paste a black-and-white cutout of Auschwitz onto his collage. This is where his family perished 70 years ago. 

“I remember those tracks,” he told the volunteer.

Shocket is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, artist Siegfried Knop. “When I grew up, he never told me any part of his Holocaust story, just little bits, and I could never grasp them,” she said.

But that changed two years ago, when Shocket and her father started painting together. 

“Once we started painting, it was like a door opened, and he started talking about his story, every detail, and it was amazing to hear.” These in-studio talks eventually inspired a series of collaborative paintings by the father-daughter duo.

After hearing her father’s stories, she realized how crucial it was to document survival stories. At the time, Shocket had just finished a 15-foot installation titled “The Human Element Project” for a temporary exhibition at the USC Institute for Genetic Medicine Art Gallery, shown from July to October of this year, before moving to a permanent collection at DOW Research and Technology Center in Collegeville, Pa. 

The massive installation consisted of 118 anatomical portraits, each canvas representing an element on the periodic chart.

Shocket adapted the concept to this current project. Using the periodic table as her muse, she is collecting 118 (the number of elements) collaged testimonies for the final exhibition.  Each testimony represents an element on the table. 

“They’re like sound bites of their experiences, visual vignettes,” the artist explained.

The centerpiece will be a collaborative painting by Shocket, her father and artist Doni Silver Simons, which will tie together the concept of the project.

When the survivor participants arrived at the first workshop, Shocket showed them examples of finished collages, one of which was her father’s. 

“That’s him,” she said, referring to a black-and-white photograph of a boy with slicked-back hair. 

“And that’s his sister,” she said, pointing to a faded picture of a woman reading on a Berlin balcony, with a curtain of Nazi flags behind her suspended from buildings. Beside her photo was the last letter her father ever received from his sister. 

Some survivors came to the MOT with their families, others came alone.

Avrami Hacker, 13, was joined by his father, Adi, and his grandfather, Ernst. Three generations of Hackers worked on the collages. Avrami wanted to do a project for his upcoming bar mitzvah, and, because he’s part of MOT’s teen program, he’d heard about the workshop. 

“This is so special,” Avrami said. “I learned about the camps where my grandfather went, and the letters he sent from Theresienstadt [concentration camp] to his friends in Vienna.” 

Like Shocket’s studio session with her father, the workshops gave survivors a chance to reminisce as they combed through old photographs.

Especially with this project, time is of the essence. 

When Liebe Geft, director of the MOT, first heard about Shocket’s artistic vision, she knew she wanted to debut the completed exhibition at the museum’s next Yom HaShoah commemoration in April 2015. 

Geft explained, “In order to do that, we really had to accelerate the process and schedule workshops, do the outreach and identify the partners. And Lori’s working at triple speed.”

After everyone else had finished their collaged elements and gone home, survivor Elizabeth Mann was still working on her collage. 

The remaining volunteers and staff members sat around her as she held court. With the room nearly empty, she talked about her youth, growing up in Kecskemet, Hungary, about her father and mother and about playing the piano. 

“I never played the piano again after my parents were killed,” Mann said. “Never again.”

“The numbers in the Shoah are staggering, they are unfathomable,” Geft said. “It’s difficult to relate to these numbers. But one person, one name, one face makes it very personal.”

School assignment in Rialto revised after ADL, Wiesenthal condemnation

An assignment for eighth-graders in the Rialto Unified School District asking them to use critical thinking skills to determine whether or not the Holocaust occurred has been revised following condemnation by the local branch of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.

After learning about the assignment last week, the ADL reached out to the school district, located west of San Bernardino. In an email to the district, Matthew Friedman, associate regional director for the ADL, said,  “It is ADL’s general position that an exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust Denial.”

Friedman, a Holocaust education specialist for the ADL region, explains that it is extremely dangerous to ask junior high school students to question the validity of the Holocaust on their own, especially given the mass amount of misinformation and inaccuracy on denial websites.

“If these questions do come up, it’s better to show the huge preponderance of evidence that’s out there — testimony, documentation, death camp sites, archaeology, etc. — and to also critically examine the motivations of people who question the reality of the Holocaust. This is more of an issue of teaching good information literacy,” Friedman’s stated.

The district responded within a couple of days to indicate that it was revising the assignment “with sensitivity and deep consideration to those who fell victim to the Holocaust,” according to the ADL.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center, called the assignment “grotesque.”

“If the teacher involved wanted to help his or her student understand the nature of hate propaganda, they should have assigned them to research the sources of the bigotry — totalitarian governments like Iran, neo-Nazi groups and bigoted pseudo-intellectuals,” he said in a statement.

“The Nazi Holocaust is the most documented monstrous crime in history. This assignment mistakenly provides moral equivalency between history and bigotry. There are people who claim that slavery was a good thing and the Flat Earth Society has a presence online. Does that mean we would ask our students to prepare argumentative essays to such outrageous and patently falsehoods,” Cooper said.

“We urge the Rialto School District to come to the Museum of Tolerance, learn about Anne Frank and the 1.5 million other Jewish children who were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust for the crime of being born Jewish.”

The ADL does not have evidence that the assignment was instructed as part of a larger, insidious, agenda, according to its officials, who thanked the district for its swift response to this matter and offered further educational assistance including teacher training in the ADL’s Holocaust Education curriculum, Echoes and Reflections – Leaders in Holocaust Education, in partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem.

Will Jews reject Donald Sterling gifts?: Jewish organizations recoil at Clippers owner’s comments

[UPDATE, May 2] David Suissa's conversation with Donald Sterling


Recent comments attributed to Donald Sterling, the Jewish owner of the Los Angeles Clippers who was banned for life from the league by the NBA's commissioner on April 29, have been denounced as racist by numerous area Jewish organizations, some of which have received donations amounting to tens of thousands of dollars from the embattled owner.

A search of public records, made available through the website Guidestar.com, indicates that from 2010 to 2012, the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave at least $10,000 to groups including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles (JVS) and the Museum of Tolerance.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, supported NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s actions. The museum received three donations of $10,000 between 2010-2012, according to Guidestar.com.

“There’s no place in America for this kind of racism,” Hier told the Journal. “We believe the action to ban him for life is correct, and we will not accept any donations from Donald Sterling in the future.”

The NBA commissioner’s action “is what should happen whenever someone makes anti-Semitic or racist remarks, as millions of people are touched by this view,” Hier said.

Federation CEO and President Jay Sanderson made clear in an April 29 phone interview with the Journal that his organization also would not consider future donations. It received $10,000 in 2012.

“Donald Sterling is clearly not a member of the Jewish community,” Sanderson said. “He has chosen to make small gifts to a large number of organizations. … We are appalled and abhor the comments Sterling made. We condemn Sterling for his comments, and we plan on not accepting his gifts in the future.”

On April 25, a recording was released in which the billionaire Sterling — who grew up Donald Tokowitz in Boyle Heights and is a member of Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills — allegedly is heard having a conversation with his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, and he asks her not to bring black people to basketball games. In the recordings, the man tries to justify his controversial comments by saying that, in Israel, blacks are “treated like dogs.”

The NBA’s commissioner placed a lifetime ban upon Sterling, as well as a fine of $2.5 million, the maximum amount allowed under the NBA constitution. Silver said at the press conference that he would do everything in his power to rally the NBA governing body into forcing a sale. Since this story broke, several of the Clippers’ major sponsors, including longtime partners CarMax and State Farm, have either suspended or terminated their deals with the team.

An April 28 statement from JVS Board President Jim Hausberg and CEO Vivian Seigel described the reported comments from Sterling as “deplorable” and “indefensible.”

“We are shocked and stunned by the blatant racism of these alleged remarks, particularly from Mr. Sterling, who has been a supporter of many nonprofit organizations and understands the tragic consequences of discrimination and anti-Semitism,” it said.

The organization received a total of $30,000 from the Sterling Foundation between 2010 and 2012, and used the funds to support work with at-risk, foster and on-probation youth, according to the statement, which did not comment on the possibility of future donations.

The Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust received identical gifts that were spent to provide free Holocaust education, according to a statement from its board. Looking ahead to the potential of future donations, the statement asked the question: “If funds that have already been committed to charity cannot be distributed to organizations that are committed to fighting bigotry, how else should they be used?

“Perhaps Mr. Sterling and his family will choose to make amends … by redoubling his donations to organizations that combat the very corrosive disease from which he obviously suffers. That would seem to be the appropriate way forward from this debacle.”

In all, the Donald T. Sterling Foundation has made donations to more than 10 Los Angeles Jewish organizations over the last three years, according to Guidestar.com:

Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles: $50,000 (2010).

Beit T’Shuvah: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Los Angeles Jewish Home: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Museum of Tolerance: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Vista Del Mar: $10,000 (2010); $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging: $10,000 (2011); $10,000 (2012).

Creative Arts Temple: $10,000 (2012).

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles: $10,000 (2012).

Temple of the Arts: $10,000 (2012).

Calendar November 9-15

SUN | NOV 10

AN UNCOMMON JOURNEY

Siblings Deborah Strobin and Ilie Wacs, survivors of Kristallnacht, will share their experience and discuss their memoir, “An Uncommon Journey,” during the Museum of Tolerance’s Kristallnacht commemoration. A book signing will follow. Advanced reservations recommended. Sun. 3 p.m. Free (with museum admission). 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 772-2504. ” target=”_blank”>aju.edu.

“GREETING THE SEASON: THE DECEMBER DILEMMA IN AMERICAN JEWISH POP CULTURE”

Merry Christmas — whether you like it or not. Author and Rutgers University Jewish studies scholar Jeffrey Shandler discusses the unique impact Christmas has on American Jews’ celebration of Chanukah in an era of consumerism and public displays. The lecture will be followed by commentary with Josh Kun, associate professor with the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism as well as the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity. Sun. 4:30 p.m. Free. Please RSVP. The Davidson Conference Center, 3425 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. ” target=”_blank”>sierramadreplayhouse.org


TUE | NOV 12

KRISTALLNACHT COMMEMORATION

The Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts and the Jewish studies program of Loyola Marymount University (LMU) host their annual commemoration of Kristallnacht. With prose in both Yiddish and English, song and commentary featuring Cantor Jennifer Bern-Vogel, it will be a moving evening with the help of pianist Tova Morcos. A short film about LMU students in Poland studying the Holocaust will be premiered. A reception follows the program. Tue. 7 p.m. Free. LMU University Hall, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-7664. THU | NOV 14

EMIL DRAITSER

The Ukrainian author and scholar discusses “Laughing all the Way to Freedom: Social Functions of Jewish Humor of Modern-Day Exodus.” How were Jews able to create communities and hold on to their identity when society told them no? Jewish “jokelore” of course! Draitser draws from his book “Taking Penguins to the Movies: Ethnic Humor in Russia” and addresses the vital social role of Jewish humor. A Q-and-A with sociology professor Gail Kligman follows the lecture. Thur. Noon. Free. 10383 Bunche Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles. (310) 825-8030. ” target=”_blank”>jfsla.org.


FRI | NOV 15

“AFTERMATH”

When a secret is learned, two Polish brothers must revisit their perception of their father, family, neighbors and the history of their nation. Winner of the Yad Vashem Award at the 2013 Jerusalem Film Festival and the Critics’ Prize at the 2012 Gdynia Film Festival, “Aftermath,” inspired by actual events, has caused such a controversy with the Polish right wing, it has been banned from some local cinemas. Come and learn what all the fuss is about. Fri. Various times. $11 (general), $8 (seniors, ages 11 and under, bargain matinee). Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. ” target=”_blank”>shalominstitute.com

Anne Frank’s legacy is brought to life at Museum of Tolerance

Push past a set of double doors hidden in a corner on the second floor of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance and suddenly the world of 1932 Frankfurt, Germany, comes clamoring to life. Street sounds clog a narrow passageway leading past a 3-D blueprint of the city, where paneled mirrors reflect passers-by as if they were literally walking the tenement-lined streets; this is Germany when it was just another country, when Frankfurt was innocent, still home to thousands of Jews and, most memorably, one in particular. 

At the end of a ramp, the scene gives way to a window-lined corridor where Frankfurt’s most famous resident — Annelies Marie Frank — greets you in colossus. Her youthful, happy image is blown out over a giant backlit wall that faces out toward the city of Los Angeles. The contours of her face emerge in shadowy form, not drawn or photographed but digitally etched through the careful arrangement of words from her diary. As she brightly faces the Hollywood Hills, she announces herself to the city: “This is a photograph of me as I wished I looked all the time — then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood …”

The exhibition culminates in this room, where brightly colored children’s clothing lines the walls, hinting at hope for the future, and visitors can use interactive tools and social media to write their own commitments to addressing the themes raised in the show. Photos by Benny Chan/Fotoworks

Had she survived the Holocaust, Anne Frank would be delighted to know that she will look exactly the way she liked to look — and look out, quite literally, at Hollywood — all the time. Or at least for the next 10 years, while the Museum of Tolerance hosts the most comprehensive Anne Frank exhibition seen outside of Amsterdam, where the iconic Anne Frank House continues to attract more than a million visitors each year. Last July, a small group of the Museum of Tolerance’s leadership, including dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, museum director Liebe Geft and chief financial officer Susan Burden led the Journal on an exclusive preview tour of the upcoming exhibition, which opens in late October.

[Related: Idols and an icon: Barbra Streisand, Tom Cruise meet Anne Frank]

The show is a post-mortem fulfillment of one of Anne Frank’s great dreams: to visit Hollywood, to see the stars and maybe even become one herself. That the museum chose to concentrate on her “Hollywood” image is revealing, for it not only encapsulates the way Anne Frank wanted to see herself, but how the world most wants to see her: as a doe-eyed young girl, gleaming, glamorous, a literary lioness brimming with life, hope and exuberant dreams. 

Few want to see what Anne Frank actually became: Hitler’s hunted prey, last seen in Bergen-Belsen as a wretched corpse, wasted by deprivation and typhus, languishing alongside other Jewish corpses next to a latrine full of human excrement.

This is the paradox of Anne Frank’s legacy: Is she a buoyant symbol of life? Or a hapless victim of fate? Given such diametrical images, how should we remember her?

On Yom Kippur, a day in which we enact our own death in order to return to our lives with renewed purpose, Anne Frank reminds us of what it takes to live courageously, even in the most dreadful circumstances. If in a world of terrifying uncertainty she could live with dignity, with fire, fine-tuning herself until the very last minute, finding meaning in the direst of conditions, then surely we, too, can live better lives. Through the power of her enduring words, Anne Frank proves captivity cannot confine a soul.

“I want to go on living even after my death!” she wrote in 1944, four months before her family was betrayed.

Unlike most of the 6 million others who shared her fate, Anne Frank has had an unabated afterlife. Thanks to the popularity of her wartime diary, her life has been continuously discussed, dissected and resurrected. Today, nearly seven decades after her father, Otto Frank, decided to publish “The Diary of a Young Girl,” the story of Anne’s life in hiding has been translated into more than 70 languages and sold an estimated tens of millions of copies. It has also turned its author into a literary and historical icon. 

“Simply put, she may be the most famous child of the 20th century,” Indiana University Jewish Studies scholar Alvin Rosenfeld wrote. “It is no exaggeration to say that more people are probably familiar with the Nazi era through the figure of Anne Frank than through any other figure of the period with the possible exception of Adolf Hitler himself.”

For Holocaust scholars, Anne’s legacy presents extraordinary dilemmas. How could Adolf Hitler, a murderous tyrant, and Anne Frank, a 15-year-old Jewish girl, symbolize the same thing? 

One of the reasons the Museum of Tolerance has chosen to mount yet another exploration of the Holocaust’s most famous face is to serve as corrective. Because although Anne Frank’s diary is a powerful testimony of one Jewish family’s experience in hiding, as an educational document about the Holocaust, it falls terribly short. As anyone who has read “The Diary of a Young Girl” knows, the book ends just as the real horrors of the Holocaust begin for its heroine and her family. (This was seen as so problematic early on that later editions of the diary came to include an afterword with historical context.)

“You can read the diary,” explained museum director Geft, who also served as a curator of the exhibition, “but you do not learn anything about Auschwitz. You do not need to contemplate the miserable fate and tragic death of this beautiful child in Bergen-Belsen.”  

“The diary is an anticipatory step,” Rosenfeld said during an interview. “It takes [readers] by the hand and somewhat gently introduces them to what is to come, but never really arrives there.”

“It ends with a wonderful sense of optimism, that human beings are good at heart,” Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University, added. “To which I can respond — if human beings are good at heart, the Holocaust is surely no evidence of that.”

As Cynthia Ozick famously wrote in a 1997 New Yorker essay, “Because the end is missing, the story of Anne Frank … has been bowdlerized, distorted, transmuted, traduced, reduced; it has been infantilized, Americanized, homogenized, sentimentalized; falsified, kitschified, and, in fact, blatantly and arrogantly denied.”

Disturbingly, the detail of Anne’s life that has been most often transmuted, traduced and reduced is her Jewishness. Scholars have even coined an easy term for this assault: de-Judaized. This dispiriting truth began with Otto Frank, who was aware that his daughter’s work would be important to the world, and justified tamping down and editing out its Judeo aspects in order to ensure the broadest possible reception in an anti-Semitic era. 

“This is not stressed enough,” Melissa Müller, author of the recently updated 1998 biography “Anne Frank,” said by phone from Munich. “Otto Frank was the one who after the war decided to universalize her destiny. It was not some public crowd — no stranger made such a thing out of Anne Frank. It was her father.”

Over the years, Anne and her diary have been so thoroughly universalized, romanticized and mythologized — she, the stand-in for 6 million, and it, a tale of human suffering and hope — millions upon millions of readers lack any sense of Anne’s life in its proper context. “The extension of Anne Frank into a metaphor for suffering in general, for inhumanity in general, for racism in general, all of that takes us away from the real life and fate, including, the real death of Anne Frank,” Rosenfeld said.

To read her diary only as a triumphant story of the spirit is to undermine the historical catastrophe that killed her. This show aims to change that. 

At a cost of $3 million, and created with the cooperation of the Anne Frank House and the Anne Frank Fonds (the entity that holds the rights to the diary), along with architect Mehrdad Yazdani of Cannon Design, the Wiesenthal Center’s Moriah Films and the media design firm Cortina Productions in Virginia, the Museum of Tolerance is seeking to resurrect Anne’s complete life story and reclaim the reason she became such a mythic martyr to begin with: Because she was a Jew.

Saturday, 11 July, 1942

Dear Kitty,

Daddy, Mummy, and Margot can’t get used to the sound of the Westertoren clock yet, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. I can. I loved it from the start, and especially in the night it’s like a faithful friend. I expect you will be interested to hear what it feels like to “disappear”; well, all I can say is that I don’t know myself yet. I don’t think I shall ever feel really at home in this house, but that does not mean that I loathe it here, it is more like being on vacation in a very peculiar boardinghouse.

This passage appears early in Anne’s diary, just as her beloved Westertoren clock appears early in the exhibition, marking the transition from Anne’s native Frankfurt to the city of Amsterdam, where the family moved in 1933. A floor-to-ceiling wall delineates the Frank family tree, tracing their lineage throughout Europe — Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland — and their eventual trajectory to the death camps — Westerbork, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen. A few steps farther on is a floating media station featuring a short interview with Anne’s cousin, Buddy Elias, her only living relative, who peppers the exposition of her early life with personal recollections from childhood. 

A digital etching of Anne Frank’s favorite portrait of herself blown out over a large backlit wall glows above Pico Boulevard and faces the Hollywood Hills with the following quote: “This is a photograph of me as I wished I looked all the time, then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood, but now I’m afraid I look quite different.”

Above and adjacent, black-and-white archival footage of street life in Amsterdam — just outside the building where the Franks lived — plays in loop, ending with the sole, celebrated video image of Anne herself, peeping out of her window and gazing longingly outward. The sights and sounds of her world are everywhere.

“For me, architecture always has a narrative,” architect and exhibition designer Yazdani told me later, after the walk-through. “The best thing that can happen with good architecture is that people engage. They walk away with their own interpretation. Sometimes it’s pleasant, sometimes not so pleasant, but they have an emotional reaction. Every exhibition that I was familiar with on Anne Frank’s story had a replica of her room, but we wanted to do something that was more visceral, transformative; that not only told the story in a factual manner, but transported you to become part of her story.” 

This one begins with descent. 

A double flight of stairs leads down past an image of a chestnut tree, the one Anne loved to look at from her attic window in hiding. It is a portent of what’s to come on the lower floor, where a wall woven of brightly colored clothes awaits. 

“Anne Frank was one of 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust,” Hier said when we reached the exhibit’s lower level, where the drama begins. “When they came to Auschwitz or Bergen-Belsen, they were immediately stripped of their clothes,” he added, gesturing toward a wall made of metaphor and modern-day garments. “These are their clothes.” 

As far as the eye can see, the wall of clothes snakes through the installation, leading visitors deeper into Anne’s story. “In this exhibit, there are 17,528 articles of clothing,” Hier said. “If you do that 90 times, you’ll reach 1.5 million. In other words, it’ll take 90 such exhibits to equal 1,500,000 children.”  

“It does make the point that this is a story of many, not just one isolated incident,” Geft added, addressing the critique of Anne Frank’s metonymy over the 6 million victims of the Holocaust.  

In the airy, open space, Hier and Geft speak animatedly about Anne’s life before hiding. There are pictures of her in school, where she struggled to learn Dutch on top of her German; pen-pal letters she and her sister limned in English with a pair of sisters living in Danville, Iowa; and a scrapbook of poems her classmates shared with each other in which Anne transcribed the popular verse, “Pluck roses on earth and forget me not.” 

“These are the symbols of her story,” Geft said as we progressed through the galleries. “We’re telling her story in her own words.”

Anne’s voice and Anne’s words, as spoken by the Jewish actress Hailee Steinfeld, animate and enliven throughout. Steinfeld’s voice is penetrating and bright even as it brings ominous news.

Dear Kitty… After May 1940 good times rapidly fled: first the war, then the capitulation, followed by the arrival of the Germans, which is when the sufferings of us Jews really began. Anti-Jewish decrees followed each other in quick succession … we could not do this, we were forbidden to do that…

The painful proof begins to envelop the visitor: A sign declares Jews forbidden from entering a movie theater, and a photograph shows a synagogue in the Amsterdam neighborhood of Merwedeplein, which later became a distribution center for Hitler’s scarlet-letter stars. There is dark irony in its Hebrew inscription, which translates: “And I shall dwell among the children of Israel and I shall not forsake my people.” 

In desperation, Otto Frank sent letters and telegrams to his college roommate, Nathan Strauss, the owner of Macy’s department store, pleading for assistance in obtaining visas for his family to immigrate to the United States. “I would not ask if conditions here would not force me to do all I can in time to be able to avoid worse. It is for the sake of the children mainly that we have to care for. Our own fate is of less importance,” he wrote.

As the Frank family’s misfortunes begin to close in on them, making the prospect of hiding inevitable, so do the exhibition’s walls start to tighten the space. The once bright blues, pinks and yellows of the children’s clothing turn shades of gray.

Once the gallery turns to the Secret Annexe, the only color comes in the form of the red-and-white-checkered diary Anne received as a gift from her parents, on her 13th birthday. “I want to write,” Steinfeld’s voice speaks for hers, “but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie deep in my heart.”

There is ample evidence of her amusements. She collected film and fashion magazines, posting their photographs of movie stars and royal families on her bedroom wall. But there are also remnants of her quieter, hidden passions: a replica of a Dutch book she read about the history of the Jews, “Palestina op de tweesprong,” or “Palestine of the Crossroads,” and recollections of how the Franks celebrated holidays in hiding. “Anne writes in her diary that her mother, Edith, and her sister, Margot, were absolutely intent on going to Palestine as soon as they could,” Geft said, playfully adding that our heroine had different intentions: “Anne writes that she rather likes the finer things in life — you know, her creature comforts of Europe — and she wasn’t sure if [Palestine] would be a good fit for her. … But they were extremely conscious of their Jewish identity.”

According to record, Otto’s family was not religious but Anne’s mother, Edith, came from a deeply observant family, and an exact edition of one of her prayerbooks appears in the exhibition. 

“We’ve added whatever we thought was left out from other exhibits regarding Anne’s relationship to Judaism and to the Jewish people,” Hier said, citing the museum’s major criticism of previous Anne Frank tributes. “[Her Jewishness] is not even present in the Anne Frank house!”

But even as the museum seeks to bolster the depth of Anne’s Jewish experience, her rebellion against tradition is apparent. Her own characterizations depict her religious inclination as somewhere between tentative and exploratory: “Following Daddy’s good example, Mummy has pressed her prayer book into my hand,” she wrote in October 1942. “For decency’s sake, I read some of the prayers in German; they are certainly beautiful but they don’t convey much to me. Why does she force me to be pious, just to oblige her?” 

“Anne Frank was no saint,” Hier admitted, adding that the much-mythologized girl almost incessantly quarreled with the others in hiding, especially her mother. In her diary, Anne even portrays herself as a rascally know-it-all: “You needn’t think it’s easy to be the ‘badly brought-up’ central figure of a hypercritical family in hiding,” she tells us. And yet, the tendency to want to see her as a flawless figure of pure goodness, a prodigy child that never realized her exceptional genius remains. 

“Look, she had extraordinary talents as a writer,” biographer Mueller said. “But she was not what we call a ‘wunderkind’ — not at all. From what I learned from people who knew her, she had talents, but she was not a kind of Mozart.”

Anne was certainly the star of her own psychodrama, much of which is revealed as you reach the exhibition’s climax. Behind a bookcase that must be pried open is the “Secret Annexe,” a round room with wall-to-wall wide screens that envelop you in her space and her story. For 10 minutes, in a film produced by Cortina Productions, Anne narrates her experience of the war, in an abridged re-enactment of her diary conveyed by actors in silhouette. 

Dear Kitty, 

So much has happened. It is as if the whole world has turned upside down …

With the actors’ faces obscured, Anne sounds like any imperiled child. Her dreams sound like the dreams of any teenage girl …

I must have something besides a husband and children, something that I can devote myself to … 

And then, as if on cue, she discovers herself. She begins to intuit the truth of her peril and the depth of her faith.

I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and write, to express all that’s inside me … But … will I ever be able to write something great? 

Beneath all that teenage petulance lies the stirrings of a spiritual soul.

We have been pointedly reminded that we are in hiding, that we are Jews in chains, without any rights, but with a thousand duties … Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now? It is God that has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. 

Where Anne Frank truly astonishes — and where the exhibit most surprises — is in offering us the fruit of her Jewish DNA: a stunning, hopeful realism. For all those charges of youthful naiveté, for living in a time of horrors and still believing in a good world and good men, Anne reveals herself to be wiser than her critics. For all her distance from Jewish practice, Anne’s diary offers us Torah:

If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed will be held up as an example. Who knows, it might even be our religion from which the world and all the peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason only do we have to suffer now. Be brave! God has never deserted our people.

So even as you exit the Secret Annexe and enter the camps, where the wall of clothes has turned black as soot, and you’re brought to bear witness to her terrible fate, her words uplift. Even as four video screens tell of what happened next — that Anne and her family were betrayed, that they were arrested, transported to Westerbork, then Auschwitz, then torn apart. And that Anne finally died at Bergen-Belsen, though no one knows exactly when, but where one of the last eyewitness accounts of her is celebrating Chanukah with her sister, singing Yiddish songs.

Remembering her means remembering all of this: how she lived, who she was and how she died. And that we are permitted this memory because of her diary, because her words have reached across generations and endured. An exact replica of Anne’s diary is the last artifact glimpsed in the exhibition — encased and enthroned, dramatically lit.

“At the end of her story, there is this extraordinary find,” Geft said as we reached the end of the tour. “And we find it the way the world found it.”

Karl Silberbauer, the German police officer who arrested the Frank family had at first dumped Anne’s diary on the floor. Unwittingly, he emptied the contents of Otto Frank’s briefcase, where Anne kept it hidden, in order to fill the bag with loot. “He thought that this was nothing!” Hier said, both appalled by his carelessness and delighted by fate. Later, the Frank’s family friend Miep Gies returned to the Annexe and rescued the diary, safely storing it while the family was deported. And even after Otto survived the camps and went to live with her, it was months before she told him of Anne’s diary — he hadn’t yet given up hope that his wife and daughters were alive.

“The beauty of Anne Frank is that, in the simplicity and naturalness of her writing, we can all identify with her,” Geft said. 

“She’s everybody’s daughter, everybody’s sister,” Hier added. 

“We feel as though we know her,” Geft continued, “the issues that she raises, the feelings, the hopes, the fears that she expresses. And they are as relevant today as they were at the time she wrote them.

“But that’s not her legacy,” she added. “She wrote this against a backdrop of a world being torn asunder by evil and hate. Her ultimate legacy is to confront anti-Semitism, to stand up against injustice and to guard against discrimination and prejudice.” 

As he spoke, Hier reached into his jacket pocked and pulled out a small piece of paper. 

“I just saw this quote from John F. Kennedy, and I wrote it down,” he began. “ ‘Of all the multitudes who throughout history have spoken for human dignity in times of great suffering and loss, no voice is more compelling than that of Anne Frank.’

“What she could have contributed to mankind! To write such things! It gives people an idea of what was lost in the Holocaust; because this was only one person.”

Anne Frank’s story is Anne Frank’s story, which is to say, entirely unique. But it is also a metaphor for the many, and to universalize her tale is not to dilute it, but to find within it the threads of our own history. 

“The truth of the matter is that you really need to focus on one story to personalize a tragedy of this magnitude,” Geft said. “We must focus on the particular, and when we are sensitized by our encounter with the particular, and our hearts and minds are engaged, we can then learn the lessons and apply them to the universal. This is what Anne Frank allows us to do.”

The poets wrote that the death of a child is most painful because it is the death of infinite possibilities. At a baby’s brit milah (bris), a vacant chair is placed near the circumcision to serve as Elijah’s seat, for which the Holocaust scholar Berenbaum offered this interpretation: “We have this tradition in the Jewish tradition, to sit a child down in Elijah’s seat. And what we’re saying is, any child can grow up to be the messiah.”

What if, for the Jews, the desire to see Anne Frank as more of a prophet than an ordinary person is not false idealization but an act of religious insistence? We should remember the dead with their infinite potential, even as we recall how they died. On the High Holy Days, one of God’s many names becomes zocher kol ha-niskachot — the One who remembers everything forgotten. God does not vacillate between legacies but remembers us in our fullness. 

True, Anne Frank was only one of 6 million, but in Judaism, one is a world. And although she is no longer in the world, she would want us to remember this:

“I know what I want,” she wrote. “I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself and then I am satisfied.” 

Today, when we face our own mortality, Anne Frank’s commitment to conscience, to understanding and preserving her own “still small voice,” is not just her legacy but her challenge to us all.

Meeting Louis Sneh

Many years ago, when I was a young, harried father, I would sit in synagogue on Shabbat mornings and try to keep my kids quiet. It was a task I consistently failed at. Their mother, the rabbi, was on the bimah, leading services.  She had the easy job.

Once, I was jiggling my crying daughter, grabbing for my son, juggling Cheerios and sippy cups — all the while feeling the Eyes of Judgmental Parents upon me. Then I heard a voice, “Come here, ketzeleh.”

This grandfatherly man with a soft Eastern European accent, a trim mustache and a well-cut suit took my daughter into his arms. In an instant, she was quiet.

That’s how I got to know Louis Sneh — he was the soft-spoken man who would always reach out to comfort my children.

A year ago, I encountered the other side of Louis Sneh: his past.

I was at a screening of a movie called “Last Train to Seeshaupt” at the Museum of Tolerance.  

And there was Louis on screen, wondering aloud who had the better death — his mother, sent to the gas chamber on her first day in Auschwitz, or his father, who survived a concentration camp but collapsed on a final death march and was shot on the spot?

“He had to suffer for a year first,” Louis said.

Until I saw “Last Train,” I had no idea what hellish crucible Louis Sneh survived. He was 16 years old when the Nazis marched into Hungary, March 19, 1944. He and the Jews of his village of Mezokovacshaza, near Szeged, were deported to Dachau.

The Nazis needed slave laborers to build their underground jet factories. A guard asked for an electrician, and Louis’ hand shot up in the air — even though he came from a town with no electricity.

“Because I raised my hand, I’m here today,” Louis said.

In the final weeks of the war, the Germans closed Louis’s sub-camp and put its 4,000 surviving prisoners on a train through Bavaria.

The 70-car train was a kilometer long and packed tight — with nothing to eat or drink, no toilets, no windows, just the smell, as Louis remembers, of blood and excrement.

Allied planes strafed the train, puncturing its wooden walls. One morning, through the holes, Louis witnessed a dreamlike scene: The SS guards stripped off their uniforms, tossed them and their weapons behind a bush and ran away.

Soon Gen. Patton’s tanks rolled in, and the prisoners — starved, sick, dying — stepped out onto the platform at the Seeshaupt station, free.

Louis calls that day his second birthday.

The documentary also tells what happened afterward in Seeshaupt itself — more on that later.

Louis eventually made his way to pre-state Israel. There, he served in the navy, met his wife, Dina, got a job with National Cash Register and eventually was transferred to the States. He opened his own cash register repair store on Hollywood Boulevard, worked hard, bought some property — became a success.

“It’s the American story, and the Jewish story,” Louis told me last week.

But, almost every year for 30 years, Louis has returned to the small town of Seeshaupt, near Munich. He has found himself taking picture after picture of the same exact thing: the train station and that platform, the site of his rebirth.

Once he decided to wait for a freight train to pass through, so he could recapture that image on film. Dina told him they could be there all day — he should ask the attendant for the schedule. The clerk said, “The last freight train passed here in 1945; it was filled with corpses.” 

Louis said, “You’re looking at one of those corpses.” 

That conversation took place in 1995. The attendant told Louis the town was in the midst of a debate over whether to construct a monument to that train. Louis got involved and grew close to the mayor and others in town, and he was present when the villagers erected a monument to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and to the liberation that took place at Seeshaupt.

In “Last Train to Seeshaupt,” made for German television with English subtitles, local elementary school students visit the memorial and sing Hebrew songs. Its German inscription reads, “Not for hate … but for love … I am.” German high school students visit, and they send letters to Louis.  

“I have faith in the latest generation,” he told me.

As for our children, how many of them will get a chance to meet an actual survivor like Louis Sneh? Memorials and videos are one thing, but time is running out to meet the people for whom, as Louis said, their lives are the story. 

Take advantage of that, now — you and your children. It isn’t just our last opportunity to reach out to them: it’s our duty.

Louis Sneh and other survivors will speak at a screening of “Last Train to Seeshaupt” on April 7 at 7 p.m. at Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. 

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem vandalized

A historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem was vandalized in an apparent price tag attack.

Stars of David, as well as the phrases “death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead” were discovered spray painted on gravestones in the Mamilla Cemetery in central Jerusalem on Thursday, according to reports.

The cemetery dates back to at least the 11th century, and was an active burial site up until 1927. Part of the cemetery was turned into a parking lot in 1964.

Fifteen gravestones were vandalized in the same cemetery in a November 2011 attack.

Price tag refers to the strategy that extremist settlers and their supporters have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

The cemetery was at the center of controversy over the site of the planned Museum of Tolerance. Skeletons were moved from the building site adjacent to the cemetery and reburied in order to prepare the ground for construction of the museum, according to reports. Construction had been delayed on the museum from its groundbreaking in 2004 until final approval in 2011.

Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich: Soviet gulag survivor’s courage

It was standing room only at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, as a crowd packed the Hertz Theatre to hear Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, the celebrated Russian refusenik and author, stress the importance of standing up for one’s principles. 

The former prisoner of conscience, now 65, discussed the turbulent years in the former Soviet Union leading up to an attempt to hijack a Soviet plane to Sweden and his eventual 12-year imprisonment in a Soviet gulag. The Riga, Latvia-born Mendelevich, who had a nonreligious upbringing and became an Orthodox rabbi after his release, is touring following the English-language publication of his biography “Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage, and Survival” (Gefen Publishing House). 

The Oct. 28 evening discussion, followed by a Q-and-A session and book signing, likely will not be Mendelevich’s final visit to Los Angeles or to the Museum of Tolerance. In addition to helping to launch the West Coast leg of the “Unbroken Spirit” book tour, the museum is hoping to assemble an exhibition on the oppression of Soviet Jews that would prominently feature Mendelevich, according to the museum’s director, Liebe Geft. 

Museum officials and volunteers have a personal connection to Mendelevich and his story. While living in Israel in the 1970s, Geft helped Mendelevich’s sister petition for her brother’s release and bring attention to the plight of Soviet Jews, even meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and doing a presentation for then-CIA Director George H. W. Bush. 

At that time, in Los Angeles, another future Museum of Tolerance volunteer, Myrtle Sitowitz, was among the Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry. This group of housewives sent countless letters to the Soviet Union and, on one occasion, staged a silent protest at a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet.

“We were not getting a good name for ourselves,” said Sitowitz, “but when you fight for something with a purpose, you’re not going to get a good name.”

Geft called Mendelevich “a hero of the Jewish people and of freedom-loving people the world over.” The rabbi, who now lives in Israel and teaches at the Machon Meir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, said he had far more practical motives. 

 “My reason for publishing the book was to help all Jews, (including) new generations, to prevent assimilation, to teach them Jewish values,” Mendelevich told the gathering. “Everything needs sacrifice. If you buy the book, use it as a weapon to continue the fight.”

Fight, Mendelevich did and has done for most of his adult life.

“Unbroken Spirit” chronicles Mendelevich’s work with the Jewish underground (he edited a newsletter on Jewish issues). In the late 1960s, as anti-Israel sentiment increased in Russia, Mendelevich and his fellow dissidents began to seek out ways both to leave the country and to call attention to the plight of Soviet Jews. Along with former Soviet military pilot Mark Dymshits and several others — including non-Jews — Mendelevich hit upon the idea of taking a 12-seat civilian plane, diverting it to Sweden, holding a press conference and then ultimately returning the plane to the Soviet Union … with a full tank of gas, no less.

“We figured we certainly would be arrested, but it was the price to publicize our struggle,” said Mendelevich. “We were willing to pay the price, and we understood that we could be killed during this attempt. But if there is only even a 1 percent chance to succeed, I’m ready for that 1 percent. There was no life for me anymore in Soviet Russia.”

The group was arrested at the airport. At their 1970 trial, Dymshits received a death penalty sentence while Mendelevich received two 15-year sentences plus an additional seven years “for my Jewish activities.” The sentences were later reduced on appeal to a total of 12 years for Mendelevich and 15 for Dymshits. By the time Mendelevich got to his first labor camp, the restrictions on emigration from the Soviet Union had already begun to loosen. In 1971, 12,000 Soviet Jews were able to leave, followed by 30,000 the following year. 

“It was a real victory,” Mendelevich said. “Somehow it is ironical that the winner is being arrested, but I told myself that I felt comfortable in a prison and I am ready to serve as much as needed. Thanks to me being seated in prison, other people got freedom.”

The fight did not end there. Mendelevich talked about having privileges revoked for his refusal to remove his kippah or to work on Shabbat. For the former offense, Mendelevich lost his annual visit with his father — himself an agitator who demonstrated against Nazi anti-Semitism. Toward the end of his imprisonment, Mendelevich endured a 50-day hunger strike over the right to study Torah. 

When they finally released him, the Soviets promptly exiled Mendelevich, who immediately thanked God for the miracle of his deliverance. Rather than being forced to leave his “motherland,” Mendelevich saw his release as an opportunity to relocate to his true motherland — Israel.

“I don’t have a strong will. I am a normal man.” Mendelevich said, insisting that his principles rather than personal attributes gave him strength. “It was our common struggle, not specifically for Jews in America or people in the Soviet Union. Nothing can withstand our good will to bring freedom to the people. Through struggling for all Jewish rights, we brought freedom to other nations.

“So I suggest to everybody, including [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, not to start with us. We have a strong will.”

Opinion: Living with Holocaust ghosts

Ed Asner, aka Lou Grant, walked slowly to the front of the stage at the Museum of Tolerance on Sunday night, and in his familiar growl — this time with a Latvian accent — he softly spoke: “Thank you for the help that is not only material, but also moral. A person lives through hope, and I hope it will get better.”

Asner was channeling the voice of a Holocaust survivor, one of what comedy actress-producer Zane Buzby, founder of the Survivor Mitzvah Project, calls “the unluckiest generation” — the now-elderly Jews of Eastern Europe who were born into pogroms, revolution and social upheaval, then lost their entire families during the Holocaust, went on to endure the strictures of communist rule only to face the depletion of social services of the post-Perestroika era and now are living out their final days destitute.

Despite all that, Asner’s words displayed how these survivors-beyond-reason have retained their dignity and, somehow, the ability to hope.

Via an all-star cast that also included Valerie Harper, Lainie Kazan, Frances Fisher, Elliott Gould, Alan Rosenberg and others, Buzby brought to life the letters she has received from hundreds of people the Survivor Mitzvah Project has helped — letters telling their stories, letters of gratitude for the small amounts of cash and gifts of Judaica and medicine and trinkets of love they’ve received from the project.

Through the Survivor Mitzvah Project, Buzby is also creating an archive of these once-forgotten lives that, in a small way, rivals the work of the much-wealthier Shoah Foundation. To hear these actors read memories of people whose mothers were buried alive, who hid from Nazis and lived only to find their world destroyed, whose thriving Jewish neighborhoods are now only a memory, the reality is overwhelming — but Buzby offered us all a way to help: “If everyone gives a little, and asks five others to do the same, we can do so much,” she said. At this moment, the Survivor Mitzvah Project is helping more than 1,500 Jews in seven countries, but there are many more in need.

I walked out of the museum’s theater with one searing question on my mind: How could a civilized world so brutally destroy so many lives, then leave these people with nothing — less than nothing, given the pain they still carry? And yet, in letter after letter, they offered not only gratitude but also gifts of dignity: “Yours are noble actions,” Rosenberg read from one letter.

If ever giving has its own rewards, this event, and the Survivor Mitzvah Project’s work, reminds us of that.

That the legacy of evil can take many forms was the message of a second Holocaust commemoration event at the same Museum of Tolerance the following night.

Claudia Sobral, a Brazilian-born Angeleno, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, traveled to Berlin to watch a soccer tournament with her family several years ago and found herself obsessed with the Germans around her. Who was once a Nazi? Who committed crimes and got away with it? How does the younger generation, her contemporaries, deal with the legacy? All these thoughts raced through her mind then, and she has attempted to answer those questions through her riveting new documentary, “The Ghosts of the Third Reich.”

Sobral’s film focuses on three descendants of Nazis, all of whom, though born after the end of the war and without any complicity in its horrors, have borne the guilt and shame of the Nazis by association.

Bettina Goering, one of the interviewees, is the great-niece of Hitler’s second-in-command, Hermann Goering, the architect of the “Final Solution.” Another, Ursula Boger, is the granddaughter of Wilhelm Boger, one of the most brutal overseers at Auschwitz. And a third, Bernd Wollschlaeger, is the son of a highly decorated Nazi tank commander. Each of these descendants’ bloodlines haunt them — and their painful attempts to describe their own disgust with their Nazi heritage is juxtaposed in the film with horrific images of the concentration camps and contrasted with loving family pictures. If the juxtaposition of humanity and its antithesis is chilling to us watching the film, how must it feel to be born into this history?

The film also includes stories of conciliation.

Wollschlaeger, for one, rejected his unrepentant father, traveled to Israel and converted to Judaism. He is now a doctor living in Florida, father to two Jewish children, and in the film is shown participating in the March of the Living at Auschwitz with his kids — still seeking resolution but also sharing his struggle as an offering of peace to others.

The film also shows the work of another Jewish doctor, Samson Munn, whose parents both survived the Holocaust, albeit with horrific stories. Munn now juggles his work as a leading radiologist in Boston with a project he’s established called The Austrian Encounter, which brings together descendants of survivors with descendants of the Nazis in an effort toward reconciliation. Wollschlaeger and Munn (the latter via Skype) joined Sobral for a Q-and-A at the museum after the screening.

With all these images of people trying to find existential peace in a post-Holocaust world swirling in my mind, I found myself overhearing a conversation outside the auditorium: “I’m not going to waste any of my time feeling sorry for them,” one woman confided to a friend about the Nazi’s descendents.

And it is those private words that worry me the most. If we don’t have it in us to feel sorry for these innocent descendants — born of evil, but with no history of evil of their own — how can we commit to seeing others, all others, as people?

Isn’t the lesson of the Holocaust that we need to value humanity first? To salvage and preserve hope, and to understand another’s hell?

Survivors come in many shapes.

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance architects threaten to quit

The architects of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem have threatened to resign, two weeks before the scheduled start of construction.

Bracha and Michael Chyutin, the two architects, charged that the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, sponsor and funder of the $100 million project, “drove the architects crazy. They asked for daily briefings and nagged them to death,” according to a Jerusalem city official quoted by the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The company running the project, Tafnit Wind, also quit about a month ago, following differences of opinion with the Wiesenthal Center, Haaretz reported.

In a statement to The Journal Wednesday, Wiesenthal Center officials confirmed that “We are involved in a financial contractual dispute with Chyutin Architects. We are committed to try and resolve it as soon as possible.

“However, we want to make it very clear that the construction of the Museum of Tolerance project is going forward as scheduled and this financial dispute will have no impact whatsoever on the progress of the project and on the construction timeline. We will file all permits on time and will begin construction after the High Holidays.”

As to the “nagged to death” charges, a center spokeswoman replied that the project was funded by private donors, so “our guys were just doing their due diligence.”

When completed, the Center for Human Dignity- Museum of Tolerance is to include an exhibition space, theater and education center in some 150,000 square feet of space, as well as outdoor gardens and an amphitheater.

Originally, the museum architecture was conceived on a much larger and more elaborate scale, at a cost of $250 million, by architect Frank Gehry. This concept was attacked by some Jerusalem residents for its grandiose design, as well as the claim that the building site was on top of an ancient Muslim cemetery.

After years of litigation, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that construction could go ahead. However, for financial reasons, it was decided to downsize the design by Gehry, who then resigned from the project.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said the new museum would not infringe on Yad Vashem’s mission of Holocaust remembrance, but rather focus on human rights, as well as genocides and war crimes throughout the world.

Museum of Tolerance architects threaten to quit

The architects of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem have threatened to quit two weeks before construction is set to begin.

Bracha and Michael Chyutin made the threat because of “differences” with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the sponsors of the project, Haaretz reported Tuesday, citing a city official. The center “nagged them to death,” the official told Haaretz.

The company overseeing the project quit a month ago, also over differences with the center, Haaretz reported.

The $100 million project, formally designated as the Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance, is to include an exhibition space, theater and education center in some 150,000 square feet of space, as well as outdoor gardens and an amphitheater.

Due to the slumping economy, the center’s board of trustees last year drastically cut the cost and size of the project. Its original architect, Frank Gehry, bowed out after creating the design in 2002 for a 240,000-square-foot museum costing $250 million, and featuring steel, blue and silver titanium and golden Jerusalem stone.

Tel Aviv-based Chyutin Architects designed a smaller, less expensive building that includes three floors and two additional underground ones, as well as an archeological garden, with a Roman aqueduct discovered during digs on the site.

The site, which was given to the Wiesenthal Center by the government of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality, had served as the city’s municipal parking lot for more than 40 years. Muslim groups had protested that the parking lot had been part of an ancient burial site.

Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance wins Knesset approval to build

After years of delays due to legal challenges and fundraising setbacks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center received permission on July 12 from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s District Planning and Construction Committee to begin construction on the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. The ministry gave a green light to a revised design for the building, saying that because the building’s footprint would remain the same as an earlier plan, a new review process would not be necessary.

The new design, by Chyutin Architects, a local Israeli firm, replaces a previous plan by Los Angeles superstar Frank O. Gehry, who pulled out of the process when funding shortfalls forced the Wiesenthal Center to request a scaled-back version.

For years, Palestinian leaders had fought to halt the project, claiming that the site on which it is to be built is an ancient Muslim burial ground.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s founder and dean, welcomed the decision, which he said will allow for construction to begin immediately.

“We have the full blessing and endorsement of the government of Israel, and the prime minister of Israel and the mayor of Jerusalem,” Hier said.

Groundbreaking for the museum officially kicked off in 2004, but construction was halted in 2006 when Arab leaders in Israel sued to stop work after bones were unearthed during excavation at the site. In 2008, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal Center could build on the site.

“The Supreme Court reviewed the Palestinian claims for three years and ruled unanimously that, for more than half a century, Muslims no longer considered that site to be part of the cemetery,” Hier said.

With the global economic downturn, the project was then reformulated. What had been a $250 million building designed by Gehry was reconceived as a $100 million project.

The question answered at the Knesset on July 12 was a technical one about the building’s footprint, according to Hier. The permit allows the Wiesenthal Center to build without restarting the planning process. “We are building on the same three-and-a-half acres,” Hier said.

Hier said that the center has raised $45 million, which will allow construction to begin by September. He said the building will take three years to complete.

Jerusalem planning committee approves Museum of Tolerance

The Jerusalem municipal planning committee has approved plans for a scaled-back Museum of Tolerance in the center of Jerusalem.

The plan was approved more than two years after the project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was withdrawn due to the slumping economy.

The plan is opposed by Muslim religious leaders, who say that the site if the project had served for centuries as a Muslim cemetery. They appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, which granted the Wiesenthal Center permission to continue.

The original plan was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, who left the project after creating in 2002 a design for a $250 million, 240,000-square-foot museum. A smaller, less expensive building was designed by Tel Aviv-based Chyutin Architects.

The new plan includes three floors and two additional underground ones, as well as an archaeological garden, with a Roman aqueduct discovered during digs on the site.

The site on which the museum is to be built was given to the Wiesenthal Center by the government of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality and previously served as the city’s municipal parking lot for more than 40 years; During that time, Muslim groups never protested that the parking lot was once part of an ancient burial site, according to the Wiesenthal Center’s website.

Museum of Tolerance to Create Exhibit on Pope John Paul II

On April 29, two days before Pope John Paul II was beatified in Rome, the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced plans to establish a new permanent exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles dedicated to the late pontiff.

A native of Poland, during his papacy John Paul worked to improve relations between the Catholic Church and world Jewry. He also conveyed the importance of preserving the memory of the Holocaust by making a visit to Auschwitz in 1979 and a visit to Yad Vashem in 2000. He was known to have met with many survivors of the Holocaust.

The John Paul exhibit is currently housed in a temporary space. It is set to be installed in its permanent location — the main exhibition space at the Museum of Tolerance, directly opposite the display containing the original office of Simon Wiesenthal, the center’s namesake — later this month.

New Museum of Tolerance Exhibition Remembers the Halabjan Genocide

Last Tuesday, 22 years to the day after the Iraqi government, led by Saddam Hussein, committed an act of genocide against the Kurdish people of Halabja, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles unveiled a small but graphic exhibition in its Museum of Tolerance (MOT) commemorating the 5,000 Kurds who were killed. Hussein’s catastrophic chemical barrage was intended to suppress guerilla revolts at the end of the Iran-Iraq War.

Bleak photos of the dead—frozen bodies collecting dust in gravel, lying in gutters and piled on top of each other—dominate the exhibition’s nine panels. They are depicted alongside a mass gravesite and smoke plumes enveloping the region. The poisonous gas emitted a fruity scent, according to one description. While some dropped dead immediately, others “died of laughing.”

Running through March 29, the show has three themes: “Breaking the Silence,” “Remembering the Victims,” and “Lessons for Today, Warnings for Tomorrow.”

Included is grainy footage shot after the attack by an anonymous Iranian journalist shot that shows injured victims spilling out of underserved hospitals and survivors struggling to reach the Iraq-Iran border over rocky terrain.

Former Iraqi military commander Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka “Chemical Ali”) is portrayed here as evil and bloodthirsty. “I will kill them all with chemical weapons. Who is going to say anything?” he is quoted as saying.

In a particularly gripping photograph, a girl dies in her mother’s arms. Nearby, a boy lies dead in the middle of the road, his eyes remaining open.

Accepting an invitation from the Kurdistan regional government, representatives of the Simon Weisenthal Center traveled to Halabja in 2008. There Liebe Geft, MOT director, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke with families of the deceased. At the time of Geft and Cooper’s visit, the U.S. military maintained a heavy presence in Iraq. Armed guards escorted Geft and Cooper everywhere.

Last week, during a press conference that preceded the exhibition’s opening, Geft’s words echoed rhetoric used at Holocaust memorials: “Hope lives when people remember,” Geft said.

Museum of Tolerance Solidarity Conference

On Tuesday, June 23, the Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted a press conference, “Americans Unite in Solidarity with People of Iran,” the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance.

Iranian American activists and leaders from the Baha’i, Christian and Jewish communities called for the United Nations to take action regarding reports of a fraudulent election and human rights violations in Iran.

Wiesenthal Center founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier said that while non-governmental organizations can’t request a session of the UN Security Council, member countries should do so now.

“Why are the lights out at the United Nations?” Hier asked. “Where is the EU? Where is the United States and Canada? Where is the Muslim and Arab World to demand a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the issue of Iran?”

Political activist Roxanna Ganji echoed the call for UN action and added that regime change was necessary with the support of the world community.

“We are from all different ideologies here [but] … We are here as Iranians requesting the world to hear us as one nation, seeking change for democracy and secularism,” Ganji said.

Political analyst Mohammad Amini said that while the UN should condemn election fraud and resulting violence only Iranians should be involved in regime change.

“It is our job to change the regime in Iran, and we will do it,” Amini added.

Other speakers at the event included moderator and Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper; the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Rev. Walter Contreras, Iranians for a Secular Republic secretary general Roozbeh Farahani, UC Irvine Prof. Hamid Arabzadeh, Baha’is of Los Angeles’ Randolph Dobbs and the Committee for Religious Minority Rights in Iran director Faryar Nikbakht.

The Wiesenthal Center also distributed an independent analysis highlighting irregularities in the 2009 Iranian elections, which is available through its Web site www.wiesenthal.com. The paper is published by Chatham House and the University of St. Andrews’ Institute of Iranian Studies.

Madoff, Christmas, Chanukah and Hebron

A Very Jewish Christmas

I fully enjoyed Elon Gold’s story, “Don’t Feel Bad! I Love Christmas, Too!” (Dec. 19). He left out that Christmas is the one time a year when millions of people worldwide celebrate the birth of a Jew.

Jason Levi
Northridge

Chanukah Cover

The Chanukah cover (Dec. 19) is outrageous. Is that the best you can do a few days before our glorious Jewish holiday, Chanukah? Granted, Christmas is very important for Christians, celebrated by the gentile world only one day. This year, it falls in the middle of Chanukah, which is celebrated by Jews for eight days.

Would it not have been appropriate to have Jewish symbols on the same cover, such as a menorah, dreidles, Chanukah candles, candies, latkes, sufganyot, etc., marking our holiday? After all, it says it is “The Jewish Journal” — it is not a Christian paper, or is it? Are we not proud of our traditions of Chanukah celebrations?

Bernard Nichols
Los Angeles

Complete Madoff CoverageMadoff

The victims of the Bernard Madoff scam are guilty of one of the oldest sins in investing (“Madoff Scandal Rocks Jewish Philanthropic World,” Dec. 19). They wanted what everyone looks for and doesn’t exist: equitylike returns without equity risk.

Shame on the board members of the charities that were duped by Madoff, and double shame on the consultants and advisers the boards hired to guide them — they definitely should have known better. Once again, we learn the hard way that if someone promises you stock market returns without stock market risk, run don’t walk away — they’re either lying or incompetent. Shangri-La does not exist.

Robert Raede
Santa Barbara

The Jewish Community has a golden opportunity to use this misguided glaring spotlight on Bernard Madoff and his Jewishness to show that the Jewish community will do the counterintuitive thing, the right thing: Instead of throwing Madoff under the bus, the Jewish community must visibly ensure that Madoff receives a fair, unbiased trial; the Jewish community must visibly provide any religious and spiritual support and guidance Madoff needs, including spiritual and religious rehabilitation.

This should be done in spite of the fact that many Jewish institutions are his alleged victims. Our collective Jewish history is filled with cases of Jews that have been unfairly punished by the state because they were Jewish. Now that the Jewish community is in a spotlight it did not ask for, it must unequivocally show the world that as a group, it will never stray from its mandated justice and compassion, however painful.

Anything less would be playing into the hands of the Jew-haters and the self-hating Jews.

Martini H. Leaf
via e-mail

I am so proud of Rob Eshman (“Madoff,” Dec. 19). His condemnation of Bernard Madoff flies in the faces of those many Jews who believe in the lunacy that Jews can do no wrong. I believe we will become better if Rob, and others like him, continue to have the courage to expose the reality of our Jewish people, warts and all.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

Several things bother me about Rob Eshman’s column about Bernard Madoff. As a retired criminal defense attorney, I find journalists who write or speak about Madoff without interjecting the caveat, “if he is guilty,” doing a disfavor to our judicial system that gives the presumption of innocence to all those accused of a crime.

However, the most disturbing thing Eshman wrote is, “What kind of world is it where Jews can’t trust fellow Jews?” To which I reply as a member of the human race, “What kind of a world is it where human beings can’t trust fellow human beings?”

I guess the answer to both our questions is, “It’s hell.”

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

A Pardon for Michael Milken

How ironic the same issue of The Jewish Journal that details the securities fraud of Bernard Madoff should have a column calling for a pardon for Michael Milken (“Bush Should Grant Michael Milken a Pardon,” Dec. 19). Milken went to jail for a reason and came out with enough money to buy his way back into the good graces of the Jewish community.

The organizations that honor him and put his name on buildings and projects that do good deeds forget the pain of those of us who lost money trusting him. The Madoff scandal reminds us that a crook doesn’t always carry a gun when he robs you.

Damage inflicted by white collar criminals endures. Milken should do good deeds for the rest of his life. He hurt a lot of people. He does not deserve a pardon.

Karen Heller Mason
Los Angeles

Dean Rotbart’s opinion in The Jewish Journal is that Bush should grant Michael Milken a pardon because he is a “tzadik.” The talmudic question is, “Is dirty money really tzedakah?” President Bush, a righteous man, what should he do?

Phil Bauman
Morro Bay

You want to write about President Bush righting a wrong (by way of a presidential pardon) before he leaves office for the final time, how about writing on behalf of a fellow Yid who is actually rotting away in jail and really does need our help (yes — we’re all sinners when it comes to our neglect in helping free Jonathan Pollard).

In case Messrs. Rotbart and Eshman aren’t aware, the median sentence for the offense Pollard committed — one count of passing classified information to an ally — is two to four years. Pollard has been rotting in jail now for 24 years under a life sentence without parole.

Pollard deserves a write-up for a presidential pardon more than Michael Milken ever will.

Shame on The Journal and Rotbart for wasting precious opinion space on such silly nonsense.

Daniel E. Goodman
Valley Village

Singles Column

For many weeks I have enjoyed Amy Klein’s “True Confessions.” It is hysterical reading the woman’s perspective and constantly reminds me of past dates I’ve been on — unfortunately.

Thanks for finding a place in The Journal for my weekly laughs. I hear the piece is coming to an end, and I thought I would put in a plug and let you know how much I have enjoyed it. If there were any possibility, I would love if you could continue printing my favorite comic strip.

Kenny Melcombe
via e-mail

Museum of Tolerance

The Wiesenthal Center plans to build a Center for Human Dignity by committing egregious acts of indignity and intolerance (“Protests Over Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Spread,” Dec. 12). The point that the land is no longer designated as a cemetery by Israel is irrelevant and is not what is at issue here. There are still hundreds of Muslims buried on that land, and they do not deserve to have their final resting place be desecrated.

More than 150 skeletons were unearthed under the Wiesenthal Center’s supervision. It is our responsibility, as Jewish and Muslim people who understand extending respect toward sacred places and religious symbols, to ensure that the Simon Wiesenthal Center does not move forward with these plans.

Asmaa Ahmed
Irvine

Building a structure of any kind, especially a Museum of Tolerance, over a Muslim cemetery, is like waving red flags in front of bulls. What, they don’t have enough reasons to hate us?

Sandy Savett
Santa Monica

This is to urge the Simon Wiesenthal Center to halt the building of a Museum of Tolerance over the Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem. Building a Museum of Tolerance atop the cemetery, unlike the admirable goal of furthering tolerance and understanding (as the Museum of Tolerance has done in the past), will only add to the existing pain and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, irreversibly damage relations between Muslims and Jews worldwide and sow new feelings of animosity and division for generations to come. Is it worth the extra pain?

Dr. Murtadha A. Khakoo,
Chair, Department of Physics,
Cal State Fullerton

Please halt building over the Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem.

Greg Abdullah Ali

Violence in Hebron

In your coverage of the eviction of Jews from Hebron’s Beit Hashalom, a house whose purchase by an American Jew is currently being disputed in court, you asserted that the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the eviction and that the eviction was thus carried out pursuant to such an order (“Unchecked Settler Violence Sparks Fears of New Intifada,” Dec. 12). That is incorrect and misleading.

The Supreme Court did not order the eviction of the inhabitants of Beit Hashalom and, as such, the eviction did not take place pursuant to an effort to enforce such a ruling. Rather, as former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel said, “The ruling does not obligate the state to act to evacuate the Jews, but rather gives them the freedom to decide whether to do so or not.”

It was precisely that discretion — not an order — authorized by the court that led some 50 Knesset members to ask the government not to evict the Hebron Jews. The signatories included the chairpersons of seven Knesset parties, including Kadima and Likud, and several former ministers.

The Knesset members wrote, “The Supreme Court … did not obligate the government to evict them.” They also said, “It seems the settlers have serious evidence to prove their claims [of legal purchase] … in light of the new evidence presented … to the prosecutor’s office…. [A] heavy feeling of bias and injustice has followed the entire case. As public representatives, we warn that continued proceedings along these lines, leading to this result, is liable to significantly damage public faith in the judicial system.”

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

Ralph Waldo Emerson, it’s always Sunny in Hebron

2009

I have but one question for Rob Eshman. It seems that in the economic hardships ahead, which will include loss of funds to send your children to college, loss of retirement IRAs, loss of homes, loss of jobs and other Depression or near-Depression hardships, Eshman finds comfort in the hopes that relationships with fellow Jews will be like meat and money in these hard times (“2009,” Dec. 12).

Having been born in the heart of the Depression, I cannot share his rosy Ralph Waldo Emerson philosophy. So, Eshman, here is the question I have for you: Brother can you spare a dime?

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Peace House

Sunny Sassoon is dead wrong when he characterizes the extremist settlers who were evicted from the Palestinian house they were occupying as “heroes,” (“Peace House Expulsions Show Need for Sensitivity,” Dec. 12). Those settlers were not heroes — they broke Israeli law and put all 6.5 million Jewish Israelis at risk.

Regardless of the controversy over who has legal title to the house, the settlers broke Israeli law by moving in without government permission. By moving in, they placed a requirement on the army to protect them and added to the friction between Israel and the Palestinians, thus putting all Israelis at risk.

Once evicted, the settlers, to use Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s word, they carried out a “pogrom” on the Palestinians by marauding through Arab Hebron — by far the larger part of the city — torching houses and cars, shooting and stoning and even defacing mosques and Muslim cemeteries, not only in Hebron but elsewhere in the West Bank, as well, for a day or two afterward.

No Sassoon, those settlers were not heroes; they were terrorists, and their actions undermined the rule of law in Israel and put all Israelis at risk.

Jeff Warner
La Habra Heights

Moral Crime

Allowing unimpeded movement in and out of Gaza would provide free passes to terrorists theologically committed to murdering Jews and destroying Israel. Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel’s existence. Its commitment to destroy it is the very reason why it broke from Fatah and took over Gaza. Territorial compromises won’t satisfy Hamas. Read its charter — http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm.

It’s therefore baffling that anyone claiming to care about human lives would suggest “lifting the siege” of Gaza, since the result would be tantamount to sanctioning the murder of innocent Israelis. Where are the calls for Hamas to renounce violence and accept Israel’s right to sovereignty?

The key to co-existence is held by Hamas and its supporters. Allowing free movement of those committed to your destruction is not only a logical absurdity; it would be a moral crime against the Jewish people, as is the media bias against Israel.

Dan Calic
San Ramon

Fit to Neuter

Marty Kaplan dismisses a complaint that a factual reporting is compromised when the same reporter prints a follow-up editorial favoring one party (“All the News That’s Fit to Neuter,” Dec. 5). Kaplan’s concern over so-called “factual reporting” significantly applies to the BBC’s reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the BBC overlooks the Arab Muslim imperative of an Arab Muslim Middle East (as in the genocide of non-Muslim blacks in Darfur and the attempted genocide of Jews in Israel). Each Palestinian atrocity is “balanced” with reporting a prior Israeli retaliation or a justification by a terrorist identified as a combatant.

It was Clark Clifford and Harry Truman’s response to England’s despicable betrayal of the Balfour Declaration, when it prevented survivors of the Holocaust to go to the only place they were welcome, cum a boycott of arms leaving the Jewish minority to be slaughtered by genocidal Arabs, that influenced the U.S.A.’s recognition of Israel.

When English academics passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academics, U.S. academics squelched the boycott. Correspondingly, PBS television must make it clear to the English government-owned BBC that America will not be the sounding board for English anti-Semitism.

Charles Berger
Los Angeles

Museum of Tolerance

I find it appalling that the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which previously said that it would not build on a site were it known that it was a cemetery, continues to build a Center for Human Dignity, despite more than 150 skeletons being dug up at the cemetery under the center’s supervision (“Protests Over Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Spread,” Dec. 12).

And the claim about Muslims being silent for the past 50 years is just plain wrong. Israel imposed martial law from 1949 to 1966. During that time, any signs of nationalism among Palestinians were crushed.

But Muslims in Israel did legally oppose the designation of waqf land as absentee property in the 1960s, lobbied to rebuild and maintain the Ma’manullah graves after the 1967 War, protested the desecration of the graves in the ’70s and ’80s, and have been opposing the building of the Center for Human Dignity on the cemetery land.

This issue is not about politics or victory. It is about respect and fair treatment of the living and dead — something taught in both Judaism and Islam.

Munira Syeda
Communications Coordinator
CAIR-Greater Los Angeles Area

Israel Supreme Court OKs Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem project

JERUSALEM — The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Simon Wiesenthal Center can build its long-planned Center for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance on a contested site in the middle of Jerusalem.

The decision came eight years after the initial announcement that famed architect Frank O. Gehry would design the landmark museum, and four years after a ground-breaking ceremony attended by Israeli and California dignitaries.

In the meantime, the estimated cost of the project has escalated from $120 million to $250 million. The Center already has raised $115 million for the project, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

He said construction would resume immediately and praised the court’s ruling, adding, “All citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, are the real beneficiaries of this decision.”

Hier estimated that the museum would open in about three-and-a-half years.

Following Gehry’s design, the new complex will consist of a general museum and a children’s museum, a theater, conference center, library, gallery and lecture halls, with the mission to promote civility and respect among different segments of the Jewish community and between people of all faiths.

The museum site, adjoining Independence Park, served as Jerusalem’s main Muslim cemetery until 1948. Muslim authorities appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court that museum construction would desecrate the cemetery, which allegedly contained the bones of Muslims killed during the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries.

Attorneys for the Wiesenthal Center countered that the site housed a four-story underground garage for three decades, and before that the old Palace Hotel, and that Muslim religious authorities had ruled earlier that the location had lost its sacred character.

In an 85-page decision, a three-judge panel of the Supreme Court agreed with the Wiesenthal Center argument.

Other objections had been raised by some Israeli politicians and initially by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Memorial Holocaust Authority. Hier assured Yad Vashem that the new museum would not deal with the history of the Holocaust.

Throughout the lengthy proceedings, the project had the unstinting support of Ehud Olmert as mayor of Jerusalem and later prime minister of Israel.

The Supreme Court decision drew immediate objections from Gershon Baskin, a longtime Israeli opponent of the project because of its Muslim cemetery connection.

Baskin, co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, called for letters of protest from all “Jerusalemnites, rabbis, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and citizens of the world.”

ALTTEXT
Artist’s rendering of the project

Iraqi First Lady at Museum of Tolerance: I remember the Jews of Kurdistan

The wife of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani paid a visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Friday, toured its Museum of Tolerance, and recalled her friendship with the Jews of her Kurdish hometown.

Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, the petite first lady of Iraq, briefly recalled the killings and tortures the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein had inflicted on her fellow Kurds.

She added, “In every person’s mind there is a small Saddam. Killing Saddam is nothing, but killing the Saddam in our minds is everything.”

The Journal, the only media outlet admitted to the event, asked whether the Iraqi government had approved her visit to the high-profile Jewish and ardently pro-Israel institution, which plans to build a Center for Human Dignity in Jerusalem.

Ahmed, owner of an Iraqi media group and a strong advocate for children’s rights, answered quickly, “I don’t ask for permission. I go where I want to go.”
residents of the Jewish quarter suddenly started to build and eat in outdoor huts — which the American visitors quickly recognized as the celebration of Sukkot.

When the guests said goodbye, they invited their hostess to tour the Museum of Tolerance, if she were ever in Los Angeles. Two weeks later, she called to say that she was on her way.

‘Forgotten Hero’ of the Shoah Peter Bergson gets his due times two

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, bowing to a high-profile petition campaign, agreed last week to include the story of the Peter Bergson Group in its permanent exhibit.

By coincidence, and at the same time, the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles presented the West Coast premiere of “The Accomplices,” a play by Bernard Weinraub about Bergson and his World War II exploits.

Peter who?

Bergson was born in Lithuania in 1915 as Hillel Kook, nephew of the revered Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, Avraham Isaac Kook. Ten years later, the family immigrated to Palestine, and in the 1930s young Hillel joined the underground military cadre of the right-wing Irgun, changing his name to Peter Bergson so as not to embarrass his family.

The Irgun battled both the British mandatory powers and the mainstream Jewish leadership, but in 1940 the Irgun dispatched Bergson to the United States, initially to agitate for the establishment of a Jewish army to fight against Hitler.

As word of the Nazi slaughter of Europe’s Jews trickled out, Bergson threw his energies into arousing American Jewry and the U.S. government to rescue as many Jews as possible.

By all accounts, Bergson was a passionate, charismatic and persuasive advocate for his cause, who persisted in smashing his head against the wall of a timid Jewish leadership unwilling to make waves, an anti-Semitic State Department, and a President Roosevelt resenting any distraction from winning World War II.

Nevertheless, Bergson was able to persuade some influential allies in Congress and Hollywood, initiated massive pageants, a protest march and provocative full-page ads, all abhorred by the Jewish establishment. These combined efforts are largely credited with pushing the White House in early 1944 into creating the War Refugee Board, which helped save 200,000 Jews and 20,000 others.

The two-act play is a “dramatized” version of events, but the basic historical record is accurate, Weinraub said.

“Accomplices” has a couple of heroes — Bergson and writer Ben Hecht — and at least one villain — Breckinridge Long, a key State Department official who systematically obstructed all rescue efforts.

But most of the historical figures fall between these poles as well-meaning but flawed characters, whose timidity, political calculations and not unreasonable fear of an anti-Semitic backlash prevented resolute action when there was still time.

From Bergson’s view, the half-hearted men included Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom most Jews of the era worshipped as a semi-deity; his craven Jewish speechwriter Sam Rosenman; and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, American Jewry’s most influential figure as head of the American Jewish Congress and the American Zionist Emergency Council.

In the play, Wise is shown as a man anguished by the fate of his European brethren, but determined to stop public protests that might offend his non-Jewish countrymen, or worse, FDR himself.

There is little doubt that Wise’s caution was shared then by the majority of Jews during a time of pervasive American anti-Semitism, fear of foreigners and Depression-triggered agitation against immigrants.

Arguments about Wise’s role, and indeed the effectiveness of the entire Bergson enterprise, continued long after the war. In the early 1980s, such respected historians as Lucy Davidowicz and Marie Syrkin argued that militant Jewish agitation would have been counterproductive.

Just as Bergson found some of his strongest allies among Christians, so the non-Jewish David S. Wyman was the first to fully tell the Bergson story in his 1985 best seller, “The Abandonment of the Jews.”

That the old controversy can still spark emotions is shown by last month’s refusal by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Authority, to include the Bergson story in its museum.

Wyman, and the Institute for Holocaust Studies bearing his name, led the campaign to persuade the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to accept the Bergson exhibit, and believe that his story must be remembered.

“Telling the story of the Bergson Group is extremely important not only because of its historical importance, but also because it sends a powerful message to today’s younger generation that it really is possible to change history.”

Steven Schub portrays Peter Bergson in the Fountain Theatre production. He brings the requisite passion and coiled fury to the demanding role, but occasionally escalates into shrillness and transmits little of the man’s reputed charisma.

The strongest performances, in relatively minor roles, are by Dennis Gersten as Ben Hecht and James Harper as Roosevelt. Director Deborah LaVine adds immediacy to the production by inserting newsreel clips of refugees and of a Bergson-orchestrated march on the White House by 400 Orthodox rabbis.

Bronx-born Bernard Weinraub was a budding playwright in college, but put his ambitions aside during a 30-year career as a political, foreign and Hollywood correspondent for The New York Times.

While stationed in Washington in 1982, he covered the controversy over the documentary, “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?” which dealt with America’s response to the Holocaust.

“I knew nothing about these happenings, but I was fascinated,” Weinraub said in a conversation after the play.

During the next few years, he interviewed survivors of the Bergson Group and read up on the subject.

In the late ’90s, when Weinraub was transferred to Los Angeles to report on the entertainment industry, he started taking evening classes on playwriting at UCLA. Out of this grew “The Accomplices,” which had its premiere last year in New York and earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for best new play.

Bergson returned to Israel after the war and died there in 2001, at the age of 86, but his legacy still remains controversial.

“There are some Jewish organizations in this country that are still too embarrassed to talk about their roles during the Holocaust years,” Weinraub

said.

“The Accomplices” runs through Aug. 24 at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave.Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25-$28, with discounts for seniors and students. For information and reservations, call (323) 663-1525 or visit www.FountainTheatre.com

Negotiating with Syria, still with the Rev. Wright brouhaha, Museum of Tolerance expansion

Talks With Syria

M.J. Rosenberg opens with the unqualified claim that former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold is “appalled” by Israel’s negotiating with Syria. (“Israeli Talks With Syrians Make Sense,” May 29). False. Gold has expressed no such view.

Indeed, he actively participated in negotiations with Syria nearly a decade ago.

The only basis the author cites for this claim is a quote in which Gold warns against one possible outcome of these talks: A complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan. But to reformulate that as opposition to Israeli-Syrian talks altogether, even being “appalled” by them, exceeds even the most creative interpretation.

Far worse, the author joins political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in the libelous charge that certain Israeli officials goaded the United States into invading Iraq. Rosenberg states this outright about Gold, in particular, at least twice in the article. That is not only false but spectacularly so. Gold’s only known statement on the issue was a position paper taking great pains to dispute that very claim about Israel’s role (see “Wartime Witch Hunt,” at www.jcpa.org/jl/vp518.htm).

Jeff Helmreich
Los Angeles

M.J. Rosenberg argues that Israel would be wise to negotiate with Syria to stop Hezbollah attacking it, showing he has learned nothing about Israeli negotiations with other terroristic, unreconstructed Arab parties.

Talking to Yasser Arafat and Syria’s Hafiz Assad achieved nothing, even when massive concessions were offered. And in Arafat’s case, where concessions were made, Israel ended up with a terror regime on its doorstep and the loss of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians to terrorism, more than all the Israeli civilians lost to terrorism in the 47 years that preceded Oslo.

Rosenberg might fantasize about Syria leaving Lebanon and reining in Hezbollah, but why would the Syrian Baathist regime be willing to do this? If a groundswell of Lebanese revulsion and international condemnation didn’t achieve this in 2005, it’s hard to see how negotiations with Israel will achieve it today.

The conflict with Israel is the Syrian regime’s warrant for power and oppression. It shares (and increasingly encourages at home, despite its putative secularity) the Islamist goals that drive Iran, and it prefers absolute power over economic reform and opening up to the West. Until that changes, Israeli concessions will only bring dangers, not security.

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

Museum of Tolerance Expansion

[Daniel] Fink’s letter misrepresenting the Museum of Tolerance needs to be addressed (Letters, May 29).

The Museum of Tolerance is not a Holocaust museum. It is the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its mission is to educate, using the history of the Holocaust. It exposes intolerance, racism, terrorism and modern-day genocides, and it empowers all to take responsibility for their own words and actions. One should never forget but remember by the example of how we live our lives.

As someone who has been involved with the Museum of Tolerance for many years as a volunteer/docent, I take exception to Fink’s assertion that the museum wishes to “build a commercial catering facility” on its premises.

I see how young and adult visitors alike are made more aware of their potential to prejudge and are moved by their experience. The museum has an outstanding education and diversity-training program for law enforcement, educators, professionals and school and college groups that reaches far and wide. Its contribution to many walks of life makes an enormous difference. I am so proud to be affiliated with this institution.

Joyce Trank
Culver City

The Wright Flap

Raphael Sonenshein errs in characterizing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) as “the black candidate,” as he is mixed race — and that may be the point (“The Wright Flap and the Black Candidate,” May 9).

The senator has played every side of the race issue: mixed race, black, African American, post-race, racial evangelist. From adopting the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a virtual blood relation and throwing his (Obama’s) own grandmother under the bus for Wright, to rejecting Wright when Wright didn’t play by the (Obama) rules.

Sonenshein errs equally if not more seriously in presuming that an endorsement of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by the Rev. John Hagee, who is at least a supporter of Israel, is equivalent to Obama’s 22-year relationship with Wright, who considers Israel a terrorist state.

More to the point, Hagee has sent a formal written apology to Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. Wright has not apologized for anything.

Even without the apology, Sonenshein’s premise is overreaching, and he does not address a fundamental question: What is more potent? Obama’s facile dismissal of Wright’s vicious anti-Israelism or Wright’s embrace of Louis Farrakhan’s hatred for the Jewish state.

The issue is not whether a superficial dismissal of his crazy (suddenly) “former” pastor by Obama placates Jewish supporters, but actually whether Wright poisons the minds of many thousands of African Americans against Israel — and that Obama has avoided this issue like the plague it is.

If Obama is as qualified to be president as Sonenshein believes, he should be far more concerned that his chances have been virtually torpedoed by Wright — while somehow discounting any effect of other unsavory associations — while Hagee will, in fact, have no such effect on McCain, despite the columnist’s obvious attempt to distract by arguing that it should be otherwise.

Jarrow L. Rogovin
Los Angeles

Correction

In an April 25 letter refuting The Journal's reporting that Scott Radinsky isn't Jewish ("Dodgers Hit Grand Slam in History of Jewish Players," April 18), Ephraim Moxson, co-publisher of Jewish Sports Review, wrote that Radinsky is the son of a Jewish mother and Polish father. The Journal contacted a representative for the former Dodger pitcher, who confirmed that neither Radinsky nor his mother are Jewish.

Tolerance Museum director doesn’t tolerate status quo

The Museum of Tolerance is rarely the same experience twice, even with its permanent exhibits. New visuals, soundtracks and materials are added to keep the displays current and relevant. And while many people think of the museum as a “Jewish” institution, it is the “human” experience that touches upon issues that affect visitors of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.

While incorporating technology and an interactive environment into the museum experience was the vision of Simon Wiesenthal Center founder and dean Rabbi Marvin Hier, the constant editing and improving of collections and programs reflect the mind of Liebe Geft, a former broadcast journalist. Ten years after she assumed the role of executive director at the Pico-Robertson-adjacent Museum of Tolerance, she exhibits the same passion for and commitment to presenting current events as she did when she was on the air.

Geft has not only maintained this well-oiled machine, but kept its chief products — an impact-making, interactive museum and broad-based community programs — in consistent supply, navigating the flow of societal and economic changes.

“Right now, you can say that everything is new at the museum,” she said.

Since it opened in 1993, the Museum of Tolerance’s efforts to “confront the dynamic of intolerance that is still embedded in society today” has attracted more than 300,000 people each year; one-third of the visitors are school-age children.

Permanent exhibitions include the Tolerancenter, which encourages visitors to consider intolerance in daily life; the Holocaust exhibit, a tour that recounts the events leading up, during and after the Shoah; and Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves, a collection of personal histories from notable Americans, including Maya Angelou, Billy Crystal and Carlos Santana.

For the Tolerancenter’s exhibit called the Point of View Diner, Geft is currently working on a way to deal with the national epidemic of bullying, an important issue that affects many children. She’s also revising a script on terrorism for the museum’s Millennium Machine, the second post-Sept. 11 revision, which will look at dangers we face from nontraditional forms of potential terrorist attacks.

“Everything that goes into this museum is meant to be a trigger for discussion and debate … a stimulus to raise awareness about the issues that are difficult but need to be confronted collectively and individually. Although many of the exhibits are permanent, we now have a commitment and an obligation to make sure all exhibits are relevant and current. If they aren’t, they are not going to be meaningful,” she said.

Even the well-received and established Holocaust exhibit is constantly updated so visitors can personalize history and make it relevant to their lives today. It’s also being altered to make way for a new a new Youth Action Lab.

New sections were recently opened in the Tolerancenter, with the largest project, the History Walk, offering a different perspective on the history of the United States, from the 1600s to the present, reflecting on issues of diversity, intolerance and moving toward a just society.

What all the exhibits have in common, according to Geft, is that they are designed to actively engage people and amplify their own voices, down to polling stations and exploration displays.

“I feel like my coming here was quite fortuitous, and I credit Rabbi Meyer May, who extended the opportunity to me,” said Geft, recalling the museum’s former executive director. “The biggest attraction about the position, however, was the potential and enormity of the challenge. It represented an opportunity to create a program that was highly innovative in many respects and had the promise of really making a difference, especially as we are promoting human dignity and mutual respect for one another in our society. It is a very noble mission, and something I could not resist.”

Geft grew up in Zimbabwe, in a Jewish family rich in humanistic values, where tolerance and respect for other humans was a day-to-day reality rather than a series of do’s and don’ts, and speaking up on issues that mattered was encouraged constantly. Exposing herself to different cultures and viewpoints strengthened the values that tie in with her upbringing and her late father’s credo, “If man is pleased with man, God is pleased with man.”

Her natural curiosity about the world took her to England and Israel for university study and work, and from there into careers in broadcast journalism and education.

What Geft embraced most about her earlier work was her ongoing ability to take what she learned on the job and pass it on to her audiences. Her time at the Financial News Network (which later became CNBC) stands as a pivotal career experience, especially with the innovative ways news was researched, reported and relayed to viewers worldwide.

In 1996, she brought her skills and experience to the Museum of Tolerance as director of the Tools for Tolerance for Professionals program, developing curricular materials like the “Teacher’s Guide for the Museum of Tolerance” and workshops for hundreds of thousands of teachers, law enforcement officials, and municipal employees.

By 1998 she had assumed the responsibilities as the museum’s director. From the beginning, she dedicated up to 80 hours a week building the museum’s outreach and educational programs, adding new interactive exhibitions and landmark exhibitions that kept it current and relevant.

“It is very gratifying to go to work every day when the focus of your job is to make the world a better place, through the hearts and minds of everyone we interact with,” she said.

Geft is proud of the fact that she is leading people of all ages and walks of life down a path of enlightenment, from schoolchildren to professional adults. But her path to and around Los Angeles in itself has been a journey of discovery. While her dream — and that of her husband — is to live in Israel, Los Angeles and the Museum of Tolerance have proven themselves to be part of a rich detour that has reinforced the values Geft has known since childhood. Or as she puts it, “Life has a strange way of thwarting best-laid plans.”

“Los Angeles has an amazing Jewish community, of which we are very proud to be a part,” Geft said, noting she has raised five sons here.

Small Mac attack, Wright flap, too much tolerance

The Professor Anti-Semites Love

I was shocked to learn that an article I had published in 1972 is being cited by anti-Semites to support their twisted ideas (“The Professor Anti-Semites Love,” May 9).

I wonder how many people have actually read my article. Essentially, I analyzed aptitude test data from a nationwide study of 12th-graders.

The main finding was that gender, not ethnic identification, accounted for the most of the differences in scores: boys doing better in general knowledge, math and spatial relations; girls in English and memory. On the average, Asian students (boys and girls combined) did much better than the other groups in math (although the Jewish kids were close) and English; the Jewish youngsters surpassed the others in general knowledge; the majority whites in spatial relations. However, when ethnic groups were divided by sex, differences related to ethnicity were way overshadowed by the differences between males and females.

Just because racists cite my study does not mean they are doing it correctly or honestly. It is a complex area deserving of understanding. The original tests, whose scores I analyzed, were administered way back in 1960. Let us hope that we have made progress since then helping our children learn according to their needs.

Margaret E. Backman
New York

Professor [Kevin] MacDonald’s racist rantings and xenophobia would best be addressed by a concerned coalition of Jewish, Latino, African American, Asian and other minorities in academia. Giving him a cover story in The Jewish Journal does nothing except provide a wider platform for his ridiculous ramblings.

This editorial decision makes about as much sense as The Journal’s recent publication of a thick “green” issue, thereby destroying even more trees than usual in order to decry the destruction of our environment.

Paula Van Gelder
Los Angeles

On college campuses today there is zero tolerance for anything that can be even remotely construed as derogatory toward blacks, gays, Latinos, gay Latinos or any other group you can think of — except Jews. Jews are fair game.

When it comes to slamming Jews, all of a sudden everyone is concerned about “academic freedom.” If MacDonald had published similar “academic” findings about anyone else but Jews, he would no longer be drawing a paycheck from California taxpayers.

Frederick Singer
via e-mail

Ziman and Lee

Our views regarding the fallout from the Ziman-Lee kerfuffle (“We Don’t Need More Gabfests on Diversity,” May 2) were only confirmed by the absurd comments attributed to Rabbi Marc Schneier in The Journal (“Ziman, Lee Hold Hands, Pledge Friendship,” May 9).

His version of black-Jewish history is flat out wrong: “Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have called on the leader of the SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] to join me because there were no communications between African Americans and Jews.”

We aren’t sure what kind of communication devices he was using at the time, but a simple telephone would have made contact with African American leaders possible 15 years ago, 20 years ago and beyond.

As leaders of the black and Jewish communities in Los Angeles over the past 30 years, we were there at countless meetings with lots of “communication.” There were black-Jewish coalitions that involved us, The Jewish Federation, the American Jewish Committee, the SCLC, the Urban League and many others. Contacts occurred often and were substantive.

His observations aren’t any more accurate for other cities around the country, where similar coalitional efforts were undertaken, including New York.

The good rabbi ought to get his history right, especially before he starts to offer advice on a very difficult issue.

David A. Lehrer
President
Joe R. Hicks
Vice President
Community Advocates Inc.

Too Much Tolerance?

David Suissa misses the point completely (“Museum of Too Much Tolerance?” May 9).

What better way to commemorate the memory of 6 million than to celebrate the reemergence, continuity and vitality of Jewish life celebrated by weddings and bar mitzvahs. Shame on those who refuse to revel in the celebration of life.

Anybody who has been to the Museum of Tolerance recognizes that it not only commemorates the dead but celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. Should the museum succeed and celebrations be held within, the 6 million will be dancing along.

Max Gottlieb
Los Angeles

GOP Ad

The latest ad run by the Republican Jewish Coalition, featuring one of their converts, shows how flimsy the GOP knows its ideas are (Advertisement, May 9).
Why else would the nice lady spend a few sentences merely hinting at tricky issues that good people can disagree about and the rest whining about liberal self-righteousness and playing the abused underdog like one of her talk-radio heroes?

In my political life, I’ve found that everyone who cares deeply about the issues is pretty self-righteous about it. The liberals just happen to be right, in addition. You know people don’t have a leg to stand on when they make such clumsy, pandering appeals to readers of a serious publication.

David Meadow
Los Angeles

Golden Boy

Brad Greenberg’s eulogy of Art Aragon neglected the fact that since Aragon was raised in Boyle Heights, he was obviously no stranger to Jewish customs and undoubtedly had “noshed on a pastrami” at Canter Bros. on Brooklyn Avenue on occasion, and I’m surprised he wasn’t buried at Home of Peace Cemetery (“‘Golden Boy’ Keeps Faith,” May 2).

Eddie Cress
Sylmar

The Wright Flap

Kudos to Raphael J. Sonenshein for his comments on “