Obama in Yom HaShoah message cites commitment to combat intolerance


President Obama in his Yom HaShoah message recalled his recommitment in Israel last month to combating anti-Semitism and intolerance.

“Today, we honor the memories of the 6 million Jewish victims and millions of others who perished in the darkness of the Shoah,” Obama said Monday in a message timed for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“As we reflect on the beautiful lives lost and their great potential that would never be fulfilled, we also pay tribute to all those who resisted the Nazis’ heinous acts and all those who survived,” he said. “On my recent trip to Israel, I had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, and reaffirm our collective responsibility to confront anti-Semitism, prejudice and intolerance across the world.”

Obama concluded: “On this Yom Hashoah, we must accept the full responsibility of remembrance, as nations and as individuals — not simply to pledge 'Never again,' but to commit ourselves to the understanding, empathy and compassion that is the foundation of peace and human dignity.”

In a separate statement, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, noted that the day marked the Hebrew calendar's anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

“This day is a reminder of all who had the courage to fight back; who refused to allow the inhumanity of the Nazis to deprive them of their own humanity,” she said. “It is a reminder of the defiant spirit of the survivors, whose strength and perseverance still inspire us today.  It is a reminder of the righteous among the nations who risked their own lives to protect the lives of their neighbors.”

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum announced Monday that the Capitol Rotunda remembrance it organizes each year would take place this year on April 11 and that its theme would be “Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs.”

Eli Rosenbaum, the lead war crimes prosecutor at the Justice Department, will be the main speaker.

“Why did so many countries and individuals fail to respond to the warning signs?” the museum said in its release. “And what can we learn from the few who chose to act, despite widespread indifference?”

Obama outlines Holocaust lessons


One by one, the e-mails from the White House arrived in inboxes across Washington on April 23, each highlighting a unique initiative toward a different corner of the globe: Syria. Iran. Uganda.

The unifying factor was the president’s appearance that day at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and together the seemingly disparate issues underscored a message carefully calibrated by top White House officials: The Holocaust was uniquely a crime against the Jews, and its lessons for today are realized both in protecting Israel and preventing atrocities from being inflicted on any other people.

Obama threaded the themes together in his Monday morning speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum following a tour guided by Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist and Nobel laureate.

The president segued from the uniqueness of the Holocaust to the threats facing Jews and Israel today.

“When efforts are made to equate Zionism to racism, we reject them,” Obama said. “When international fora single out Israel with unfair resolutions, we vote against them. When attempts are made to delegitimize the State of Israel, we oppose them. When faced with a regime that threatens global security and denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel, the United States will do everything in our power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Obama then transitioned to the threats facing others.

“ ‘Never again’ is a challenge to societies,” he said. “We’re joined today by communities who’ve made it your mission to prevent mass atrocities in our time.”

The two-part message — protecting Israel, preventing atrocities — was reflected in the makeup of the audience, a mix of leaders of Jewish groups and groups that have advocated for other populations under threat, including Bosnians and the Sudanese.

Obama’s nod to the Holocaust’s uniqueness and how its trauma shaped his sensitivities to other peoples facing atrocities is not new. But in tying the threats facing Israel to the Holocaust, he seemed to be trying to address a perception among some Israeli and Jewish communal leaders that he does not “get” how Israel figures into post-Holocaust Jewish thinking.

Wiesel, introducing Obama, gave voice to Jewish concerns about Iran’s potentially genocidal intentions toward Israel.

“How is it that the Holocaust’s No. 1 denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a president?” Wiesel asked. “He who threatens to use nuclear weapons — to use nuclear weapons — to destroy the Jewish state. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late.”

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly expressed the desire to see Israel excised from the region, he has not explicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons against the Jewish state. Nevertheless, Israeli leaders have cited the rhetoric of Iranian leaders as evidence that the Islamic Republic cannot be allowed nuclear weapons.

Wiesel later made explicit the connection between Israel’s posture and the Holocaust.

“Now I hope you understand in this place why Israel is so important,” he said. “Not only to the Jew that I am but to the world. Israel cannot not remember, and because it remembers, it must be strong just to defend its own survival and its own destiny.”

Obama made it clear that he heard Wiesel’s concerns.

“As we walked through this exhibit, Elie and I were talking as we looked at the unhappy record of the State Department and so many officials here in the United States during those years,” he said. “And he asked, ‘What would you do?’ ”

Obama recalled telling an American woman he met while touring Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, in 2008 — when he was a candidate — “I would always be there for Israel.”

Repeating that message seemed aimed at assuaging worries expressed by Israeli leaders that Israel stands alone in perceiving the potential of genocide in Iran’s belligerence.

“People who dismiss the Iranian threat as a whim or an exaggeration have learned nothing from the Holocaust,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his own Holocaust remembrance message last week. “To cower from speaking the uncomfortable truth — that today like then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jewish people — that is to belittle the Holocaust, that is to offend its victims and that is to ignore the lessons.”

Daniel Mariaschin, the executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said that Obama citing the threats facing Jews was a welcome development.

“This is the first speech that connected the dots on the current threats together with Holocaust remembrance,” he said. “You had delegitimization [of Israel], you had the Iran issue.”

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust survivor, said Obama’s speech was important for underscoring how “Never again” emerged from a Jewish tragedy. He also said Obama’s speech would help push back against accusations that Israeli leaders like Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are overplaying the connection between the Iranian threat and the Holocaust.

Obama’s thinking about the Holocaust has been picked apart by the Jewish community since before his election as president.

On the one hand, Jewish leaders welcomed the sensibilities of a candidate who cited the postwar experience of a great-uncle helping to liberate a Buchenwald sub-camp.

“He returned from his service in a state of shock, saying little and isolating himself for months on end from family and friends, alone with the painful memories that would not leave his head,” Obama said during a presidential visit to Buchenwald in July 2009, also with Wiesel in attendance.
 On the other hand, a speech in Cairo by the president delivered the day before his visit to Buchenwald raised some Jewish hackles. In that speech, addressing the Muslim world, Obama said that America’s bond with Israel was based on “cultural and historical ties,” as well as “the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

While the president used the opportunity to condemn Holocaust denial and to make the case for Israel’s legitimacy — noting that threats to destroy the Jewish state evoked for Israelis memories of the Holocaust — some in the Jewish community were deeply troubled by the implications of his choice of words.

David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, said at the time that it was “unfortunate” that Obama “implied that the Holocaust was the primary reason for Israel’s creation” rather than the Jewish state being the result of historic ties to the land.

Obama’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum appearance gave him an opportunity to more clearly articulate his views on the Holocaust. In his speech there, the president said one message of the Holocaust is that the capacity to inflict harm is embedded in everyone, as is the capacity to do good.

That thinking was reflected in one of the directives he issued Monday — recognizing Jan Karski with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom for the Polish resistance fighter’s work providing some of the first eyewitness accounts of the Nazis’ mass murder of Jews.

“We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, because so many others stood silent,” Obama said. “But let us also tell our children about the Righteous Among the Nations.”

Obama’s thinking on genocide prevention has been informed by the work of his adviser Samantha Power, a top National Security Council official who has noted the West’s failure to do more to protect the Jews and other victims of genocide in making the case for intervention to stop modern-day atrocities.

Power, an architect of the Obama administration’s diplomatic and military strategies in helping to topple dictators in the Ivory Coast and Libya, and in aiding the creation this year of South Sudan, was named Monday by Obama to lead an Atrocities Prevention Board.

The board, Obama said, would oversee efforts in a number of departments to isolate and confront perpetrators of atrocities.

“We’re going to institutionalize the focus on this issue,” he said. “Across government, ‘alert channels’ will ensure that information about unfolding crises — and dissenting opinions — quickly reach decision-makers, including me.”

The White House was eager to convey the impression that the board’s agenda already was informing administration policy. Executive orders were issued Monday banning the sale of information technology to Syria and Iran that could be used to stifle dissent in those countries.

Obama also renewed the mandate of U.S. military advisers counseling Uganda on the pursuit of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rampaging militia led by Joseph Kony that kidnaps children and rapes and murders civilians.

The president, however, has come under fire by those who say he has not made good on campaign pledges to defend human rights. The Republican Jewish Coalition in a statement after the speech faulted Obama for not doing enough to bolster Iranian democracy activists in 2009. Conservatives and congressional Republicans say Obama has shown a lack of resolve in failing to provide opponents of the Syrian regime with military support.

In his speech, Obama defended what he said were his successes but said the United States has to pick and choose its battles.

Preventing atrocities, he said, “does not mean we intervene militarily every time there is an injustice in the world.”

Three generations will march, witness, remember


As the Germans marched toward the tiny French hamlet of Autrans, 10-year-old Eva Perlman (nee Gutmann) watched as an obviously frightened 17-year-old boy fled from a sawmill into the woods. The Germans shot him on sight.
It was 1942, and the boy wasn’t even Jewish, Perlman says.

“To this day, I’m afraid to go in the woods,” she said. “It makes me think of dead bodies.”

It’s one of several stories the Holocaust survivor recounted to wide-eyed teens as she participated in last year’s March of the Living in Poland for the first time.

Perlman, now 79, is attending again next month, but this time she plans to bring her daughter and granddaughter. And once the April 16-30 event ends, Perlman and her family will take a detour to France to retrace her Holocaust-era experience.

“It’s an incredible opportunity, said Ilana Meskin, Perlman’s daughter. “An entire generation alive during the war is not going to be here very much longer, and to hear their story is a privilege. I’m very honored.”

While in France, they will visit the house in Autrans where Perlman and her family hid in plain sight from the Nazis from 1942 to 1944. There, Perlman will meet with people she knew as a child as well as descendants of those non-Jews who aided her family.

Before reaching Autrans, however, Perlman will visit family in Paris and travel to a town near Nice, where she plans to reunite with her girlhood crush — and meet his wife.

Perlman first heard about March of the Living two years ago, when two students spoke about it at Temple Adat Ari El in Valley Village. The annual educational program takes students and survivors from around the world to Poland, where they explore remnants of the Holocaust and march out of Auschwitz on Yom HaShoah. From there, participants travel to Israel, where they observe Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.

“The girl was unemotional, but the boy broke me up,” Perlman said. “I was so moved by his experience, and the thoughts, and the feelings, and the emotions of the trip.”

Perlman said she turned to her daughter and told her that she never had wanted to visit a concentration camp, but now she did. A friend arranged for Perlman to interview with a March of the Living official, who invited her to participate as a survivor.

Unlike many Holocaust survivors, Perlman carries no personal scars in the form of tattooed numbers on an arm; nor did she have to hide in a secret annex like Anne Frank. Yet she carries vivid memories of the time she and her family rented the upstairs rooms in a yellow house in Autrans, nine miles from Grenoble, in the French Alps.

Some of these memories hurt; Perlman to this day refuses to speak German, and if someone hears her German accent and tries speaking German to her, she will reply in English that she does not wish to speak or hear German.

She is considering documenting her life experiences in a book, which she would title, “A String of Miracles.”

One of these episodes was the time her mother, Charlotte, suffered a bicycle accident, preventing her from reaching her husband, Rodolfe, who had joined the French Resistance. Without the accident, Perlman says, she would have ridden right into the Nazis’ hands.

Another time, her mother carried a trunk loaded with silver and nearly missed her train. As it pulled out of the station, Charlotte saw that Nazis had set up a checkpoint on a bridge she would have had to walk across had she missed the train.

“How about that?” Perlman said recently. “So many times we could have been captured, and some invisible force kept us safe.”

Another stroke of good fortune was their genetics. Eva and her two brothers had blond hair and blue eyes, causing a Nazi to remark, “[They remind] me of our lovely German children.”

He wasn’t far off. Perlman was born in Berlin in May 1932, followed by her brothers Ernest and Raymond, who were born in France. The family had moved in 1933 partly because Rodolfe could get work as a patent attorney.

Her parents sought French citizenship and falsified papers. They wanted to change their last name, because Gutmann sounded too Jewish, but French authorities wouldn’t allow French identification cards to be reissued unless they were illegible. So her mother dropped them in the wash.

The family became the Gallians.

After the Germans marched through France and arrived at Autrans, Perlman said there came the time when a Nazi officer and his aide stayed in their house for two weeks. Her mother had to give up her bedroom and move to the attic.

“It was like letting the lion into the lamb’s cage,” Perlman said.

To avoid suspicion, German-born Charlotte spoke French with smatterings of broken German, mangling syntax and grasping for the right words.

“I cannot, for my part, imagine how I could have done what she did,” Perlman said.

In many ways, Perlman and her family were lucky. French non-Jews betrayed thousands of Jews. The Nazis deported 76,000 Jews, of which about 2,500 survived the death camps. All told, the Nazis wiped out almost one quarter of the Jewish population in France.

When she arrives in Autrans, Perlman said, she expects the yellow house will seem smaller than she remembered, but it won’t dampen her excitement.

Because she was so young at that time, she said she failed to understand the magnitude of the Holocaust. Perlman said she did not feel the mortal terror of the Germans or the Vichy government that her mother felt at that time. As a result, she says, her detailed recollections and her writing about that time lack emotion.

As an adult, however, she said she recognizes the importance of all survivors telling their stories, which is why she attends events such as March of the Living and why she’s bringing her daughter on this trip.

“My daughter will be the eyewitness,” she said. “Saying the story makes it more believable. Pictures are not as graphic as a number on an arm. It’s important.”

Ashtrays and Diet Coke


You did it even though we told you not to. That you would hurt too many people just to make yourself happy. We would miss you. And causing other people pain wasn’t good. That you had to be patient. The medicine would eventually work. But you finally gave up paddling through life and let the waves take you out to sea.

I remember mom telling me when she found out you were gone. I had never cried so much over a person; but you weren’t any other person, you were my brother. She said you hadn’t answered the doorbell at your apartment. And the police had to come and knock down the door. And when they came inside to find you, all they found was an empty body. You had left. Gone away to a better place, they told me. But I don’t know another place. And even before you died you weren’t present. Your body walked around and was active but you were nowhere to be found.

I remember you smoked. And that we had an ashtray for you in our garden by the pool. And you wouldn’t stop when I asked you to. I told you all the bad effects that could come from smoking, but you didn’t care. I remember all that Diet Coke you drank had ruined your teeth. They were aged teeth, too old for you. And you barely came to visit. You only came sometimes, and you never looked happy. Your hearty laughs were rare, but you could always make me laugh. You gave me happiness even when you were deprived of it. When you did laugh, I was never sure it would last. Your contentment could withstand time or be gone in a second, just like you.

But when you left you hurt everyone. I remember flying to your house in Israel. The tiny rooms were aching to release the masses of people who had come to cry over you at the shiva. And that park across the street that I wouldn’t go to because I thought I shouldn’t play. As much as the swings and slides cajoled me to come play with them, I didn’t leave the house. I thought you would be mad if I had fun.

But when all of your family went around in a circle to say what we missed the most about you: I was stuck. Maybe if we had spent more time together, and maybe if you hadn’t gone so soon I would have had something to say. I just said that I loved when you visited us, while other people had real memories with you. But I didn’t have those, and I never will. You made me grow up too soon. I was only eight when I learned that people could and would end their life. You had the power, and you used it to leave us. And when you took your life, you also took away a part of me: my innocence.

Anjoum Fried Agrama is a ninth-grader at Marlborough School. Anjoum’s brother would have been 35 on Nov. 12.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the December issue is Nov. 15; deadline for the January issue is Dec. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Letter from Jerusalem



Silent slideshow shows images of the funeral in Jerusalem

Condolence visits are part of a rabbi’s life, but no one ever taught us how to make nine visits in a 48-hour period.

We arrived in Israel on the morning of Tuesday, March 11, and left Israel the following night. Our mission, representing the Rabbinical Council of America, was to express solidarity with the families of the victims of the terror attack at yeshivat Mercaz Harav, comfort the injured in the hospitals and visit the yeshiva.

We were joined at different parts of our trip by Rabbi Joseph Pollack of Boston, Rabbis Milton Polin and Jay Karzen of Jerusalem, and Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, and Rabbi Joshua Joseph, his chief-of-staff.

During our two days in Israel, we never heard anyone call for revenge. What we heard was a determination to enhance Torah study, prayer, concern for the welfare of the nation and a vision to double the Mercaz High School enrollment from 250 to 500. This, it was said, would be the appropriate answer to the terrorist’s destruction.

We immediately traveled to Ashdod to visit the family of Doron Meherte, 26. Meherte arrived in Israel from Ethiopia at the age of 8 during Operation Solomon. He was an outstanding Talmud student who was studying for the rabbinate.

Known for his keen concentration, Meherte did not even notice the terrorist entering the library and was the only student killed while sitting at his table immersed in his studies. The volume he was studying became saturated with his blood and was buried with him.

Ro’ie Roth, 16, of Elkana, was passionate about prayer and would often be the last in the yeshiva to complete his daily prayers.

Yonatan Eldar, 16, of Shiloh was part of a close-knit group of friends. Because of his great love for the land of Israel, he became an avid hiker.

Yehonadav Hirschfield, 19 of Kokhav Hashahar was the grandson and great-grandson of two prominent American rabbis. He had completed studying the entire Mishna 70 times, and on that fateful night, he was completing the Mishna once again.

Avraham Moses, 16, of Efrat, the son of American immigrants, was beloved in his community for his exceptional acts of kindness.

Segev Avihail, 15, of Neve Daniel, was a prolific writer at his very young age.

Yohai Lifshitz, 18, of Jerusalem, blessed with an analytical mind, spent his days and nights in the study hall.

Neria Cohen, 15, the youngest victim, was an eager student who wrote sophisticated questions to Israel’s leading rabbis.

At each home, we were received with warmth. Each family remarkably demonstrated an incredible spirit and an awe-inspiring faith. We were shown blood-stained and bullet-burned books that the boys had been studying, and we heard remarkable stories about each boy’s commitment to Torah and acts of kindness.

Each family expressed the feeling that they were not alone in their grief and that the entire Jewish nation was mourning with them. One father remarked that he received calls from all over the world.

Our trip included hospital visits to the three most seriously wounded boys. The oldest was a 26-year-old father of two who suffered a serious arm injury. The youngest was ninth-grader Nadav Samuel. Nadav calmly recounted his experience of being shot six times in his arms and legs while taking cover behind a bookcase.

The most gravely hurt boy was Naftali Sheetrit, 16, from long-suffering Sderot. At the time of our visit, he was in a medically induced coma, with serious abdominal and leg wounds. We met his family sitting outside the intensive-care unit next to an Arab family also waiting on a loved one.

The surgeon who operated on Naftali had rushed to the hospital when he heard about the attack. He was the first to open the door of the ambulance, and when he saw how grave Naftali’s situation was, he wheeled him into the operating room without scrubbing. The boy had to be resuscitated twice during the procedure.

Our call to Mercaz Harav, together with Yeshival University’s Joel, was very emotional. Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, head of the yeshiva, gave us a walking tour of the library and a full description of the murderous attack. The signs of the horror were still visible. Contrary to press reports, the terrorist never had any association with the school.

Our brief visit reaffirmed our pride in Israel and its many unsung heroes. The boys who were murdered take their place among our nation’s martyrs, and the courageous survivors are a great inspiration.

Hershel Billet is the rabbi of Young Israel of Woodmere, N.Y. Elazar Muskin is the rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Holocaust remembrance — Exodus redux


Sitting by an open screen door, Tante Surcha switches off the television when I walk in. I lean into her recliner to kiss her cheek, and ask how she is feeling after her hip surgery. She gives a shrug and an OK, and eyes the notebook and digital voice recorder I’ve just pulled from my bag and set on the coffee table in the den of her elegantly decorated Beverly Hills home.

Sarah Jacobs (Surcha is the Polish version of Sarah) was married to my grandfather’s first cousin Max, who, along with my great uncle and grandfather, were the only ones from their family to survive the Holocaust.

And while we don’t see each other often, I was surprised to learn from her daughter recently that Tante Surcha was once a passenger aboard the Exodus.
Along with more than 4,500 other Holocaust survivors, Jacobs saw Israel from the deck of the Exodus in July 1947. But she couldn’t disembark, because the British, trying to enforce a strict quota in the Mandate of Palestine, rammed and boarded the rickety ship, killing three passengers and wounding 30. After a long standoff, the passengers were sent back to Germany.

The world uproar that followed is credited with leading to the creation of a sovereign Jewish homeland.

Jacobs’ daughter, Helen Lepor, set up this interview for us so I could learn more about her voyage, and while Jacobs, 82, agreed to let me come, now that I’m here she seems reticent. She doesn’t quite avoid my questions, but her answers are minimalist, and often accompanied by a shrug or a tilt of the head, as if the information is so obvious — or perhaps so painful — as to make the exercise unnecessary.

How were conditions on the ship?

“The facilities were not so good,” she understates in a thick Yiddish accent. “There wasn’t enough water.”

Weren’t you angry that after surviving concentration camp, you were once again being so mistreated?

“Yeah, so nu, that’s life.”

Jacobs isn’t the only survivor having memories plied from her.

Over the last several years, in anticipation of the voyage’s 60th anniversary, survivors of the Exodus have been asked to share their stories in an effort to solidify Exodus’ place in history, before all that is left are the fictionalized and romanticized versions of the 1958 Leon Uris novel or the 1960 Otto Preminger film (and even those are already being forgotten). Among the recent projects are “Exodus 1947,” a 1997 documentary film by Venice resident Elizabeth Rodgers, and a new release of journalist Ruth Gruber’s account of the voyage, “Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation” (October 2007, Union Square Press).

Last week, 300 French Jews re-enacted the voyage, setting sail from Exodus’ original port in the South of France and arriving in Haifa. Unlike Exodus’ real passengers, they disembarked.

The largest of the commemorative events took place on Aug. 1 in Tel Aviv, when 1,500 Exodus passengers and descendants of passengers gathered for a reunion, initiated and organized by Meier Schwarz, a Haganah commander aboard the ship.

Schwarz, an 81-year-old botany professor who pioneered Israel’s hydroponics crop system, enlisted the help of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to put together a complete list of passengers. A manifest for the ship never existed, since the passengers were trying to smuggle into Israel illegally.

Around 2,100 names have been gathered so far. Many people also submitted memoirs or interviews, and Schwarz published these in Hebrew in “Maapilei Exodus 1947.” (“Maapilim” derives from the Hebrew word for “daring,” and refers to the Jews who ran the British blockade to get into pre-state Israel.)

Schwarz also officially presented to the Knesset “The Scroll of Exodus,” a document of the Exodus survivors.

Schwarz is hoping these events will raise interest among a generation that seems to have forgotten the vital role the ship played in the founding of the state.
“If you go on the street in Israel and ask somebody what happened on the Exodus, most of them say they don’t know what happened,” Schwarz said by phone from his Jerusalem home. “They know the Leon Uris book, and they know the movie, and they all have in mind that was the real story, but the real story was something quite different and more interesting.”

While he is proud that 1,500 people showed up for the reunion — double what organizers expected — he is disappointed that he’s received scant funding for his efforts. Only the Tel Aviv Municipality chipped in for the event.

Jacobs couldn’t make the reunion. Still, she is aware of her journey’s significance, not only in the role it played in creating the state, but in how it determined the course of her life: She landed in Los Angeles in 1950 and didn’t step foot in Israel until 1964.

And even if she is reluctant to let her mind go back in time, her nonchalance disappears and her fuzzy memory clears up when she remembers what happened after the British rammed the ship.

“We went outside, we went up to see Haifa. Everyone was there, and we started to sing ‘Hatikvah,'” Jacobs remembered, her eyes growing intense. “But unfortunately, they didn’t let us off.”

‘I Wanted to Go to Israel’

Like most of the 4,515 passengers, Sarah Jacobs (née Surcha Feder) was a young Holocaust survivor. Before the war, Jacobs had lost both her mother and the grandmother who raised her, and in 1943, when she was 19, she was taken from Sosnowicz, Poland, to a German labor camp. In 1944 she was transferred to a concentration camp, from which she was liberated in 1945. At the age of 21, with all of her immediate family dead, she went to live with her uncle in Germany.

“My uncle said to me and my cousin that we are young girls, we should go to Israel. He gave us the address of my cousin there,” Jacobs says.

Mom’s last day


A test of emunah (trust, faith), according to prominent voices in our tradition (Mishna Berachot 9:2), is the ability to bless the bad, as well as the good. Upon hearing of the death of a loved one, can one say, baruch dayan emet (blessed be the truthful judge.)

And might one add, baruch haTov v’haMeitiv (blessed be the doer of good.)

I viewed this injunction as admirable but unrealistic, even uncompassionate, as it places the mourner in an emotionally tenuous position. But you just can’t know, of course, what you will feel until the moment arrives.

My mother, Dorothy, first noticed discomfort in May. In June, she was diagnosed with stage-four cancer of the liver. On average, the specialist told us, patients on her chemotherapy regimen last eight to 10 months, some longer. But after a relatively healthy month, she began a quick decline that caught us off guard every day.

My fiancee, Jody, and I had planned a 2008 wedding. We thought about moving the date forward, but I was needed in my parents’ home, and we did not want to start married life living apart. Instead, we created an engagement ceremony and invited some 80 family members and friends to celebrate with us on the day after Yom Kippur.

But the day before Yom Kippur, a feeding tube was surgically implanted to nourish mom. We spent Yom Kippur learning how to use it. It didn’t help. She took her first pain medication that night.

We cancelled our party and moved the engagement ceremony to my parents’ living room. By the afternoon, however, mom couldn’t even sit up in her bed, let alone move down the stairs. Some 20 family members and friends gathered around her bed. The rabbi, Shefa Gold, asked us to remember that while mom’s body was failing, her soul was thrilled that her chronically bachelor son had found his beloved.

Jody and I cried our way through the ceremony. Our impromptu congregation sang verses from Song of Songs to us before I placed Jody’s engagement ring on her finger. Mom couldn’t speak, but she moved her body to signal her joy, and a huge smile graced her lips.

We invited our extended family to join us after the ceremony. Though no longer a celebration, we wanted to comfort each other and visit with mom.

At first, she didn’t have the strength to see even her siblings. But as the sun set, mom perked up. In small groups, four generations of the family made pilgrimages to her bedside, speaking words of love and appreciation. To some, my mother replied, “I love you.” When words failed her, she took their hands and brought them to her lips.

That night, my sister, Felicia, rose at 3 a.m. to help the new caretaker feed mom through the tube. Unable to sleep afterward, she kept mom company and told the caretaker all about her: that in her 30s, she started backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with her husband and three kids; that she was the peacemaker of the extended family and hosted the annual Chanukah party that kept us together; that she volunteered extensively for the Jewish community; that she was an insatiable romantic and optimist who never dwelled in the past; that she was a talented artist (her paintings are currently on display at the Creative Arts Center Gallery in Burbank).

A few minutes after Felicia left to sleep, the caretaker called her back. While I was calling 911, mom breathed her last breaths in Felicia’s arms.

In hindsight, it is clear to me that my mother was meant to pass on Yom Kippur, when the gates of righteousness are open widest. But as Felicia put it, she willed herself to live one last day, and what a day it was.

We were soon lost in the awkwardness of filling out forms with the paramedics and arranging for the mortuary to collect mom’s body. No one knew what to say, yet we talked incessantly.

Eventually, I came to my rabbinic senses and shooed everyone out of the bedroom. I did as the tradition instructs; I recited psalms. Later, I began to chant Rabbi Gold’s melody to v’chayai olam nata b’tocheynu (“God implanted eternal life within us,” from the blessing after the reading of the Torah).

One by one, my father and siblings entered the room and joined in. Then we each spent time with mom alone, saying whatever had been left unsaid. We chanted together again until the mortuary people arrived.

My parents’ bedroom commands a sweeping view of the San Fernando Valley, facing east. As we sang, the sky turned pink and red and purple, the colors our family of wilderness trekkers had seen so often together, the colors of her paintings. The sunrise moved us like never before. For us now, dawn will always be mom’s time. She passed in deepest night, but as we said goodbye, she once again gave us the gifts of color and light.

At 72, healthy and vibrant, Dorothy died well before her time. I suffered lethargy and other symptoms of depression before my mother died. The shock and then the gradual loss of the woman I knew sent me into the grieving process while she was still alive. But her equanimity made it easier on all of us. Shortly after her diagnosis, she assured me that she had no regrets. Her life had been blessed and full; nothing was missing.

These last few weeks, I have not been in a state of grief as much as a state of awe. I feel saturated with her spirit.

There is such a thing as a blessed death, and it lends one the deep joy that only comes from living in truth. For me that means accepting-not in my head but in my heart-that life and death are flip sides of the same coin, and though the price of life is death, it is worth paying. That we cannot control when the coin is flipped does not destroy the gifts of a life well-lived. Rather, death reveals, in its fierce and unforgiving way, just how precious life is. Baruch dayan emet.

And when a blessed life is sealed with a blessed death — when I think about how much goodness and love Dorothy gifted me over the course of my life — gratitude wells up with the tears.

Baruch haTov v’haMeitiv.

Rabbi Mike Comins is author of “A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007) and founder of TorahTrek Spiritual Wilderness Adventures.

Farewell, my beloved Mom


My mother’s body laid lifeless in front of me, wrapped thickly in a sheet and resting on a table in plain view. Her head and her feet were nearly indistinguishable.

I approached the rabbi to perform the traditional keriah, the ritual tearing of a mourner’s garment. He cut a small piece of my shirt with a blade and instructed me to rip it further. The sound was jarring, and it echoed throughout the crowded chapel at Eretz Hachayim, a cemetery just outside of Jerusalem.

Choking back tears, I approached the lectern to deliver my eulogy, one of several that day. After the eulogies, we said the Kaddish prayer and my Mom’s body was lifted by the men of the chevrah kadisha, or burial society, and carried in a somber, solemn procession to the gravesite she selected several years ago.

It was a mere 13 hours after she died at Hadassah Hospital following a three-week coma.
In Israel, burials happen quickly. They are stark, intimate, raw affairs. There is no casket, no hearse, no funeral-goers in fancy outfits; rather, everyone desses simply. The sheet-wrapped body of the deceased is within sight of everyone, and at the conclusion of the service it descends straight into the earth with no protective casing.

Just three weeks earlier, a call came in the middle of the night that my ailing 91-year-old mother had a seizure and fell into a coma. I took the first flight out from Los Angeles and was at her bedside every day throughout her coma, along with my three siblings who live in Israel.

Mom lived in Israel for 12 years, moving there at 79 after my father, Rabbi Benjamin Groner, had died. For Rebbetzin Frances Groner, living in Israel was a lifelong dream come true. She thrived and flourished in the Holy Land, making new friends, creating a wonderful community, and volunteering and fundraising for numerous causes like Amit Women, Hadassah, Herzog Hospital, Bikur Cholim Hospital and the League of Special Children, to name a few. After more than 50 years serving alongside my father at pulpits in Chicago, Windsor, Omaha and New Orleans, she had finally come home.

I visited her often in Israel, and watched her grow older and frailer over the years. She had suffered a stroke in late 2004 and subsequently declined in health, particularly in the last few months. It was sad to watch such a formerly vibrant woman full of energy and life — a woman who thrived on doing good deeds for others, especially hosting countless guests for Shabbat and holidays — looked after by a caretaker.

Suddenly, Mom’s life was but a memory as her body was swiftly lowered into the ground and shovelfuls of earth were placed upon her. We, the mourners, said Kaddish again, then turned and walked away to begin shivah, the week of intense mourning.

Several hundred people visited during the shivah — friends and relatives, neighbors and acquaintances, even several Los Angeles friends who were visiting Israel. It felt as if the entire nation was mourning with us. Everybody knew just what to say.

In Israel, visiting a shivah house is commonplace and everyone experiences it. Large posters in big, bold type announcing a person’s death and surround a shivah house, so it’s impossible not to feel the loss.

The shivah visitors shared their poignant stories and wonderful memories of Mom. Although I knew about her many admirers and how people adored her, I didn’t know how many lives she’s touched.

“I really want to emulate your mother, her kindness and her concern for others,” said one 19-year-old fan who just began his service in the Israel Defense Forces.

The shivah experience was draining at times, exhausting on occasion, but also invigorating — it was, essentially, a celebration of Mom’s life. Then suddenly, when the shivah ended, we were all thrown back into the real world. Of course, life will be rather atypical this year, as I’ll be saying Kaddish during morning, afternoon and evening services at synagogue every day in memory of Mom.

After returning from five weeks in Israel, I’m grateful for many things, including the caring, professional Hadassah Hospital staff and fellow hospital visitors — Jews, Arab and Christians — whom I befriended. We shared similar fears and concerns about ill family members, and we supported one another. I’m thankful for all the chessed, or lovingkindness, bestowed upon us by volunteers who provided complimentary daily and Shabbat meals.

I’m also indebted to many caring friends, acquaintances as well as my fellow congregants at Young Israel of Century City and Rabbi Elazar Muskin, all of whom supported me during this crisis. They shared their concern and offered much-needed hope and sustenance during some very bleak days. Every e-mail and call I received lifted my spirits and consoled me in the midst of much difficulty and pain.

Finally, I’m grateful to the Almighty for having given me such a remarkable mother who, by example, taught her many offspring about the beauty of Judaism, how to lead meaningful lives and how important it is to do chesed for others. May her memory be a blessing.

Lewis Groner is director of marketing and communications at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. He can be reached at impactcomms@earthlink.net

Yom Ha’Atzmaut 2007: What Israel means to me


From a chapter in the book, “What Israel Means to Me: By 80 Prominent Writers, Performers, Scholars, Politicians, and Journalists,” edited by Alan Dershowitz (John Wiley & Sons, 2006).

I was born in Tel Aviv, in 1936, and, quite naturally, my feelings toward Israel are suffused with the love, pride, memories, music and aromas that nourish and sustain all natives of any
country.

Yet, remarkably, as the years pass, I discover that these same feelings towards Israel are echoed by people everywhere, including many who have never set foot in that country.

My family’s love affair with Israel begins in 1924, when my grandfather, a textile merchant and devout Chassid in the town of Ostrowietz, Poland, decided to realize his life dream and immigrate to the land of the Bible.

Family lore has it that my grandfather was assaulted one day by a Polish peasant with an iron bar shouting: “Dirty Jew!”; he crawled home then, wiped his blood and announced to his wife and four children: “Start packing! We are going home!”

In the weeks that followed, he sold all his possessions, and, teaming with 25 other families, he bought a piece of sandy land about seven kilometers to the northeast of Jaffa. That land was near an Arab village called “Ibn Abrak,” described by the newspaper Haaretz (July 1924) as “a few mud-walled huts surrounded by a few scattered trees.”

The Arab real-estate broker in Jaffa had probably no inkling why a group of seemingly educated Jews, some with business experience, would pay so dearly for a piece of arid land, situated far from any water source, which even the hardy residents of Ibn Abrak found to be uninhabitable.

But the 26 Chassidic families knew exactly what they were buying — Ibn Abrak was the site of the ancient city of Bnai-Brak, well known in the biblical and rabbinic days, the town where Rabbi Akiva made his home and established his great yeshiva.

The sages say that it was to Bnai-Brak that Rabbi Akiva applies the famous verse: “Justice, Justice shalt thou pursue. (Sanhedrin. 32b)”

The vision of reviving the spirit of that ancient site of learning was well worth the exorbitant price the broker demanded, the dusty winds, the merciless sun, the lack of water, and all the daily hardships that pioneering agricultural life entailed.

My father was 14 when his family arrived at Bnai-Brak in 1924, and whenever he reminisced about that early period of hardship, he always referred to it as the “rebuilding of Bnai-Brak,” as if he and my grandfather had been there before, with Poland and the whole saga of the Jewish Diaspora merely an unpleasant nightmare.

We, the children who grew up in Bnai-Brak, had not the slightest doubt that we had been there before. Every Passover, when our family’s reading of the haggadah reached the well-known story of the five rabbis who were sitting in Bnai-Brak, reciting the story of the Exodus, my grandfather would stop the reading, look everyone in the eye, issue one of his rare mysterious smiles, and continue with emphasis: “She’Hayu Mesubin b’Bnai Brak….” The message was clear: “We never really left home!”

A short distance from our school, there were two steep hills that almost touched each other. The older boys told us that the two hills once were one, and got separated when Bar Kochba — the heroic figure who led a futile Jewish rebellion against Rome in the second century C.E.. — rode through them on his famous lion, causing the gully between.

We had no doubt that it was only a matter of time before we would find Bar Kochba’s burial place; we needed only to dig deep enough into these hills — which we did enthusiastically for hours and hours. It was only a matter of time, we thought, before the earth all around us would ooze and unravel the mysteries of our historic infancy.

It was this cultural incubator that shaped my childhood — an intoxicating enthusiasm of homecoming and nation rebuilding.

Those who say that this sort of culture no longer inspires youth in our generation are mistaken. Seventy-eight years after my grandfather first set foot in Bnai-Brak, in a desolate shed in Karachi, Pakistan, his great-grandson, Daniel Pearl, stood before his captors-murderers and said: “

Beyond Remembrance


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

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

The Holocaust overwhelms me with grief.

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

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

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

Feeling like a victim makes me Jewishly lazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The non-Jewish world.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe there’s room for both.

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

Pledge to survivors — we will carry the torch


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is our pledge to our parents this Yom HaShoah.

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

Call to ‘write and record’ brings new books on Shoah


“Write and record,” historian Simon Dubnow urged his fellow Jews, as he was taken to his death in Riga. Over the decades since Dubnow’s murder in 1941, many have taken his words to heart, and scholars, survivors, novelists, poets, members of the second and third generations continue to publish new work on the Holocaust. This season, in time for the commemoration of Yom HaShoah, there are impressive historical works, memoirs of lost childhoods, personal testimonies and artful works of fiction; many written by those who feel an obligation to those whose voices were stilled.

History

Archivist Bonnie Gureswitsch quotes historian Simon Dubnow in the opening of her essay, “Documenting the Unimaginable: Recording the Truth, Telling the World,” in a companion book to a new exhibition opening April 16 in New York City at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, titled “Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust” (Museum of Jewish Heritage).

Edited by curator Yitzchak Mais, with essays by Holocaust scholar David Engel, psychologist Eva Fogelman, Gureswitsch and Mais, the book documents individual and group acts of resistance through excerpts of diaries, oral histories and letters — some never before published — illustrated with photographs and artwork produced clandestinely in ghettos and camps.

As Mais writes, he and his colleagues have “sought to change the widely held perception that Jews, by and large, failed to resist. The question is not, as some would pose it, why did Jews fail to mount cohesive and effective resistance to the Nazis, but rather, how was it possible that so many Jews resisted at all?”

“The Righteous Among the Nations: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust,” by Mordecai Paldiel, with a foreword by Elie Wiesel (Collins), includes about 150 well-written profiles of ordinary citizens who risked their lives — who wouldn’t apply the word hero to themselves, but indeed personify that word. They were selected from among the more than 21,000 people who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. The author, who was born in Antwerp, Belgium, and was helped during the war years by a French priest profiled in the book, serves as director of the Department for the Righteous at Yad Vashem.

Mordecai Paldiel’s “Diplomat Heroes of the Holocaust” (Ktav) details the lives of diplomats around the world during World War II, often on routine assignments, who, as Ambassador Richard Holbrooke explains in an introduction, found themselves “in an unexpected moral dilemma of historic dimensions.” Often using unorthodox methods, these diplomats risked their own lives to try to save others, motivated by their sense that official policies were wrong.

Some of the diplomatic heroes are familiar names, like Chiume Sugihara of Japan and Giorgio Perlasca of Italy. Paldiel also includes many others from China, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, Brazil,Yugoslavia and the Vatican.

In the book’s epigraph, Paldiel quotes German writer Lion Feuchtwanger: “Who has not gone through a country shaken by internal troubles, by war or foreign occupation, who does not know the significant role that an identity card or an administrative rubber stamp can play in a person’s life?”

“The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945,” by Saul Friedlander (HarperCollins), is a follow-up to his earlier work, “The Years of Persecution,” which together provide a remarkable comprehensive history. The author, who was born in Prague and spent his childhood in Nazi-occupied France, is a distinguished professor of history at UCLA and professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University. The work is based on letters, diaries and memories, as well as archival documents.

Fiction

A post-Holocaust story, “The Polish Woman,” by Eva Mekler (Bridge Works), opens when a 29-year-old woman arrives at the law offices of a man who — as she informs him — is the nephew of her late father. At first, the lawyer doesn’t believe that this woman is the long-lost child, who had been hidden by a Catholic family in Poland. A powerful story unfolds, as the lawyer and young woman try to verify her account and her identity.

Born in Poland immediately after the war, the author spent her first few years of life in a displaced persons camp in Germany and now lives in New York.

Aharon Appelfeld is a storyteller who spins his craft with delicacy and compassion. When his first book was published, a critic wrote, “Appelfeld doesn’t write on the Holocaust, but about its margins.” Some 20 books later, he’s still writing in the margins, creating stories drawn, in part, from his life.

In his latest novel, “All Whom I Have Loved” (Schocken), a young son of divorced parents moves back and forth between their homes and lives. The book is set in Europe in the ’30s, and the story prefigures what is to come for the Jews. Born in Czernowitz, Bukovina, Appelfeld lives in Israel.

Memoir

“Dark Clouds Don’t Stay Forever: Memories of a Jewish German Boy in the 1930s and 1940s,” by Werner Neuberger (Publish America), is a personal story that also conveys a larger perspective on prewar life in Germany. The author left Germany on a Kindertransport, came to the United States at the age of 13 and later served in the U.S. Army. As the title implies, he has managed to sustain his positive, life-embracing attitude. He writes with humility and insight.

“Bread, Butter, and Sugar: A Boy’s Journey Through the Holocaust and Postwar Europe,” by Martin Schiller (Hamilton Books), is told in the third person. It’s the story of young Menek, who would later become Martin, now a 73-year-old electrical engineer specializing in pollution control.

The author captures the child’s point of view: Schiller was 6 when the Nazis invaded Poland and 9 when he and his family were interned as slave laborers. He survived Buchenwald with the help of a German political prisoner.

“My Dog Lala: The Touching True Story of a Young Boy and His Dog During the Holocaust,” by Roman R. Kent (Teacher’s Discover), is, as the author describes, a love letter to his pet, also a casualty of the Holocaust. When Kent’s family was taken from their Lodz home to the Ghetto, Lala — whose name means doll in Polish — would find the way to the family at night, sneaking in and out of the Ghetto. Kent, a businessman who is active in Jewish organizational life related to the Holocaust, has used the story of Lala in speaking with young people as a way to promote tolerance.

Stark locations make perfect sets for ‘Anne Frank’ opera production


Few subjects resonate like the story of Anne Frank and her diary. The tale is familiar to many, yet even those who know little about the young writer’s life equate her name with courage in the face of grim reality. Beyond the much-translated diary, published in various incarnations (original, unexpurgated, revised critical), Anne’s story lives on in Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s Tony Award-winning play, first mounted on Broadway in 1955 and then revived in 1997, as well as the Oscar-winning 1959 movie derived from it.

Anne’s diary also inspired an opera composed in 1969 by Grigori Frid (sometimes credited as Fried because of the vagaries of transliteration), that had its premiere in Moscow in 1972 and was later performed in the Netherlands. It was first seen in the United States in 1978, and it has continued to be mounted in this country, albeit rarely.

Now Long Beach Opera, a company known for its daring repertory and unconventional interpretations, is presenting the West Coast premiere of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with three performances, from April 17 to 21 at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and at Lincoln Park in Long Beach. (Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood will also present a semistaged performance on Yom HaShoah, April 15.)

Conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s artistic and administrative head, this production takes a daring new turn. He is staging the opera — really an hourlong monodrama for soprano — in parking structures at Sinai Temple and Lincoln Park.

Mitisek has also augmented Frid’s work, both by interpolating some material by Anne not set by the composer and by adding

Dr. King in Hollywood


Like many synagogue guest speakers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his address to the members of Temple Israel of Hollywood on Friday, Feb. 26, 1965, with a pitch.

“Rabbi Nussbaum, officers and members of this great congregation, ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned. “I consider you real friends of our struggle. I want to thank you for your support…. This financial support will go a long, long way in helping us to continue in our humble efforts to make the American dream a reality.”

Dr. Martin Luther King
Temple Israel of Hollywood
Part I, 27 min., MP3, 3.1MB
Part II, 14 min., MP3, 1.6MB

I’ve heard the speech three times now (it’s here on this Web page so you can, too), and each time I smile at the notion that there’s no order of business too urgent and no speaker too majestic to forego … the appeal.

To Ruth Nussbaum, the wife of the late Rabbi Max Nussbaum, who brought King to Los Angeles to speak, the fundraising pitch was perfectly in keeping with an occasion that struck her at the time as eventful, though not immediately historic.

“You must remember, at that time it didn’t have the historical impact we put into it looking back,” she told me by phone.

Nussbaum is 95 now, but her memory of that Shabbat when King came to speak at her husband’s synagogue is keen. (Actually, her memory of everything is keen.) “It was exciting and impressive and symbolic for what we stood for, but history hadn’t happened yet; it was in the making.”

That’s the tricky thing about history: events and decisions that now seem merely interesting or important, in retrospect turn out to be crucial.

Rabbi Nussbaum had long been involved in the civil rights movement and interfaith relations. He invited King to address his congregation, and the reverend accepted.

As Kevin Roderick relayed at laobserved.com, King arrived in town amid heavy security:

“Selma was heating up that month, and Malcolm X had just been killed in New York, so King arrived in Los Angeles under heavy guard. It was his first trip west since winning the Nobel Peace Prize. King … attended a screening of ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ at the Cinerama Dome (now the ArcLight). The theater crawled with police because of death threats and the seizure of stolen dynamite connected to a racist group.”

King was 36 years old at the time.

“We invited him to Shabbat dinner at our house — we had all the speakers to our house for Shabbat dinner,” Ruth Nussbaum told me. “But he couldn’t come because of security.”

King did attend a reception at the home of ACLU stalwart Dr. Irving Lichtenstein. The FBI warned Lichtenstein that someone might attempt to assassinate King in the Beverly Hills surgeon’s home, but the doctor refused to cancel the event. According to a Los Angeles Times obituary, Lichtenstein told the FBI they could attend the dinner, but only if they wore tuxedos like other guests.

More than 1,700 people packed the sanctuary on Hollywood Boulevard to hear King.

Midway through the regular Friday evening service, Rabbi Nussbaum rose to introduce him as “the man who has changed the moral climate of America, to a point by which our country and our nation will never be the same again.” He has “given the history of our generation a forward thrust, a sense of direction, an encounter with destiny.”

If you listen to King’s oration — and you owe yourself a quiet 45 minutes to do so — you’ll hear something unusual: It’s not just about racism. In fact, he barely mentions the words “segregation” or “Negro.”

The tropes of the March on Washington speech, which King had delivered two years earlier, are all there, the references to the mountaintop, to the Promised Land, to the prophetic call for justice to “roll down like a mighty stream.”

But as much as the speech was about racial equality, it was also about the struggle to end poverty and to end war. We think of King as a black leader, but through his words, spoken here in Los Angeles, it is clear that his ultimate concern was the fate of the individual human soul, and of humankind — an encounter with our destiny.

“We have allowed our civilization to outrun our culture,” King preached. “We have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology…. We’ve made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood… What does it profit a man to gain the whole world of means — airplanes, television, electric lights — and lose the end, the soul?”

Because it was customary at that time not to applaud in a sanctuary, King’s rousing, passionate oration was met with utter silence. Then, he departed. He didn’t stay for the end of services, Ruth Nussbaum recalled. It was, perhaps, just one more stump speech on King’s long, wearing road. Hearing his words now, however, on a pristine recording, dusted off and made public for the first time after so many years, the speech seems eerily prescient.

Three years later an assassin would make good on all those threats, and a speech that at the time seemed like yet another step in the campaign for civil rights would become a rare, historic document of a visit from a still-living martyr. None of us knows for sure which weeks are portentous, and which are merely important.

Frankly, this week, with Congress and the president poised to decide whether or not to escalate the war in Iraq, feels like it may be one of those weeks.

Were King still here to take the pulpit of Temple Israel this week, the week that contains a day in his honor, what would he say?

What moral leadership would he provide to question, to counter, this deeper descent into the quagmire, this further misuse of noble lives? How would our president and our Democratic leaders fare confronted by a man of such practical and moral clarity?

“We’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men,” Dr. King told the Shabbat worshippers and guests at Temple Israel.

And without Dr. King around to guide us, who will?

Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s modern-day Herod, dies at 95


Teddy Kollek, the longtime Jerusalem mayor who died this week at the age of 95, is being remembered as the most prolific builder of the city since King Herod.
The man who in 28 years transformed the Israeli capital from a dusty backwater to an international city of parks, theaters and museums died Tuesday in the city that was his home and great love.

“He was the man who created the name Jerusalem as a real place, not as a town where things were blown up but a place where people could live together, even as Arabs and Jews,” said Yisrael Kimche, who worked under Kollek as director of policy planning for the city.

“He established modern Jerusalem more than anyone else,” said Kimche, who is currently a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.

Kollek, who grew up in Vienna and came to what was then British Mandate Palestine in 1935 as a young man, was considered one of the last of the generation of Israel’s founding fathers. He was known for expertly navigating the divide between Jerusalem’s diverse populations — Jewish and Arab, religious and secular.

He had been in office for just two years when the Six-Day War broke out in 1967, leading to the reunification of the city.

“Jerusalem’s people of differing faiths, cultures and aspirations must find peaceful ways to live together, other than by drawing a line in the sand,” Kollek once said.

Kollek forged strong ties with American Jewish and other Diaspora leaders throughout his tenure and was adept at raising funds for his beloved city.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch called Kollek, his longtime friend, “the mayor of all mayors.” “Everybody loved him, including everyone in the city of Jerusalem — even when they disagreed with him, and that ran the gamut from the Jews to the Arabs to anyone,” Koch said.

Theodor Kollek was born in 1911 in a small town in Hungary, and as a young child moved to Vienna. There he became active in Zionist youth movements under the influence of his father, a staunch Zionist who named his son after Theodor Herzl.

During the Israeli War for Independence, Kollek helped buy weapons and ammunition for Israel’s fledgling militia, the Haganah. He also met with Adolf Eichmann soon after World War II broke out and persuaded him to allow 3,000 Jewish youth passage to England.

Kollek became a confidante of David Ben-Gurion and worked as the chief aide to the country’s first prime minister from 1952 to 1965. In 1965, Ben-Gurion asked Kollek to run for mayor as part of his political party. Kollek balked initially, figuring he had no chance to win. Much to his own surprise, he was elected.
He was defeated 28 years later in 1993 by a Likud Party leader named Ehud Olmert.

Once the traditionally Arab eastern part of Jerusalem became part of the city in 1967, Kollek set ambitious plans to build Jewish neighborhoods around it to keep the city Israeli. He also worked to bring municipal services to the Arabs who under Jordanian rule had lived in some neighborhoods without sewage, running water and telephones.

But the city’s Arab population often said it felt neglected, even by the man championed for his vision of a mosaic city. Palestinians comprise about one-third of the city’s 700,000 residents.

Former aides and Kollek himself would say in later years that not enough money and support was channeled to neighborhoods in the eastern sector, which have consistently received less funding than Jewish areas in the west. Kollek did, however, protest moves by Jewish right-wing groups to settle in areas of eastern Jerusalem, claiming such moves were provocations in an already tense city.

Kollek was known for his relentless pace and his efforts at building up the city. Virtually every cultural institution in the city was a result of his influence and fundraising, from the Israel Museum and the Biblical Zoo to the Jerusalem Theatre. He transformed large swaths of land into parks with tulip beds and walkways and promenades to take in the city’s famous views.

“The city is definitely mourning his loss,” said Marlene Post, president of Hadassah International. “He was greater than life. You can definitely say that he was a modern-day Herod. He built the Knesset building, the Jerusalem Museum and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus.”

Kollek also cultivated archaeological projects and led reconstruction efforts of the Old City’s Jewish Quarter.

Kollek was praised for adeptly juggling the needs of the city’s Jewish population — secular and religious. He approved the building of neighborhoods for ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Charedim, far from the main roads so they would not be affected by those driving on Shabbat. He also fought for a sports stadium, which won the praise of secular Jerusalemites. To quell religious protests, he promised a nearby shopping mall would remain closed on Shabbat.

Kimche said he mourns the Jerusalem that his former boss was trying to create — an open, tolerant and cosmopolitan city.

Today’s Jerusalem, he said, feels like a more extreme place. The successive Palestinian uprisings have polarized Jewish and Arab populations, and the growing size and strength of the Charedim have led to confrontations over religious pluralism.

In his role as chief caretaker, he was an outstanding fundraiser — renowned for his ability to raise funds among Diaspora Jews.

“He was always irascible, energetic and had a driving force to build Jerusalem into the capital he felt Israel deserved,” said Seymour Reich, a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“There was only one Teddy Kollek, and modern-day Jerusalem owes a debt to him in terms of its structure and its role in world Jewry,” Reich said. “We need more Teddy Kolleks.”

JTA staff writer Jacob Berkman in New York contributed to this report.

Rites Mark Shoah, Camp Liberators


 

Rain and clouds greeted Southern California’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, while sunshine welcomed a gathering of World War II veterans and the Shoah survivors whom they liberated from concentration camps.

“Our remembrance ensures that the truth never will be forgotten; this time it might not happen to Jews but to other minorities in the world,” said Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Jona Goldrich, chair of the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument at Pan Pacific Park in the Fairfax District. The monument was seen by some of the 2,000 private and public school students who came to the park’s May 5 Yom HaShoah event.

Three days later, the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center hosted about 600 people for a short March of Gratitude down Pico Boulevard, honoring Allied veterans. In contrast to the rainy, emotionally darker Yom HaShoah event, the march’s generally upbeat mood and sunny weather played perfectly last Sunday — the 60th anniversary of Europe’s liberation on May 8, 1945, V-E Day.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Simon Wiesenthal Center dean and founder, noted that Holocaust and V-E Day gatherings — separated by just three days each May — reflect the world during World War II.

“Soldiers on the one hand, survivors on the other,” he said.

One distinction between World War II’s 50th and 60th anniversary events has been the toll of the 10 years between 1995 and now. About 50 survivors stood up at the Pan Pacific Park event, and the Museum of Tolerance gathering honored concentration camp-liberating veterans approaching their 90s.

“I’m getting older; I’m 87 years old and it’s getting difficult,” said Maurice Weinstein, a jeweler who served in Belgium’s independent brigade with Allied forces. “I lost all my family to the Germans.”

Attending the Holocaust and V-E Day events were Belgian, Croatian, French, German, Hungarian, Israeli, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and South African diplomats. Also walking in the V-E Day march was Hans Wendler, the consul general of Germany in Los Angeles.

“I come here, of course, with mixed feelings. Nobody likes to celebrate the defeat of one’s own country, but we have to accept the bitter truth that the Germans were not able to liberate themselves from the Nazis,” said Wendler, whose prior diplomatic postings included Germany’s embassy in Israel. “I have come here to express my gratitude that the Allies sacrificed so much blood to liberate us from the Nazis.”

Both remembrance events had political overtones dominated by the current L.A. mayor’s race. Like at the V-E Day remembrance, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn spoke at Pan Pacific Park, saying; “We’re here in one place showing that humanity can do better.”

Mayoral candidate and Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa presented a veterans’ proclamation at the V-E Day gathering and, like Hahn, spoke there and at Pan Pacific Park. But at the park event, Villaraigosa was not listed in the official printed program as a speaker. Instead, he spoke after the mayor and was introduced as speaking “on behalf of the City Council” — a curious choice of words, because the council as a whole usually is represented by City Council President Alex Padilla, who was at that same Shoah remembrance.

State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, a Democrat running for lieutenant governor next year, took a veiled swipe at Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s praise last month for the self-appointed “minutemen” patrolling Arizona’s border.

“The brown shirts of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the minutemen of America today both targeted minorities,” he said.

The governor did not attend the Museum of Tolerance or Pan Pacific Park events but he issued a proclamation declaring May 1-May 8 as “Days of Remembrance.”

 

Yeladim


 

Art From the Heart

Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, fell this year on Thursday, May 5. Did your school honor the day? Quartz Hill High School, in the Antelope Valley, honors the Holocaust every year by putting on a competition for the best creative work.

Train of Thought

This train has 75 spaces. Answer the questions and then place the answers in the correct spaces.
(Hint: Each word starts with the last letter of the word before it.)

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

[ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ]

• One of the more well-known concentration camps was: A_________
• “The night of broken glass” was called K_________
• The Final Solution called for the E__________ of the Jews.
• In 1948, the country of I________ was born.
• The German Air Force was called the L_________.
• Israel was established because of the ideal of Z___________.
• This camp in Eastern Poland is pronounced Maidanek, but is spelled M_________.
• The war spread over the continent of E__________
• Abbreviation of “National Socialist”: N_____
• The museum of T___________ speaks of many different Holocausts around the world.

 

Rolls of Veterans Groups Dwindling


Seymour Goldman spent World War II with an Army cleanup crew handling mustard gas drums in India.

“It was a terrible job,” said the 83-year-old, a retired TV repairman who lives in Culver City. “When I got out, I just didn’t want anything more to do with it.”

For Goldman and millions of other veterans — Jews and non-Jews alike — service in World War II was not a grand struggle, but exhaustive work.

Of the estimated 12 million to 13 million American men and women in uniform during World War II, only 1 million to 2 million of them saw actual combat. While Thursday’s Veterans Day services brought out many veterans who have vivid memories of fighting the Nazis, scores of veterans served in support positions, which left them with little interest in remembrance or nostalgia.

“I had no illusions about action. We were quartered in mansions,” said the Brooklyn-bred Goldman, whose unit was composed of himself, another Jewish soldier and 26 non-Jews, all from Texas.

The paucity of Jews serving on front lines may explain the dwindling numbers of members belonging to Jewish war veteran organizations.

Other reasons for the fewer members in the organization include the graying of the membership, and the fewer younger Jews serving in the military — and therefore joining — local Jewish veterans groups.

The San Fernando Valley’s Jewish War Veterans Post 603 has 325 members, but that is a decline over the past decade. The post is part of California’s 20,000 members who make up the Jewish War Veterans 110,000-member national roster, once dominated by World War II veterans.

Navy veteran Si Prussin, 81, spent most of the war in San Diego, waiting to be shipped out as a motor machinist on a landing craft.

“I wouldn’t have avoided going into the service; there was a feeling that it was an important and useful thing to do,” said Prussin, who later used the G.I. Bill to go to college

Prussin, raised in the Bronx, received an advanced degree from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University. He has had a long career in metallurgy and semiconductor engineering and still teaches electrical engineering at UCLA.

He briefly joined a veterans group for a short time, but then dropped out. “It was not my atmosphere,” he told The Journal.

Prussin and other Jewish veterans who did not see combat said they didn’t need to belong to veterans groups, with Prussin noting that no combat means no nightmares.

Yiddish translator Hershel Hartman, 75, also didn’t serve on the front lines in the Korean War — but not by choice. The Army kept him at New Jersey’s Ft. Dix for 15 months, because he was considered a security risk due to his memberships in left-wing, communist-allied groups.

“I refused to sign the loyalty oath,” said Hartman, who was trained at an Army radio school but never was sent to Korea while he and his family were being investigated.

What Hartman remembers most of his service is not combat but tragedy. With Ft. Dix being close enough to New York, Hartman traveled to Manhattan for a rally on the day in 1954 that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed as Soviet spies. “I remember that day very well.”

There are other Jewish veterans who saw terrible events, and do participate in Veterans groups. But Jewish veterans from World War II and Korea are aging and their memories are slipping, which is why it’s important to the groups to attract younger members.

At 32, U.S. Army Capt. David Sellen is the youngest member of Jewish War Veterans Post 603. The Valley Glen resident was an infantry officer in Afghanistan and now serves as a civil defense operations officer at Missouri’s Ft. Leonard Wood.

“I think the next guy is in his early 60s or late 50s,” said Sellen, whose mother is a nursery school teacher at Encino’s Valley Beth Shalom. “There are more Jewish soldiers at least known today, and so I think more of it has to do with getting the word out. I didn’t know it existed.”

Why don’t younger Jewish war veterans join organizations?

“They don’t have the time to get into organizations,” he said. “They save most of the [free] time for their families.”

For the Kids


One Minute in Time

In Parshat Naso, all the tribes bring offerings to the finished tabernacle: animals, food and incense.
On Memorial Day, we make an offering to all the soldiers who died in all of our wars. We bring flowers to their graves, raise the American flag and honor their memory.
We also have lots of fun on Memorial Day. There are parades and picnics, food and family festivals. In order to remember what Memorial Day is all about, our government passed a resolution in December 2000, called the National Moment of Remembrance. We are asked to stop what we are doing for one minute, at 3 p.m., and spend that time remembering our fallen heroes. Can you remember to take that moment for remembrance?

Freedom and Responsibility

The Israelites were set free from Egypt. Three months later they received the great responsibility of the Torah. How are freedom and responsibility related?
Tell a story, write a poem or create a cartoon that demonstrates the connection between the two.
Deadline: June 24. Prize: A free pass to an area theme park or entertainment complex.
Send your entries to kids@jewishjournal.com or mail to Kids Page, Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA, 90010.

Yeladim


Every year on the fifth of the Hebrew month Iyar (that day falls this year on May 7), Israel celebrates Israeli Independence Day to commemorate the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Parties and parades are held all over Israel and the United States. Yom HaAtzmaut comes after the close of Yom HaZikaron, which is a day of remembrance and mourning for those who died fighting for the Israel. These days, we also remember those who have died in terrorist attacks. After the serious and sad activities of Yom HaZikaron, the mood changes from sorrow to celebration with the onset of Yom HaAtzmaut.

New Releases Keep Shoah an Open Book


“The secret of redemption is remembrance,” as a sign announces in Israel’s Yad Vashem, an institution dedicated to remembering the Holocaust. Books, too, are in service of memory, inspiring readers to think again and anew — and to fight forgetfulness. As Yom HaShoah approaches, the call to memory resounds.

Despite the many thousands of books on the subject, there’s still much about the Holocaust that hasn’t previously been written about and published. This season, there are important new works by scholars analyzing newly available material, journalists uncovering little-known episodes, artists with new interpretations, survivors telling their own stories for the first time and more.

In “Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust” (Yale, 2003) scholar Nechama Tec, who is herself a Holocaust survivor, tackles a topic that has been rarely discussed: the effects of gender on experience during the Holocaust. Through interviews conducted over a decade, she analyzes patterns of behavior in terms of women’s and men’s self-esteem and coping strategies.

“Even though the Germans were committed to sending all Jews to their deaths, for a variety of reasons women and men traveled toward that destination on distinct roads,” Tec writes. Recognizing that gender is a complex and sensitive issue, she looks at the issue from different vantage points and in various settings. She finds differences between how people reacted in the ghettos and concentration camps and those fighting in the forests, as well as social differences in each setting. She explains that those in the upper classes had “farther to fall” and seemed to have a harder time enduring constant humiliations.

Some anti-Jewish measures were gender specific. She shows how for many men, ruthless assaults led to the loss of their abilities to perform their roles as providers and protectors for their families, and also to their becoming demoralized and depressed. Many women, used to being in supportive roles, began to take on some of the traditional male roles with their families, as well as with people in the larger community.

The author of several award-winning books on the Holocaust and a professor at the University of Connecticut, Tec is a member of the Council of the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Holocaust: A History” by Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan van Pelt (Norton, 2003) is a remarkable work, a detailed and scholarly one-volume history that’s highly accessible for general readers. The authors, who previously collaborated on the award-winning “Auschwitz,” place the Holocaust in the context of European history and are mindful of the stories of individuals. Included are 75 illustrations and 16 original maps.

Dwork is the author of “Children With a Star” and a professor of Holocaust history at Clark University, where she is founding director of their Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Van Pelt, who was born in Holland, is professor of cultural history at the University of Waterloo and author of “The Case for Auschwitz.”

In his eighth book on a Holocaust theme, Sir Martin Gilbert presents inspiring stories of Christian and Muslim people — farmers, priests, soldiers, diplomats and other extraordinary “ordinary” people — in every occupied country, who risked all to save Jews from deportation and death. “The Righteous: The Unsung History of the Holocaust” (Henry Holt), draws on 25 years of research. In these true stories, “righteous acts testified to the survival of humane values and to the courage of those who save human life rather than allow it to be destroyed…. Six million Jews were murdered, but tens of thousands were saved.”

The author, a historian and the official biographer of Winston Churchill, is the author of eight books on Holocaust themes. This is the first to focus on altruism. Gilbert quotes Abraham Foxman, who was saved as a child by his nanny in Vilna, “Even in hell, even in that hell called the Holocaust, there was goodness, there was kindness, and there was love and compassion.”

“The Hidden Life of Otto Frank” by Carol Ann Lee (Morrow, 2003) is a penetrating, robust biography of the man turned into a legend by the publication of his daughter’s diary. The author breaks new ground in naming the man, a member of the Dutch Nazi party, who betrayed the Franks and their friends in 1944. The book was published to much acclaim and controversy when it was released in the Netherlands last year, and since then, Lee has gotten new information, included in the American edition. The English-born author, who previously wrote a biography of Anne Frank, lives in Amsterdam.

Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring to light the story of the largest maritime loss of civilian life during World War II, when the Struma, a ship filled with Jewish refugees with hopes to get to Palestine, exploded on the Black Sea, near Istanbul. About 800 people were killed in this little-known 1942 episode, including more than 100 children. One man survived; he is one of the sources in the compelling, well-written narrative, “Death on the Black Sea: The Untold Story of the Struma and World War II’s Holocaust at Sea” (Ecco). The authors piece together the facts, and also recount recent attempts to locate the Struma at the bottom of the sea, a search initiated by the grandson of two victims. An appendix lists the names and ages of the victims. Frantz is the former Istanbul bureau chief for The New York Times, now investigations editor for the newspaper, and his wife, Collins, has covered Turkey for the Chicago Tribune.

In 1941, when 16-year old Lena Jedwab left her Bialystock home for summer camp in Russia, she expected to return in a few weeks. But that was not to be, and she was stranded, separated from her family, after Germany invaded the former Soviet Union. “Girl With Two Landscapes: The Wartime Diary of Lena Jedwab 1941-1945” (Holmes & Meier, 2002) is the diary she began keeping that summer in a children’s home, translated from the Yiddish by Solon Beinfeld, with an introduction by Jan T. Gross and a foreword by Irena Klepfisz. The book is a powerful document by a young woman of intelligence, enthusiasm and moral strength, with much to say about themes of home and exile, as well as daily life. The author, Lena Jedwab Rozenberg, now lives in Paris.

The title, “Here There Is No Why,” Rachel Chencinski Roth’s memoir (translated from the Polish, with a grant from Yad Vashem), is Dr. Joseph Mengele’s response to the author and millions of others. The book is the fulfillment of a promise the author made at Maidenek, when she told a young friend she would tell the world of the horrors they experienced. The daughter of a journalist, she writes of her teenage life in the Warsaw Ghetto, her participation in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and her transports, along with her aunt, to several concentration camps.

The themes of the Shoah are taken up artistically by Judith Weinshall Liberman, who has just published a collection of her work, “Holocaust Wall Hangings” (Schoen Books, 2002). The artist was born in then-Palestine in the ’30s, and aware — as much as a teenager might be — of the Holocaust as people close to her were losing loved ones. In 1947, she moved to the United States to pursue her education, earned four university degrees and chose to pursue her artwork after lecturing and writing about law. Since 1988, she has been creating art, mostly on fabric, with a Holocaust theme, and many of her works are exhibited in the United States and Israel. She uses color expressively, although in limited ways, and also employs embroidery and beading, and repeated imagery like boxcars and views of Anne Frank. Included are essays by art historians and curators and explanations of each color plate.

Newly available:
Back in print, after Imre Kertesz won the Nobel Prize for literature are two of his novels, “Fateless,” his first and perhaps best-known novel about a Hungarian Jewish boy’s experiences in concentration camps and after the war, and “Kaddish for a Child Not Born,” the story of a Holocaust survivor taking stock of his life in middle age, both translated by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M. Wilson (Hydra/Northwestern University Press).

All Who Are in Need


Passover is a holiday of remembrance, a time to recall and
retell the story of the deliverance of the Jewish people from generations of
Egyptian bondage. But there is also a different kind of remembering that takes
place each Passover, in which memory is personal, not scripted. We
spontaneously recall, often vividly, the many different seders we have attended
over the years, both as a child and as an adult.Â

My own memories begin in the early 1960s, when our family
went to a seder or ritual Passover meal each year held at the Chicago home of
my Aunt Fella and Uncle Morris. Almost every adult in attendance was from Eastern
Europe; boredom among the children was rampant. My cousins and I would
inevitably end up crawling under the table for a mischievous rendezvous, a
distraction from the relentless Yiddish-accented recitation of “The Maxwell
House Haggadah.” (Literally translated as the telling, the haggadah recalls the
Israelite Exodus from Egypt and indicates the rituals performed at the seder.)
Eventually, our impatience was rewarded by my aunt’s amazing Passover
delicacies. I don’t ever recall understanding what was going on, but I still
looked forward to going. It was comforting and predictable — the same relatives
came each year and the same food appeared on the table.Â

Because the seders I attended growing up always had the same
cast of characters, it was an exciting break from routine when someone
unfamiliar showed up. One year my older cousin brought a boyfriend, and it
noticeably changed the seder dynamic. When I went away to college, it was my
turn to become the unfamiliar face when I attended my first seder with a family
other than my own. It was then that I really started to appreciate what a
mitzvah it was to extend invitations to strangers, especially those unable to
spend the holiday with family. Since then, I’ve been a guest at many different
seders. It is still a comforting ritual for me, even though the faces are new,
the accents American and the dishes different. But it is never a predictable
experience. While the haggadah is always the road map, each new seder takes
different side roads on which I never traveled.Â

It was a marvel the first time I attended a seder conducted
by Jewish educators.Â

While the seder was lengthy, everything was discussed,
explained and analyzed. I acquired many new insights and went home fervently
wishing that such an innovation had been introduced to my Chicago relatives.Â

Another seder, early in my career as a “Seder Stranger,”
caught me by surprise.Â

Still fully in possession of childhood naiveté, I was taken
aback when I encountered non-Jews at the table, friends of the host family.
Their questions reminded one of the simple child of the haggadah, and it turned
out to be a lovely experience to see the ritual through their eyes.Â

One year, my seder experience was a disappointment. I call
this one seder-lite.Â

It was a perfunctory matzah and wine tasting accompanied by
a riffling of the haggadah pages that figuratively stirred a cool breeze, but
didn’t warm my heart.Â

In a subsequent year, I was delighted and entertained at a
seder orchestrated especially for children, with wind-up frogs and finger puppets.Â

Perhaps the most memorable seder I attended is the one I
call, both wryly and fondly, the last supper. It was led in Manhattan by Rabbi
Shlomo Carlebach at his Upper West Side shul. Seventy of us from all over the
country listened to stories and sang wordless chants until 3 a.m. When I
finally left, the seder still had a few hours to go. Reb Shlomo died the
following fall. This seder turned out to be the last one he led.Â

Drawing from my own enriching experiences, I am now an
enthusiastic advocate of inviting strangers to one’s seder.Â

Many families do this routinely, reaching out to welcome
various categories of Jews as well as non-Jews.

Naomi Osher of Newton, Mass., recalls her parents having
20-30 people each year at their Cincinnati home, a number of them Christians.
Her parents’ born-again housekeeper always looks forward to the tzimmes, a
sweet carrot dish.   Â

Fred Kahn of Buffalo Grove, Ill., remembers the time, when
he was a boy, that his mother called the Hillel at Northwestern University to
see if any students wanted to come to seder. On the night of the seder, seven
students from the dental school showed up at the door, causing the family to
scramble for seats and plates.

Rabbi Sheldon Ever and his wife, Reva, before immigrating to
Jerusalem, made sure each year to invite local widows and widowers who had
nowhere to go, drawing from the large elderly population of their Miami Beach
neighborhood. On occasion, attendance at their seders was as high as 40.Â

Having strangers at the seder can generate some comical
moments, especially when the guests aren’t Jewish. Mary (not her real name),
grew up in Detroit, attended Catholic schools as a child and never learned anything
about Judaism. As an adult, she befriended a man whose father was a cantor, and
the family invited her to their Passover seder. She was very excited at
attending her first Jewish event, and wanted to bring a very special gift. So
she looked hard to find the one item that she knew symbolized Judaism. She
still turns purple every time she describes the look on the faces of her host
and hostess when she presented them with a challah.Â

Both guests and hosts benefit when strangers are invited.
Individuals who are single, widowed, away from home, newly converted or unable
to conduct their own seder are deeply grateful for an invitation. Unaffiliated
Jews strengthen their connection to Judaism, and those experienced at seder
participation pick up new insights and ideas for future seders. Guests who
aren’t Jewish often find the experience fascinating, although it is probably a
good idea to prepare them in advance for the unfamiliar ritual aspects of the
meal.Â

Hosts gain in a variety of ways. Jewish affiliations for
young children are reinforced when they see strangers sing the same songs and
perform the same rituals as their parents. Family tensions can be eased when
strangers are present, as difficult relatives are more likely to be on their
best behavior. Â

Strangers contribute new songs, melodies, stories and
interpretations, help out in the kitchen and entertain the kids.Â

Their questions can bring out new understandings and make
the experience continually meaningful. New friendships and connections often
emerge.Â

If you are inspired to invite one stranger or many, here are
some people and places you might call to find guests:Â

Your rabbi, synagogue office or a synagogue located in a
neighborhood that is no longer predominantly Jewish, where remaining members
are likely to be elderly;Â

An assisted-living center or geriatric home;

The Hillel or Chabad House at your local college or
university;

Chaplains at local hospitals or military bases;Â

Jewish community centers;

Food pantries, social service organizations and
immigration organizations;

Reform or Conservative organizations that conduct classes
for converts;

Organizations that provide interest-free loans or tzedakah
to the Jewish community.Â

Remember, by opening your home to others on Passover, you
fulfill the appeal of the hagaddah liturgy: “Let all who are hungry, come and
eat. Let all who are in need, come and share the Passover meal.”Â

Reprinted from JewishFamily.com, a service of Jewish Family
Life! Â


Mark I. Rosen is the is the author of “Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing With Difficult People” (Harmony Books, 1998).

A Nation Says ‘Kaddish’


Flags flew at half-staff. People on the street made a stronger-than-usual effort to meet each others’ eyes, acknowledging the sadness of the day. Parents lingered on schoolyards well after drop-off, watching their children, perhaps thinking of the hundreds of other parents who were brutally deprived of this opportunity on that dreadful day one year ago.

In Jewish tradition, the one-year anniversary of a loved one’s death marks the unveiling of their gravestone. This year, Sept. 11 marked the mourning of a nation, and the unveiling of numerous memorials for those who suffered and died in last year’s tragic attacks on our country.

At the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Wednesday morning, a moving ceremony was held, starting with the blowing of the shofar. Among those attending were consuls-general from 20 countries, including Israel. Others who attended included Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, County Fire Department Battalion Chief Juan Gonzalez and LAPD Deputy Chief David Kalish. Also present were Cmdr. Robert Anderson, director of the Navy’s information office, along with other military personnel.

"One year ago, America changed forever," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, center founder and dean. "Americans of all creeds stared down the ugly face of evil.

"In the year that has passed, we still don’t know what to say to the families of the victims," Hier said. "It is not only the victims who must never be forgotten, but we must never forget their murderers as well."

The rabbi quoted from a speech Winston Churchill gave in 1937: "For those who say that the case is fraught with danger, the greater danger is to do nothing."

"If we don’t defeat the terrorists today," Hier said. "America will have to pay, and make greater sacrifices to defeat them tomorrow. We owe it to the victims that there will never be another Sept. 11."

The ceremony included a display of artwork inspired by Sept. 11 that was created by Los Angeles schoolchildren. In addition, the lighting of memorial candles was conducted, each candle inscribed with the name of one of the more than 3,000 victims.

One of the biggest ceremonies took place at the newly opened Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. More than 3,000 people attended the interfaith remembrance service, whose sponsors included the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the Interreligious Council of Southern California and the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council.

Prayers were offered by a diverse group, including representatives of the Sangha Council of Southern California, Vedanta Society of Southern California, Los Angeles Baha’i Center, First African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Islamic Center of Southern California.

"Though we may be people of different tribes, of different religions, and individual convictions … we are all one under God," said actress Anjelica Huston, who hosted the service.

Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, called people to prayer with the blowing of the shofar.

"May the sharp, piercing blasts of the shofar shatter our complacency and arouse us to redeem our broken world…. May the loud clarion of the shofar herald the day when all people, all of God’s children, live in peace and harmony," Diamond said.

A number of Los Angeles-area synagogues also held memorial services, some in cooperation with nearby churches. Mayor James Hahn, who attended the ecumenical service at the cathedral, said such gatherings serve two purposes.

"One is to remember and honor the memory of those who lost their lives, to remember the heroes: the police, the firefighters, the paramedics and the ordinary citizens like those on Flight 93, who made sure more lives were not lost," Hahn told The Journal. "[They are also] to remember that America is united, stronger today than we were before, and to understand the only way this country works is for all of us to be united."

On that same theme, congregants of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills joined with members of next-door neighbor St. Bernardine of Sienna Catholic Church for a joint service called, "One Community, One Humanity."

"It really reflects the Sept. 11 mentality of trying to respond as Americans, as one people, and to show a sense of unity," said Aliyah’s Rabbi Stewart Vogel. "When someone attacks your family, no matter what differences divide you, you put those aside to respond as one."

Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice held a similar service with its Catholic neighbors at St. Clements Church, with shared prayers and a rendition of 19th century composer Louis Lewandowski’s "Halleluyoh," a cantorial version of Psalm 150.

"For Jews and for all people of faith, death and life go together in many subtle ways," said Rabbi Dan Shevitz, leader of Mishkon Tephilo. "At the same time we share our sadness and our grief over loss, we also come from a religious tradition that death is not final.

"The heroism and values articulated in a good life are ultimately more lasting than death," he said. "Mourning the dead and celebrating the lives given in heroism are not two distinct things, but part of the same tradition."

Earlier in the week, Museum of Tolerance officials gave high school students from Los Angeles, St. Louis and Garrettsville, Ohio, an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about Sept. 11 via a video conference. Most of the discussion centered on how the students felt as Americans, their views on the U.S. response to terrorism and the lasting implications of the terrorist attacks.

"Sept. 11 was an awakening of what is going on in the rest of the world, and what happens in Israel every day," said Nadav Geft, a student at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles. Some students objected to the media’s coverage of the attacks, and to the sometimes excessive displays of patriotism in the wake of the attacks. Chris Membribes, an 11th-grade student at North High School in Torrance, said that with the sale of patriot-themed T-shirts and keychains, "we gave the terrorists the publicity they wanted."

The discussion included a lecture by terrorism expert Sabi Shabti, author of "Five Minutes to Midnight." "Things are not going to be the same. I don’t think they will ever be the same," Shabti told the students. "Ultimately, terrorism is a war against democracy, because in the aftermath, people are willing to give up civil liberties and freedom for safety, security and order," he said. "We must not allow that [to happen]. It will take everyone in our society to protect our democracy, our rights, our way of life."

On Tuesday evening, Rabbi Allen Freehling spoke to more than 1,000 members at the Gathering for Civil Liberties and Peaceful Tomorrows, which was sponsored by the Interfaith Communities United for Peace and Justice, which was held at the First Baptist Church in Mid-Wilshire.

"Let us not make our Constitution the ultimate victim of what happened a year ago," Freehling declared. His remarks echoed similar sentiments of speakers throughout the night, which centered on First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the importance of dissent in a democracy.

Bringing the principle home, syndicated columnist Robert Scheer questioned the Bush administration’s pressure for a war with Iraq. "Even his own people are asking, ‘What proof, why now?’" Scheer said. "It just doesn’t fit."

The Interfaith Communities gathering, with its emphasis on politics, was an exception. Most memorials emphasized faith over politics and focused on the victims.

"At this hour of sacred memory, we cry with their families, friends and colleagues," Diamond said. "We cry with our fellow Americans for the loss of our innocence, our way of life as we knew it. We cry with all people of good will that a monstrous evil has struck God’s creation, and dealt a heavy blow to God’s creatures."

It was a long, heart-wrenching day. At the end, the flags remained at half-staff. But we, as a people, as a nation, stood tall.

Michael Aushenker, Rachel Brand, Charlotte Hildebrand and Gaby Wenig contributed to this story.

A Flame of Remembrance


This Sunday marks the eighth year that the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument in Pan Pacific Park will serve as the local centerpiece of the annual Worldwide Holocaust Memorial Day, in memory of the 6 million Jews who were murdered in Europe at the hands of the Nazi regime. Hosted this year by the Los Angeles Holocaust Memorial Monument Fund, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Second Generation, the Yom HaShoah gathering is expected to attract more than 2,500 people.

Sunday’s program will feature two hours of prayer, lecture and singing. Among those scheduled to appear will be keynote speaker Gov. Gray Davis and former Secretary of State Jeane Kirkpatrick. On Tuesday, May 2, students from Los Angeles middle and high schools will visit the monument; actor Elliott Gould is set to appear at that event.

But Jona Goldrich, the monument fund’s director and campaign chairman, insists that “any time is a good time to bring your children. It’s in the park, it’s pleasant. You always learn something new when you walk through the monument.”

After all, if it weren’t for Goldrich, the Fairfax area’s $3 million Holocaust monument never would have happened. And for the prominent real estate developer, a tribute to the murdered 6 million had to happen.

“I wanted to have a monument in a public place where, in 15 minutes, if you read what happens from 1933 to 1945, you get an idea of the Holocaust,” Goldrich told The Journal. “Someday there’ll be no more survivors like me for people to be interested in or to learn of what happened in the Holocaust.”

Local artist Joseph Young was already on board when the monument fund turned to Goldrich for his assistance. Drawing inspiration from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Young designed six 18-foot columns of solid black granite, each symbolizing 1 million of the victims. Key events of Holocaust history — such as Kristallnacht — are inscribed on the sides of granite panels.

“Some people tend to forget what happened to 6 million innocent Jews,” Goldrich said eight years ago, just days before the memorial’s April 6, 1992, unveiling, which was attended by local politicians, including keynote speaker and Holocaust survivor Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).

Eight years later, Goldrich, 72, is still tinkering with the monument.

He is not satisfied with keeping the monument a static tribute, and he promises that more information about that dark chapter of our people’s history will soon be added. In fact, Goldrich is so passionate in his belief of how vital the monument is to the community that he is creating a $100,000 endowment to ensure that the observance at the park occurs every year.

The monument fund spends a lot of money each year to maintain the site, and since the monument is vandalized every so often with anti-Semitic graffiti, security guards protect it all year long.

Goldrich is very proud of the monument and the millions it represents, but he does not feel that it’s a large enough tribute to those who perished in the machinery of institutionalized evil that was Nazi Germany.

“If you built a monument on every street corner in Los Angeles, you couldn’t tell the true story,” says Goldrich.

Goldrich himself is a Holocaust survivor. At 14, he fled Poland with his brother before the Nazis bulldozed through his village and murdered his family, his schoolmates, his community, his whole way of life. The Goldrich brothers wound up in Hungary where, on the strength of Hungarian passports, they arrived with 50 other orphans in Palestine, where “the people in Israel absorbed us and made us feel at home.”

After majoring in engineering at Technion, Goldrich arrived in Boston, where he was denied admission to M.I.T. because of his weak command of the English language. He went West instead.

“I didn’t intend to stay here. I was 24. My dream was to make enough money that I could go back to Israel and sit on the beach all day and watch girls,” says Goldrich. Unfortunately — or fortunately — for Goldrich, he became too successful and wound up carving a permanent niche in L.A.’s business arena. His brother, almost three years his junior, remained in Israel, where he served as a pilot in the Air Force, then worked for El Al Airlines before retiring.

Goldrich is frustrated by the fact that schools automatically teach children about Caesar and Napoleon in their history books, but as for the Holocaust, “something that happened 50 years ago, we don’t do anything. It’s a crime.”

That’s why, while Goldrich is satisfied with what the monument has to offer his grandchildren and future generations of Jews, he hopes the structure also serves as a historical reminder and a source of enlightenment and conversation for other cultures as well. To that end, the monument fund and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles bus Los Angeles school children into Pan Pacific Park throughout the year to learn about the monument and the history that it represents.

Goldrich is very active in forwarding Jewish education. He serves as president of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, West Coast region, and sits on the University of Judaism board of directors. In respect to Jewish learning, he thinks that Los Angeles-area outreach organizations are still not doing enough to involve future generations in Judaism.

“There should be more scholarships to go to Jewish [day] schools, for people who can’t afford it,” says Goldrich, who also thinks that there should be more missions sending children to Israel. The developer believes that if more young Jews were exposed to Judaism, they would be more invested in their roots.

“You don’t have to be religious; you can be secular to enjoy Jewish traditions,” says Goldrich, who speaks from a place of concern for the future of world Jewry.

“My biggest fear is to lose the Jewish tradition of 5,000 years. My biggest fear is assimilation,” says the successful entrepreneur. “I see it coming back, getting better a little bit. Israel made Jews proud. If it wasn’t for Israel, all American Jews would be goyim.”

Says Goldrich, “All the anti-Semites, like David Irving, would like us to forget about the Holocaust, including some Jews who are unfortunately so ignorant, they ask why do we have to talk about the past.”

But Goldrich already has a ready answer: “The past dictates the future!”

The Worldwide Holocaust Memorial Day will take place on the north end of Pan Pacific Park, near Fairfax Ave. between Beverly Blvd. and Third St., Los Angeles, at 1:45 p.m., Sun., April 30. For more information, call (310) 821-9919. To get involved on the Holocaust Memorial committee, contact Chris Wheelis at (310) 280-5066.

Remembering Terrorism’s Victims


On this bright September afternoon, Zion Square, at the bottom of Jerusalem’s downtown Ben Yehuda outdoor mall, is the usual confusion of pedestrian traffic — shoppers, students, soldiers, tourists, all hurrying about their business in every direction. A few minutes after 1 p.m., a small group of men and women joins the throng, bringing a little flock of children and strollers into the middle of the square. One of the men somewhat uncertainly unrolls a hand-lettered sign that says, in Hebrew, “Prayer Vigil,” and the group stands in a tight circle, reading psalms from prayer books in low voices.

This prayer vigil marks the second anniversary of the 1997 Ben Yehuda suicide bombing, in which four people were killed and some 100 injured. Its special aim is to memorialize Yael Botwin, 14, who had immigrated to Israel with her family from Claremont, and who was killed in the blast.

The vigil’s organizer (with some help from the Zionist Organization of America) is another Angeleno, 18-year-old Yael Fischer, a recent graduate of Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles. Before recently coming to Israel for a year of seminary study, Fischer, a tall, studious-looking girl in glasses, launched a rabbinic petition drive, which upward of 50 Southern California rabbis of all denominations have now signed. The petition urges President Clinton to demand that Yasser Arafat surrender two Palestinian Arabs (identified by the Israeli government as Bashir Daher and Mahmoud Abu-Hanudeh) who helped prepare the Ben Yehuda attack.

The vigil is so low-key that most of the pedestrians crossing Zion Square rush by without a glance, unaware that an event is underway. But the small turnout and the shyness of the participants don’t distress Fischer. The main thing, she explains, is to make a statement, to increase public awareness both in Israel and in America.

“[The bombing] was an atrocity,” she says. “If you let it pass, you’re basically saying it’s OK.” Fischer adds that she was also motivated by the fact that, by coming to Israel this year, she is putting herself in the same “potential danger” as Yael Botwin.

By 1:30, the vigil is over. Among the participants who remain behind to talk are two women who lost their children in previous terrorist attacks. New York native Joyce Boim’s 17-year-old son, David, was shot to death while waiting for a bus outside the settlement of Bet El, north of Jerusalem, in 1996. Yehudit Dassberg’s daughter and American-born son-in-law, Yaron and Effie Ungar, were killed while driving near Bet Shemesh, “safely” inside the Green Line, also in 1996. Visibly holding back tears, both women demand that those responsible be “brought to justice.”

What are the chances for such “justice”? Not too high, probably. Individuals don’t count for much in the reckoning among nations, and anyway, the grief of individuals becomes an annoyance after a while, especially when, like these mothers’, it is inconsolable. The victims of terrorism — whom we so profoundly recognized as innocents when the gruesome pictures of violence were splashed across our newspapers and TV screens — have by now been partly redefined as obstacles to peace. The bereaved, women like Boim and Dassberg, insisting that the murderers of their children be apprehended and punished, sound obsessed with their private pain, not quite rational when compared to government leaders working on “national reconciliation” with the Palestinians. Aren’t they, and the remembrance of the dead, a bit in the way right now?

A few days after the prayer vigil in Zion Square, the Israeli government released from prison hundreds of Palestinian criminals, many of them involved in murders or attempted murders of both Arabs and Jews. Government spokespeople and media commentators made distasteful distinctions between the murderers of Arab “collaborators” and the murderers of Jews, between attempted murder and murder, and reassured that the baddest of the bad guys were kept in jail, all as a sop to Jewish public opinion here.

One senses, however, that the prisoners not released — murderers with “Jewish blood on their hands,” in the theatrical phrase — may represent a negotiating card rather than a definition of principle. Not surprisingly, many victims and their families were anguished by the release of those who had harmed them.

Meanwhile, not a few terrorists, including those who planned the Ben Yehuda bombing and those involved in the Jerusalem bus bombings of 1995 and 1996, live free in Palestinian territory. An American statute long on the books, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1986, permits prosecution in the United States of foreign nationals suspected of killing Americans abroad. Though 12 Americans have been killed by Palestinian terrorists since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993 (including three in the Jerusalem bus bombings), the prosecutions haven’t happened. This summer, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed legislation that required the State Department to provide Congress with semiannual reports on investigations into Palestinian killings of Americans.

So the necessary legal mechanisms are in place to identify the terrorists, locate them, extradite them, try them. Why should it interfere with the peace process for those who murdered innocents to be brought to the bar? Isn’t that, in fact, precisely what a peace process should make possible?

At the prayer vigil in Zion Square, the person most noticeably missing was Julie Botwin, Yael Botwin’s mother, who still lives in Jerusalem. She did not object to the event, but she refused to participate. “What good will it do?” she asked bitterly when I called to find out why. “What does the U.S. government care about an American girl killed in Israel?”

That’s the question that the vigil was asking. Now it is time for Congress and the State Department to answer.


David Margolis writes from Israel.

A Reason for Remembrance


Once upon a time, we celebrated holidays and honored men and women and moments from our past as though they were charged with meaning. Armistice Day, Independence Day, Lincoln’s birthday. I remember a Memorial Day, in 1976, when everyone marched through the six-block town to the cemetery and sat respectfully as David Bradshaw, a veteran of World War II, talked intimately about those who had given their life in battle in one or another of our 20th-century wars. It was an occasion for remembering friends and family, for weeping, and for some form of catharsis. It was an honored day, repeated year after year, and made fresh again and again.

Perhaps it is that I now live in a large city, or that our culture has placed such a premium on speed and change, but, today, memory often is something you locate on a chip, and the fragile connections to our past have eroded beyond repair. Many of those familiar celebratory days have been converted to a kind of kitsch culture, and they now are often welcomed for the pleasurable fact that they provide us with a three-day weekend.

Not so Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will be observed this Sunday, April 18, at Pan Pacific Park (Beverly Boulevard and Genesee Avenue in Los Angeles, 1:45 to 3:45 p.m.). Gov. Gray Davis and Israeli Consul General Yoram Ben Ze’ev will be in attendance, as will Harvard Professor Daniel Goldhagen, the keynote speaker, who will focus on the commemoration’s theme — “1939-1999: The 60th Anniversary of Hitler’s War of Genocide.” Goldhagen, as you may remember, is the author of the controversial 1996 historical account “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.”

Pulling together research material that had been bypassed or slighted by earlier scholars, Goldhagen, in his book, charged that the murderers in Germany were not drawn primarily from the SS and the bureaucrats of the Nazi Party. Rather, he asserted, the brutality and the killing were taken up by all sorts of ordinary German men and women from many walks of life. They fell to their task, said Goldhagen, not because they were under orders or faced death themselves, but because they were part of a national culture that hated and demonized Jews.

It will escape no one at Pan Pacific Park Sunday that 54 years after the death camps were freed, we are witnessing a related set of tragedies in Kosovo, albeit not genocide on the scale or in the systematic way that the Germans went at it under Hitler. Nevertheless, in less than a month, we have seen more than 600,000 “cleansed” from their homeland; an unknown number killed; and many, many more (hundreds of thousands, as reported in The New York Times) uprooted from their homes but still frozen somewhere in Kosovo. And from the limited reports that have filtered back, it seems that “ordinary Serbs” in Kosovo are either cheering on the Yugoslav security forces or are lending a cooperative hand.

So, no, April 18th will not be a “kitsch holiday,” or a day of forgetting.

It should be acknowledged, though, that we American Jews, 50-plus years after the fact, are still having trouble with the Holocaust. Perhaps that is as it should be. But most of us have not yet come to terms with the indifference of America’s elected leaders in the 1930s and 1940s; with the silence of some in our Jewish communities during those frightening years; with our lack of influence; and, yes, with our political impotence in those earlier decades.

Nor have many of us resolved our feelings about Germany, even though we are quick to recognize that most Germans today were either not born during the period of the Third Reich or were mere children. But — in explanation — there has been no opportunity for us to purge our feelings, to cherish the satisfaction of personal revenge, to experience some form of catharsis. All we have been allowed has been to bear silent witness for those who survived, and to mourn those who perished. It is why, Kosovo or not, Holocaust Remembrance Day will be with us — as we stand mute, confounded, enraged — for years to come.

Israelis I have met over the years seem somehow freer. They certainly remember the past, but appear less haunted by it. And that may go a way towards explaining why Israel has developed a number of strong ongoing programs with postwar Germany. And I believe it also illuminates Ari Shavit’s opinion piece (see page 43), in which he declares that Jews the world over carry a special responsibility to aid the displaced victims of Kosovo. Our history forces us to recognize their plight, he urges, and to identify with it. And with our position of strength in Israel and the United States today, he adds, we can and should act as NATO’s conscience. In short, it is the Jews who are obliged to take the lead in seeking aid and remedies for the displaced immediately.

I heartily endorse his column. But I have an additional thought. I wonder if our fury at Milosevic and the Serbs is related to our incomplete feelings about Germany and the Germans, and if our call for punishment and revenge in Yugoslavia might be designed to help bring us a sense of retribution, finally — or at least the illusion of it. —Gene Lichtenstein

Spectator


Sean Penn (center), with parents Eileen Ryan and Leo Penn.Photo by Randy Berez.
Back row, left to right: Melissa Fitzgerald, James Gandolfini,Robin Lange and Laura Jane Salvata. Seated, Eileen Ryan and Leo Penn.Photo by Randy Berez.

Call it “A Family Affair.”

Actors Leo Penn and Eileen Ryan are husband and wife and the starsof Graham Reid’s “Remembrance” at the Odyssey Theatre. And their son,Sean, the movie star and director, has put up much of the money tobring them together onstage for the first time in 40 years.

In “Remembrance,” Penn and Ryan play Bert and Theresa,sexagenarians who meet and fall in love in, of all places, thecemetery. The setting is Belfast, Northern Ireland, and each has losta son to The Troubles. The problem is that Bert is Protestant, aformer soldier and the father of a racist Ulster policeman. Theresais Catholic, with two bigoted daughters and an IRA terrorist for ason-in-law.

The actors say they were drawn to the play, in part, because theycan identify with the family conflict. They had met and fell in loveon the Broadway stage, when Penn replaced Jason Robards in “TheIceman Cometh” in the late 1950s. Ryan was already portraying Cora,”the lead tart,” which, she quips, was ironic because herIrish-Catholic mother believed acting was “one step removed frombeing a whore.” Nor did the elder Ryan immediately approve of herdaughter’s new Jewish paramour.

She did not appreciate that Leo Penn was the grandson andgreat-grandson of rabbis and the son of Russian and Lithuanianimmigrants who fled pogroms. (The family surname, Piñon, was”Americanized” at Ellis Island. He grew up near his father’s Jewishbakery on Brooklyn Avenue in Boyle Heights and spoke his first wordsonstage in Yiddish.) There was another strike against him: He wasblacklisted for testifying on behalf of the Hollywood Ten in the1950s. She “had to get drunk to come to the wedding,” but theceremony went on, as planned, with Robards as best man.

Penn went on to become a successful television director by the1970s, and Ryan gave up her flourishing film career to stay home withthe children.

In the same woodsy, rambling Malibu ranch house where they raisedtheir three sons, the couple engage a visitor. Leo, 76, is slight ofstature, with the same smallish, piercing blue eyes and gruff,distracted manner of his middle son, Sean. Ryan, 70, wearing agirlish, flowered dress and demonstrating a wicked wit, points outthe portraits she has painted of Sean and her other actor son, Chris,as well as posters featuring her rock-musician son, Michael. Postersfrom Sean’s films, such as “Bad Boys,” appear here and there on thewalls.

Sean, now 37, has had that Hollywood bad-boy reputation, but hisparents insist that he was a taciturn and shy, if intense, teen-ager.He was a jock and a surfer who wouldn’t venture near the high schooldrama department, although he did make Super-8 films withneighborhood pal Emilio Estevez. When a school talent show changedSean’s mind, Leo recommended he study with the legendary Peggy Feury,his old acquaintance from the Actors Studio in New York.

By the mid-1980s, Sean’s fiercely intense performances had madehim a movie star; critics were calling him his generation’s foremostscreen exponent of method acting. His parents don’t like that term,but they admit that Sean often went far to immerse himself in a role.Ryan says that she once chided him for “making himself ugly” withfalse teeth and makeup. Her son retaliated in kind: He disguisedhimself, chatted with his mother for a while, and when she did notrecognize him, he gleefully declared that he had made his point.

On camera, Sean Penn has often portrayed sleazeballs and hotheads;behind the scenes, life seemed to imitate art. Penn brawled, drank,chain-smoked and developed a reputation for punching outphotographers, especially those who pestered his then-wife, Madonna.He hung out with Charles Bukowski, the poet of booze, and spent amonth in jail. Vanity Fair suggested that his rage stemmed fromfeelings of inauthenticity, in some measure related to his relativelyprivileged childhood.

Penn and Ryan indignantly burst out laughing at the mention ofthis. “It’s bull—-,” Leo says, with a snort. Ask about thepaparazzi punching, and they insist that their son was nevercomfortable with his role as a “movie star.” They say the presshounded him and goaded him. Ryan, for her part, was almost knockeddown by photographers “who would have killed me to get to him.”Today, Sean is happily married, a family man and “a wonderful, loyalson,” she says. “Just look at what he’s doing for us with this play.”

“Remembrance” is not the first time Sean Penn has been there forhis parents. In 1988, he helped bring his mother back to acting byurging her to audition for his film, “At Close Range.” He knew thatthe director wanted to cast a plain, homespun-type for the role, sohe advised her to arrive for the audition wearing schlumpy clothesand no makeup. When he saw her sitting in the hall before thereading, he whispered, “Great! You look like s–t!” she says.

Sean went on to cast Ryan in two movies he directed, “The IndianRunner” and “The Crossing Guard.”

And when his parents came to him with “Remembrance,” theactor-director sprang into action. He had always wanted to see hisparents perform together, and, through his contacts, he promptlyhooked them up with the actresses who owned the rights to the play.He cried at the reading and agreed to serve as executive producer,with his production company, Clyde is Hungry Films, in associationwith the Helicon Theatre Company. Sean’s first such venture in thetheater came despite his being harried with performances in the films”She’s So Lovely,” “The Game” and “U-Turn.”

Sean also engaged Sinead O’Connor to write the Irish-themed musicfor the play in collaboration with “She’s So Lovely” composer JosephVitarelli. “All three of our sons had tears in their eyes on openingnight,” Ryan says. “They were our parents that evening.”

“Remembrance” has earned some mixed reviews and some good ones,and the actors say many of the viewers happen to be Jewish. At aquestion-and-answer session after the play last week, some equatedthe ethnic strife of “Remembrance” to the Israeli-Palestinianconflict.

Perhaps, the actors muse, the popularity stems from the fact thatso many elderly Jews frequent the theater — and there are so fewDecember romances for their perusal, after all.

“‘Remembrance’ is the flip side of ‘Romeo and Juliet,'” Leo Pennsays.

“A geriatric ‘Romeo and Juliet,'” Ryan quips.

For tickets, call (310) 477-2055.