Yad Vashem marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Sunday, Jan. 27 – by opening a new display, “Gathering the Fragments – Behind the Scenes of the Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust.” The exhibit examines the process of collection, research, registration and digitization performed in the framework of the nationwide project to rescue personal Holocaust-related items. The opening event was attended by Holocaust survivors whose personal items are displayed in the exhibition. Since the “Gathering the Fragments” campaign began about two years ago, some 71,000 items have been donated to Yad Vashem, according to the Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem chairman. Only a few of these items are displayed in the exhibition.
This campaign changes a personal or private meaning into a collective meaning, said Estee Yaari, foreign media liaison of Yad Vashem’s Marketing Communications & Media Relations Department during a recent tour of the Jerusalem museum.
Exhibition Curator Michael Tal explained the campaign in a press release: “The majority of items donated to Yad Vashem during the campaign have come via second- or third-generation descendants of the survivors and others who possess items from their families in Europe. Therefore, most of the information we receive about the items is, at best, only partial. The exhibition therefore showcases the research work carried out at Yad Vashem in order to reconstruct the full story behind each item. We are committed to learning as much as possible about everything that comes to us, and to sharing new insights with the greater public.”
Yad Vashem, in cooperation with the National Heritage Program at the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry for Senior Citizens, launched the “Gathering the Fragments” campaign in 2011. Since then, a great variety of documents, certificates, diaries, photographs, artifacts and artworks from the Holocaust era that were in the homes of private individuals in Israel have been given to Yad Vashem for safekeeping.
Yad Vashem is still collecting original documentation and artifacts from the prewar, Holocaust and immediate postwar period to submit them to the museum for safekeeping. They will be added to the Yad Vashem collection, conserved, cataloged and digitized for easy universal access. To learn more about donating items, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who haven’t been in Israel since 2005 should be ready for a whole new experience. The new Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum opened in March of that year and the new facility reflects the many changes that have occurred in society since the Knesset established the museum in 1953, said Yaari. The new museum is four times larger, uses more technology and shifts the focus from German archives to survivors’ points of view. There are nine galleries and many include videos of survivors’ testimonies. When the museum first opened, many survivors were not yet comfortable sharing their experiences, Yaari explained.
According to the museum, about 1 million people visit Yad Vashem from all over the world each year, the most of any tourist destination in the country.
I just finished reading an article about the Israeli elections in the Friday issue of The Jerusalem Post and, for the first time, I finally understood it.
Although I have previously tried to comprehend how Israel’s election process works, it wasn’t until today that something finally clicked. It could be that it was because on Thursday night a member of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s staff explained it to me during a dinner conversation and Friday I attended a panel discussion about the elections that included Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde.
Both of these took place during a press trip to Israel through the American Jewish Press Association. As I write this, I am still on this incredible journey that was sponsored by the Israel Ministry of Tourism and El Al.
During this trip, we have visited many popular tourist destinations – Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust; The Israel Museum, which includes the Book of the Shrine that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls; the City of David National Park, where we toured a site believed to be King David’s Palace and walked through an underground tunnel; the Kotel and the Old City; and the Mahana Yehuda fruit and vegetable market that was bustling with pre-Shabbat activity. In the next few days, I’ll be visiting sites in the Northern Galilee, while others on the tour visit Masada and Eilat, and then we’ll all meet in Tel Aviv.
There were a few special additions for this press trip, including a tour of the headquarters of Yad Sarah, the country’s largest volunteer organization, and the panel discussion mentioned above, which also included Abraham Diskin, professor emeritus of the department of political science of Hebrew University, and Uri Dromi, executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club. The goal of the newly established Jerusalem Press Club is to present a personal side of Israel to members of the foreign media – both those who are stationed in Israel and those who are temporarily covering breaking stories, according to Dromi. On Jan. 25, the 23 AJPA press trip participants received a tour of the facility, which is currently being renovated and is scheduled to open in June.
The facility is located in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a neighborhood that was built more than 150 years ago by Sir Moses Montefiore of Britain and is the first Jewish neighborhood in modern-day Jerusalem, according to the Jerusalem Foundation. Earlier this year, the Jerusalem Foundation received a $2.5 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to establish the press club.
Dromi, whose background includes serving as director of the Government Press Office, where he was the chief spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments, also writes a column about Israel in the Miami Herald. During the tour, he described his vision: The Jerusalem Press Club will be a place where journalists will have a home-away-from-home that includes a working station, a lounge, a briefing room where they can hold interviews, and a state-of-the-art studio. Journalists covering Israel will have a place to stay and mingle with Israeli, Palestinian and international sources, Dromi said, and the press club will also arrange home hospitality visits. This will help the foreign press get to know the personal side of Israel, Dromi said, rather than just its politics, and gain an in-depth understanding of life in Israel. Future plans also include programs for student journalists and for groups of journalists who cover specific topics, such as arts, agriculture, wine or science.
One dream of Dromi’s is to someday pick up a newspaper at any airport in the world and see articles that reflect the positive contributions of Israel to the world. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Israel and experience it firsthand, rather than just through the pages of our newspaper, and hope all who wish to also get the opportunity someday.
One of the things that has changed in the past 20 years since I’ve been to Israel is that the first time I didn’t need to worry about incurring roaming charges.
Part of my assignment for this trip is to share it with our readers – sending tweets, posting blogs and updating my Facebook status. But once we arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, I learned that it’s not as easy as it initially sounded.
First of all, one of my fellow trip participants who has frequently traveled internationally noted that she needed to change the settings in her phone to not incur roaming charges. So three of the four of us who were on the flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv spent the first few minutes after getting our baggage searching through menus on our phone trying to find the right settings. The airport has WiFi so I connected with that then experimented how to keep my phone on airplane mode while using WiFi to update my Facebook status and let my husband know that I arrived safely. (I already had taken the requisite photo of me half-asleep in front of the “Welcome to Israel” sign in the baggage claim area).
But then by the time I set that all up, our representative from the Israel Ministry of Tourism who had met us with the “AJPA” sign upon our arrival was ready to direct us outside to meet the car that would take us to our Jerusalem hotel. I had a few seconds outside to quickly update my status indicating that I had arrived in Israel but then discovered that the airport’s WiFi connection didn’t work outside.
So there we were, traveling in the car fidgeting with our phones still trying to find the right setting. Although the driver didn’t speak much English, apparently cell-phone coverage issues transcend language barriers and he asked us if we needed WiFi. He turned it on in the car, gave us the password and then we had access again. But then how do we use airplane mode to not incur roaming charges but still use the WiFi network to communicate with those in Arizona who are probably still sleeping because it’s only about 4:30 in the morning there? Definitely not something I thought about in 1992.
Anyway, one of my wise co-travelers said she was just going to worry about it when she got to the hotel and she was going to look out the window instead. I decided to do the same.
(If you are reading this after doing a Google search for “turn roaming off Verizon,” here’s what I did: turned WiFi on, put it on airplane mode. I did this several times without the “roaming” message going away but then at some point the “roaming” message was replaced by an “airplane mode” message. Not really sure why and I won’t be sure it actually worked until I get my next bill, but maybe that will help you.)
As I’m writing this, I’m flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet and just passing over Philadelphia, according to the screen in the front of the cabin. I’m on my way to Israel for the first time in 20 years and have 5,721 miles – nearly 10 hours – left to go. A big difference from my usual schedule – last weekend I barely left the house (I did get countless loads of laundry done, though).I’m wearing the complimentary headset listening to a channel that has played songs in Hebrew along with Frank Sinatra and The Beatles and have watched two movies so far: The Oranges and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, both with Hebrew subtitles. Not being much of a world traveler – although I love the idea – I’m trying to absorb the idea that I left Phoenix on Tuesday morning and after a quick flight to L.A, I’m going to get off the plane on Wednesday afternoon in Tel Aviv.This journey is the start of a press trip to Israel through the American Jewish Press Association and sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and El Al. I’m so appreciative of these organizations, as well as Jewish News Publisher Flo Eckstein, for this opportunity. (Not to mention of course, so grateful for my wonderful husband who is holding down the fort at home with our three young boys and a dog and for those family members, friends and co-workers who are helping out so I can take this trip).
One perk so far – in addition to the bag of goodies that El Al sent before the trip – was waiting in the Business Lounge in the International terminal at LAX. In addition to the beautiful sitting area, computers, TV and newspapers, there were also complimentary drinks and snacks, including kosher egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches. When the time came to board the plane, an announcement was made right there in the lounge. After checking my email, I met up with a fellow press trip traveler and we walked to the gate together. It wasn’t a normal gate, though, we rode in a bus across the runway to board the plane.
El Al’s slogan is so true: It’s not just an airline, it’s Israel. You feel it as soon as you get on the plane. There’s something special about being immersed in the Hebrew conversations, although I can only identify a few scattered words. It reminds me of sitting at my mother-in-law’s Shabbat table with her Israeli friends. The safety instructions are in English and Hebrew, as are the signs. The food is kosher – and delicious. Dinner was pasta bolognese, salad, a container of Sabra hummus, pita and chocolate cake.
Right now, the cabin is dark and I know I should probably try sleeping but it’s only about 7 p.m. my time so I’m not quite ready to do so yet. Maybe I’ll watch another movie.
“During the time I was on active duty, I thought I was indestructible,” retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow told about 250 people gathered Sunday night at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale.
But almost immediately upon his retirement from the service, he underwent a series of health issues that made him consider telling his story — a journey from the concentration camp to the upper echelon of the United States Army. Like many Holocaust survivors, he said, he had been silent about his wartime experiences for 40 years. His youngest daughter insisted that he had an amazing story to tell, and told him, “If you don’t put pen to paper, that story goes with you.”
So he wrote, with the help of Jann Robbins (wife of potboiler author, Harold), “Hope and Honor,” a book-length memoir published in 2006. “Simply said, I wanted to be remembered,” he said of writing the book, which formed the basis for his presentation at the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Passages lecture series on Sunday night. Drawing some laughs, he told the audience there would be no need to buy the book once they heard him speak. He leavened his talk with humor and always spoke frankly, sometimes saltily, about incidents in his life or broader historic moments he encountered.
A native of Kaunas, Lithuania, Shachnow explained how his parents, who were educated in Germany, could not believe the reports of what would turn out to be the Holocaust and thus did not leave Lithuania. He explained, too, how the words “ghetto,” “work camp” and “concentration camp” were meaningless distinctions to those who experienced them — what was originally designated by the Germans as the Jewish ghetto in Kaunas became the Kovno concentration camp. Life, particularly the privation and suffering, in these places was the same, he said.
Within a short time after Kaunas’ 40,000 Jews were consigned to the ghetto and it became legal to kill Jews, nationalist Lithuanians had killed about 10,000 of them. By the end of the war, 2,000 survived, including Shachnow and his family.
Shachnow was smuggled out of the concentration camp after three years, and eventually was reunited with his immediate family after the camp was liberated by the Soviet Army. He and his family came to the United States in the 1950s, finding a nearly alien world that the young man, who hadn’t gone to school before coming here, quickly adapted to. He mentioned his lack of education in relation to his wanting to get married almost as soon as he met his future wife, Arlene. “I had a paper route,” he said, but no other means or skills to support a married life. To his parents, that was a sign of the couple’s lack of maturity, but they opposed the marriage for another reason, Arlene was Catholic, and at that time, he pointed out, that was a very big deal. They’ve been married ever since.
(Later, in a question-and-answer session, he was asked if any of his children consider themselves Jewish. He said, unblinkingly, “They consider themselves Jewish, but they don’t practice.”)
The army sent him to school and he was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1960, and in 1962, he entered the Green Berets and served in the special forces for 32 years. Today, his large family includes several military officers serving in Afghanistan and Korea.
Shachnow spoke philosophically of his time as commander of U.S. forces in Berlin, when his counterpart in the Soviet quarter of the city pointed out the irony that he had been liberated by the Soviets but now was in a U.S. uniform ready to fight them. In contrast, there was a much-sweeter irony — what he called Nemesis, after the Greek goddess of retribution — in his Berlin command. His 32-room residence had been the home of the Nazis’ finance minister, and his command headquarters had been the headquarters of Hermann Goering, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe.
The Holocaust is often described in terms of perpetrators and victims, he said, but the most important role was played by bystanders, who did nothing as the Final Solution was put into practice. By not acting to question or stop it, the bystanders were complicit in the evil. “They could have changed history he said.” Reflecting on this, he said that he has concluded, “There is evil in all of us. It’s a matter of degrees.”
In response to questions, he said that he didn’t personally experience any anti-Semitism in the Army, although he heard people use Jew as a verb to describe negotiating to get a price down. He said he realized they simply didn’t know any better and meant nothing by it. He added, “I didn’t hide my Jewishness. Everybody knew I was Jewish.”
The thorniest questions came at the end, when Aaron Scholar, the BJE’s director, asked whether the U.S. government understands Islam and the threat that Islamists present to the nation. Shachnow said that the government pretty much knows the threat but in the name of political correctness won’t “call a spade a spade.” He pointed to the 2009 Fort Hood killings when Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, a Muslim, is accused of having shot to death 13 people and wounded 29 others and wondered how it could not be considered a case of Islamist terrorism.
When he was asked whether he had seen anything as bad as the Holocaust in his own military experience, he described the My Lai massacre conducted by American soldiers in Vietnam, in which villagers – including mostly women and children – were indiscriminately slaughtered. “War dulls our sensitivities and consciousness,” Shachnow said, adding that humanity hasn’t really learned anything from the Holocaust. “Atrocities are taking place today.”
The Jewish Community Association’s second annual meeting on Wednesday was charged with optimism. The agency and its supporters seemed well ready to put to rest the past few years of uncertainty and transition, and to embrace the evening’s theme, “The Power of You, Creating Ripples of Change.”
Stuart Wachs, president and CEO, pointed out positive highlights of the year, such as a high ranking from Quality First! for the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center’s preschool; 700 attendees at Young Jewish Phoenix’s Mazelpalooza, an increase of 200 attendees from the 2011 party; the community’s first Birthright Israel trip; and the Rally for Israel after the conflict with Gaza.
In addition to a program, attendees at the event, held at Congregation Beth Israel, were handed a 2012 Annual Report featuring short biographies of the honorees, lists of incoming and outgoing board members, some information on the community allocation process, a line-item breakdown of fund distributions in 2012, and pie charts illustrating “2012 Preliminary Financials,” including an amount
($1.9 million) that will be allocated in 2013 and percentage breakdowns showing in what categories those funds will be allocated. The largest category at 14.3 percent is general operations support, followed by donor-directed giving at 13.4 percent. Social services will receive 9 percent, 7.2 percent will go to Israel and overseas partners, 3.2 percent will go to outreach, another 3.2 percent will go to Jewish education, and 2.8 percent will be allocated to day schools.
Without specifically mentioning these breakdowns, Wachs explained that last percentage (and how the day schools differ from Jewish education) at the meeting. The majority of allocations under the association’s process are for programs rather than agencies, but the day school allocations are now being funded on a per-student basis.
The choice of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield as the evening’s guest speaker underscored the mood. He said that what many people think of as a breakdown or disappearance of community is actually a change in the way that people experience being part of a community, doing things like organizing vast political movements using online communities whose participants might never have met one another but who are united in a cause. He talked about community as “the complete integration of independence and interdependence,” adding that “our best selves always emerge in community.” He explained that when a community recognizes that it’s not a place for people to enter but rather a place that helps individuals attain their goals, then it can engage and grow. “There is no individual without community, there’s no such thing” and “There’s no community without a lot of you’s.”
He promised that if this community would focus on his prescription, that next year’s meeting would be celebrating major growth in engaged participation.
Photo of Rabbi Brad Hirschfield by Salvatore Caputo
Bob Silver joked that at the end of the second annual meeting of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix he would have the most coveted title in the organization – immediate past chairman.
Indeed, while the Jan. 16 event held at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale was held to honor many volunteers – Berry Sweet, who received the Medal of Honor; Debbie Berkowitz, who received the Lee Amada Young Leadership Award; Hillel Jewish Student Center at ASU, which received the Belle Latchman Community Service award for its Pink Friday breast-cancer awareness event; and Roslyn Vinnik, who received the Valley of the Sun JCC’s Volunteer of the Year Award – the evening was a victory lap for Silver, who had the reins of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and its successor the association through a turbulent financial crisis and eventual consolidation with the VOSJCC.
During his tenure as chairman of the federation/association, Silver has exemplified the theme of the event – “The Power of You,” the power of a single individual to improve things in this world. He deflected such praise by acknowledging the help he had through the federation’s financial meltdown and the rebuilding effort that led to the association’s establishment last year: “There were so many people who gave. I asked and they gave.”
Yet his successor, Joel Kramer, who now takes the reins, praised Silver succinctly and pointedly: “People told me, ‘You’re going to have some big shoes to fill.’ … A volunteer should never, ever, ever, ever be expected to sacrifice like Bob did.”
The Robyn Helzner Trio, which thanks to it basic approach (mostly guitar, bass and mandolin with three-part harmony vocals) resembles a bluegrass group, gave the audience a whirlwind tour of Jewish music from Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Israeli sources.
Helzner showed a deft touch for drama and comedy in explaining the stories the lyrics in Ladino, Yiddish and Hebrew told. And she got the crowd singing along with niggunlike, wordless choruses such as in the sprightly “Likrat Shabbat.” The audience also sang along enthusiastically the trio’s take on “Oseh Shalom” and its Selichot staple “Turn, Turn, Turn” (Pete Seeger’s take on Ecclesiastes, which was popularized by The Byrds way back in the Stone Age of folk-rock).
Bass player Matt Holsen and mandolinist Dov Weitman showed versatility as well, switching to electric keyboard and guitar respectively on several tunes. Weitman’s considerable songwriting skills were also displayed with his hot jazz setting of Hillel’s words from Pirkei Avot in “Hillel Haya Omer” and his gorgeously plaintive setting of the creation story in “B’reishit.” Helzner also contributed a lovely tune in her setting of the Shabbat poem “D’Ror Yikra.”
Kudos to the BJE for opening the new secular year with such a big bang … and it was good.
This is the last week to visit “We Remember: The Holocaust Art of Robert Sutz” exhibit at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center.
The exhibit includes life masks of Holocaust survivors exhibited with the survivors’ stories and paintings of Holocaust scenes. The exhibit was recently featured in a blog post on Stage Mom Musings.
Sutz attributes his dedication to preserving the memory of the Holocaust to his father, who lost his whole family in concentration camps. He started with interviewing Holocaust survivors in Chicago through Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation and when he makes life masks of survivors, he also interviews them to document their stories.
I had the pleasure of first meeting Mr. Sutz in 2004 when he invited me to his Scottsdale studio to watch him make a life mask of Holocaust survivor Alexander White. At the time he had made about 10 impressions of survivors and his goal was to do as many as he could “before more of them are lost.” By 2007, he had made 19 more life masks, with 11 more in progress.
In 2011, Sutz was honored at a reception recognizing his work, which by that time expanded to include 70 life masks accompanied by short biographies, 70 paintings of Holocaust scenes drawn from survivors’ memories and nine pastel portraits. At that time, the Robert Sutz We Remember Holocaust Memorial was established as a nonprofit.
Learn more about Robert Sutz’s work here.
The exhibit, presented by the Arizona Jewish Historical Society and co-sponsored by the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association, is open noon – 3 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday through Jan. 20. Docents will be available for a guided tour on Sunday.
On Sunday at 1 p.m., there will also be a free screening of “Have Hope: Arizona Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Stories,” a one-hour film that recounts the memories of Arizona Holocaust survivors through footage previously recorded in Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah project. It is produced by the USC Shoah Foundation for the Arizona Jewish Historical Society and sponsored by the Benjamin Goldberg Memorial Trust. Call 602-241-7870.