They have names

An art professor with whom I once studied suggested that you don’t really know the thing you are observing until you can name it. For instance, order can be brought to the riot of parts under your vehicle’s hood, once you know that this thing here is the carburetor and that thing there is the alternator.

Likewise, while we think of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis in World War II with tremendous sadness and anger at the slaughter, we feel the loss more profoundly when we know the name of an individual. Knowing that name makes the reality more concrete, more knowable, more real.

I’m thinking about these things because on International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27), Yad Vashem, which has been on a mission to document the names of the entire 6 million,  sent an email to mark the day.

“For years people assumed that the Nazis kept meticulous lists of all the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust,” the email says. “But the reality is that few names of individuals were documented, and many people were simply killed with no one to record that they had once lived.  For the past 6 decades, Yad Vashem has been working to bring their names back from oblivion.  Combining information submitted by Holocaust survivors, next generation descendants or relatives of Holocaust victims with data gleaned from archives scattered across the globe, Yad Vashem, which literally means ‘a memorial and a name’ has been able to recover the names and identities of 4.3 million of the 6 million victims. It is a colossal effort that continues around the clock and around the world: volunteers meet with survivors to help them fill in Pages of Testimony in memory of their loved ones; volunteers and staff gather names from memorials and cemeteries; archivists and language experts pore over documents in a dozen languages to seek out the names; and digitization experts ensure that all the material is accessible.  The names are kept in the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, are accessible online in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names on Yad Vashem’s website, and are recorded in the Book of Names unveiled by Yad Vashem in Auschwitz–Birkenau this summer.”

(The email also points recipients to a short video about Yad Vashem’s efforts.)

If Yad Vashem succeeds in this task, it will be quite an achievement. There can be no adequate memorial to all the murdered. There isn’t any one person who can truly remember those names, who can truly know each individual’s journey through that dark period. Yet finding all their names is the key to learning those individual stories, how they individually related to that great, churning engine that was the European Jewish community. We may not be able to know many of them in any depth, but the promise of Yad Vashem is that, when the task is complete, we’d be able to name ANY one of them without exception. To leave none of them nameless, to name them in our prayers and memories is to know them and to retrieve some light from the awful darkness of the Holocaust.

How do Jewish teens connect in the Valley?

In the past few weeks, I’ve written articles about the Jewish Student Union and Jewish Girl Scouts. As a Jewish kid growing up in Southern California, I was a Girl Scout, but the troop had no connection to Judaism; and I went MIA from Hebrew school when my mother gave me the choice to have a bat mitzvah in our Conservative synagogue, or take a pass, like most of my 13-year-old female contemporaries did back in the mid-to-late ’60s.

While writing these articles, I started thinking about how Jewish youth in the Valley connect socially with their Jewish peers. Many synagogues offer youth programming for all ages, the Bureau of Jewish Education holds Hebrew High once a week during the school year, and most streams of Judaism offer youth group experiences. I’ve highlighted a few of the larger organizations below:

The National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the youth arm of the Reform movement, comprises more than 750 synagogue youth groups, engaging high school students in leadership activities grounded in Torah, justice and repairing the world. Through NFTY, teens build friendships and gain leadership skills through community building, worship, social action and educational programming, which includes yearly social action and study themes.

For more information, visit

The Conservative Movement’s United Synagogue Youth (USY) inspires Jewish youth to “explore, celebrate and practice ethical values, Jewish living, Zionism and community responsibility.” USY offers programs through Conservative synagogues for pre-teens and teens that include leadership training, social programming, community service and Israel advocacy. The organization also has summer programs, including USY on Wheels — a multi-week trek that takes teens on the road for a memorable summer of learning, social action and camaraderie.

For more information, visit

The National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), founded by the Orthodox Union in 1954, helps “connect, inspire and empower Jewish teens and encourage passionate Judaism through Torah and Tradition.” NCSY, as I reported a few weeks ago, takes an active role in engaging Jewish students in public as well as private schools, offers social action opportunities, Shabbaton weekends and summer programs.

Visit for more information.

BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) offers Jewish experiences for teens post-bar and bat mitzvah. The pluralistic organization’s mission is to offer meaningful learning and growth opportunities to Jewish teens, including Israel and world travel.

To learn more about local chapters, visit

The Bureau of Jewish Education holds Hebrew High at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus on Tuesday nights (and at satellite locations in Chandler and Glendale) during the school year, giving students in grades 9-12 an opportunity to mingle with other Jewish teens while learning. Hebrew High also has a summer Care-A-Van trip giving teens an opportunity to travel, do community service and hang out with their peers.

For more information, visit

Top 10 stories on in 2013

In last week’s editorial, we highlighted what we felt were the top 10 local stories we covered in 2013. However, our website analytics tell us which stories received the most hits online so here’s a countdown of the top 10 most-read stories (or of the top 10 that received the most page views, if you want to get technical) in 2013:

10: “Swapping bagels for tortillas in Peace Corps: In this first-person piece, Kara Zucker, a member of Temple Solel in Paradise Valley, writes about her experience living as a Jew in El Salvador while serving in the Peace Corps.

9: “Elf toy meets its Jewish match: ‘Mensch on a Bench’ “: In this story, speaks to entrepreneur Neal Hoffman about his Hanukkah version of The Elf on the Shelf.

8: World roundup 5-17-13: When we select stories for the newspaper, there’s no way of knowing for sure which ones will interest readers the most, but the two briefs selected for the May 17 world roundup turned out to be popular ones. The headlines were “Syria warns it could enter Golan” and “Livni moves for women’s inclusion.”

7: “Emanuel teen now home, thanks to Facebook post” A missing Mesa teen returned safely to his home last week, after thousands across the country participated in the search via social media.

6: “To Ramallah and back: A student’s take on Israeli security”: Mollie Adatto, who grew up in Scottsdale, shares her thoughts on Israeli security after spending time in Israel as an intern for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

5: “Emanuel teen missing“: When a 13-year-old Mesa teen was reported missing, the report was shared thousands of times in Facebook posts from people across the country. A follow-up story about how Facebook posts helped his family find him is in this week’s issue (Jan. 3).

4: “Memorial service for 11-year-old killed in automobile accident“: This very short, sad brief was posted to inform the community about a memorial service for a young girl who died in a tragic accident.

3: “Remembering Granite Mountain Hotshots“: This article is a reprint of an April 25, 2012 story written by Connor Radnovich from Cronkite News Service that profiled the Granite Mountain Hotshots, the firefighting crew that died June 30 battling the Yarnell Hill Fire.

2: “ASU Hillel hires new director“: This article introduces the community to Debbie Yunker Kail after she was hired as the new executive director of Hillel at Arizona State University. Her predecessor, Rabbi Barton Lee, had served as head of the organization for four decades.

And the most popular story of 2013 was:

Valley Beit Midrash hires one of ‘America’s top 50 rabbis’: This announcement about Valley Beit Midrash hiring Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz to serve as its new executive director received the most views of the 2,114 stories posted on in 2013.

Happy New Year!

Follow Leisah Woldoff on Facebook and Twitter.