Remembrance Wall connects B’nai Mitzvah kids to Holocaust, Israel

July 19, 2017
Myrtle G. Sitowitz and grandson Emmett Sitowitz Seid at the B’nai Mitzvah Remembrance Wall. Photos by Eve Z. Sitowitz

Myrtle G. Sitowitz always has had a special place in her heart for Israel.

She moved from England to the Holy Land in the 1960s, performed in the theater in Tel Aviv and met her Bronx-born husband there before immigrating with him to Los Angeles. When it was time for the bar mitzvah of her grandson, Emmett Sitowitz Seid, last month, she wanted to do something to keep her family connection to the Jewish state strong.

Sitowitz, who said she supports many organizations in Israel, learned about the Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF-USA) B’nai Mitzvah Remembrance Wall in Jerusalem’s American Independence Park. Constructed in the shape of a Torah scroll, the wall contains glass tiles of the names of bar and bat mitzvah teens from the Diaspora, the date of their celebration, their hometown and the name of a child who died in the Holocaust. Sitowitz said she wanted her grandson to have a place on the wall and help support the State of Israel.

“Not only was the bar mitzvah unbelievable,” said Sitowitz, who lives in Los Angeles, “but the B’nai Mitzvah Wall was tremendously emotional and meaningful.”

Sitowitz chose the name of a Holocaust victim, Salo Goldshtein, from Czernowitz, Romania, to be inscribed next to Emmett’s on the wall. Her mother was from Romania, and her father’s last name was Goldstein. “All those children that were killed in the Holocaust were very precious,” she said.

Emmett, who attends Windward School in Mar Vista, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Kotel before making his way over to the JNF-USA wall on June 25. “I felt it was a great idea, and I was honored to be able to do it,” he said. “We can do something to be connected with people who were in the Holocaust and have them on live on.”

Emmett’s mom, Eve Sitowitz Seid, said the wall is a way for bar and bat mitzvah teens to understand the Holocaust on a deeper level. “The kids learn about it in more detail in sixth grade. To be able to participate and do something, anything, and remember it is pretty cool. It’s personal and allows you to get closer to it in that way.”

Max Levin, who lives in Los Angeles, came up with the idea of the wall as part of his bar mitzvah experience 12 years ago. He was visiting Israel with his parents, Judy and Bud, and they all stopped by the JNF offices in Jerusalem, where Max flipped through “Children’s Books of Honor,” listing the names of children as well as gifts given to Israel from European countries from 1901 to 1941. Most of the 300,000 boys and girls inscribed in the books were killed in the Holocaust.

“Max said, ‘I want to remember those children who never had an opportunity to be bar or bat mitzvahed,’ ” his mother said. “We put together the idea about wanting to create a permanent memorial for the lost children.”

Max, now 24, paid for the entire wall, which is about 10 feet tall and 25 feet wide, using money he received in gifts for his bar mitzvah. The plaques cost $1,800 each and money left over is used to send Israeli children to summer camps.

“The wall is a timeless opportunity for b’nai mitzvah kids to connect to Israel and the Holocaust.”

— Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF

“Max saw kids from all different parts of the spectrum of Israel going to camp,” said Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF. “We investigated and found out they were on scholarships. We decided to keep it in the story of the children.”

Since the wall was erected in 2006, teens have donated hundreds of plaques, according to Robinson. There is still room for another couple of hundred, and after it’s filled, the JNF plans to build another wall. “The wall is a timeless opportunity for b’nai mitzvah kids to connect to Israel and the Holocaust,” Robinson said.

Max certainly hasn’t forgotten. A dual citizen of Israel and the United States, he fought as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces. When he isn’t visiting Israel, he attends Columbia University in New York.

“We feel so good about the project we’ve done,” his mother said. “It’s not just our project. We’ve been able to share this with everyone because everyone can participate in it.”

Although his bar mitzvah and his trip to Israel are over, Emmett wants to continue helping. He said he is going to contribute at least 10 percent of his bar mitzvah money to JNF. “I’m very happy to be able to do something to help in any way.”

For his mother, the wall is one way to commemorate the Jews who perished and pass along a legacy to the next generation.

“When you go into to the B’nai Mitzvah Wall, which is so beautiful, you’re filled with bittersweet feelings because of the great loss that these poor innocent children suffered,” she said. “The world is suffering for not having them. But now, we are filling the world with strong, youthful and prideful Jews.”

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