Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Celebrating Women and Sharing Personal Stories of Survival


One of our warmest annual events is fast approaching. The Spring Women’s Luncheon will take place on Thursday, June 2 at the Pierre Hotel. This year’s event welcomes Auschwitz survivor Stella Levi to share her story of growing up on the Aegean island of Rhodes and her life before, during, and after the war.

Mrs. Levi, an Italian citizen, was born in 1926, the youngest in a Sephardic family of seven children. By 1938 five of Stella’s siblings had already emigrated, but as her father was too ill to travel, Stella, her mother, and her older sister stayed behind. In September 1943 German troops occupied the island. In August 1944, the 1,700 Jewish citizens of Rhodes were shipped to Athens and then to Auschwitz where Stella’s parents were killed. In October 1944, Stella and her sister were sent to Landsberg and then to Turkheim, a sub-camp of Dachau. Near the end of the war, they were on a death march that took them to a satellite camp of Dachau outside of Munich where they were liberated by American troops in May 1945. Of the 1,700 men, women, and children deported from Rhodes, only 152 survived.

In 1947, Stella and her sister arrived in New York where they joined other family members who had immigrated before the war.

Please join us to hear Stella’s inspiring story in her own words at this very special event that celebrate all survivors. The Spring Women's Luncheon raises money for the Museum Community Fund, which provides access for those that cannot afford Museum admission.

For more information, contact Shari Segel at 646.437.4322 or email ssegel@mjhnyc.org.

image: Stella Levi, as a child, with her older sister, Selma (right), and friend, Louisa Hasson, Rhodes, c. 1929. Gift of Stella Levi, Yaffa Eliach Collection donated by the Center for Holocaust Studies.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Celebration of Recipes Remembered

A very special event took place at the Museum Tuesday. June Feiss Hersh, author of Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, presented the survivors who contributed their food memories and histories with their own copies of the book. The entire room was kvelling with pride, most especially for June, who took on this project three years ago with the devotion of Mother Theresa and the will of Scarlett O’Hara.

The brunch, graciously hosted by June and her family, was a combination reunion and revival meeting. A lot of spontaneous applause, especially when it was announced that the book sold out in three weeks. Not to worry, we are reprinting as I type.

David Marwell and I spoke briefly, but June’s remarks were, well, there is no other word for it: remarkable. She spoke honestly about the long journey of the cookbook, and she showered love on the survivors, calling them out by name and fondly recalling their interviews, recipes, and histories. She spoke to them, and about them, with adoration and reverence. It takes great talent to write a cookbook that tells stories of the Holocaust and make it joyful, but that is what June has done. I got the sense that many of the survivors had told their stories to groups before. But by telling their stories to June, each story was captured forever in print. What a gift she has given them. And what a gift she has given the world. I think she’s just swell.

Pre-order your copy now of the book described by the New York Times’ Florence Fabricant as “lavishly illustrated” and “a rich collection” of recipes and stories. You can get it online at http://www.pickmanmuseumshop.com/ or call 646.437.4213. Read more about the book here.

Photo of Holocaust survivor Fira Stukelman, Museum Director David Marwell, and author June Feiss Hersh by Caroline Earp.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Read 'Em and Weep

I have attended two author events at the Museum that have filled me with awe. One was Dara Horn talking about her novel “All Other Nights” and the other was Wednesday night, when Julie Orringer, the amazingly gifted author of “The Invisible Bridge,” was interviewed by Gabriel Sanders, deputy editor of Tablet and soon to be our new Director of Public Programs.


Julie’s book is a sweeping epic of Paris and Budapest from 1937-1945. The stories of brothers, lovers, and friends are set against a backdrop of war-torn Europe, and they are at once exhilarating and heartbreaking. Like Dara’s book, which is set during the Civil War, I marvel at the abilities of these women to create a landscape that is purely authentic, fascinating, and makes you almost teary because the book has come to a close. This is no small feat for a book that is 758 pages (Julie’s) or 358 pages (Dara’s).


In both novels, the characters are so well drawn you want to devour all there is to know about them. As Julie said Wednesday night, she would ask herself every day, “What is going to happen to these people?” And to think that she lived with them for seven years. That’s longer than many marriages. When Dara was here I did not ask her how long she spent writing “All Other Nights,” but if the Civil War lasted four years, I will guess writing the novel took at least as much time. Considering this year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, do yourself a favor and read Dara’s book. The story revolves around a Jewish union spy who infiltrates the confederate army. The writing is vivid, the history is captivating, and it is a marvelous example of an unfolding mystery.


I could go on comparing their wonderful qualities, but I have some speeches to write. Bottom line – make sure to add these writers and their books to your own personal library, or Nook or Kindle or IPad or whatever reading technology you use. I will note that one audience member discovered the drawback of using a Kindle: your favorite author can’t sign your Kindle.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Eichmann Trial: 50 Years Later


As many of you know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel. Eichmann, the chief architect of the deportation of the Jews, was found in Argentina by Mossad agents in 1960. He was captured and brought to Israel where he was tried and executed.

The proceedings captured worldwide attention, but more than that, it prompted a new openness; many Holocaust survivors felt able to talk about their experiences for the first time as the country and the world confronted this traumatic chapter.

However, there is still a lot to be discovered and written about the importance of this dramatic story. Historian Deborah Lipstadt's new book, The Eichmann Trial (Nextbook/Schocken), delves into the trial and the aftermath to shed new light on the nuances of the events of 1961. The Wall Street Journal calls the book a “thoughtfully researched and clearly written account of the courtroom proceedings and of the debates spurred by the trial.” Hear the author in her own words in a Tablet Magazine podcast.

The Eichmann Trial is available in the Pickman Museum Shop.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Woody Allen A to Z


If you have been reading the arts section of your local newspaper, you have seen that Woody Allen has been taking Cannes by storm with his new film, Midnight in Paris. However, before he was the darling of the European film scene, he belonged to us schlubs in grungy New York City. This summer, the Museum of Jewish’s free summer film series will feature Woody Allen A to Z: Classic Films From Annie Hall to Zelig.

The series of six award-winning films from the 1970s and 80s will begin on Wednesday, June 22 and run through Wednesday, July 27. The series starts on June 22 with the Purple Rose of Cairo, one of Allen’s all-time personal favorites. Annie Hall, which has the distinction of beating out Star Wars for the best picture Oscar in 1977, will be shown on June 29. Manhattan will be shown on July 6 followed by Zelig on July 13; Radio Days on July 20; and last, but certainly not least, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask on July 27. I wouldn’t recommend bringing a first date to that one, unless your date likes vignettes about perversions, bodily functions, love, cross-dressing, aphrodisiacs, sex research, and pleasure. And if so, wouldn’t you want to know that sooner rather than later?

All films are free with suggested donation. Tickets will be available at the box office on a first-come first-served basis starting at 3 P.M. on the day of each screening. To reserve a ticket in advance and guarantee a seat, there is a minimum donation of $5 per ticket. Call 646.437.4202 or visit www.mjhnyc.org/woodyallen to reserve.

Photo: Alvy and Annie chase live lobsters in Annie Hall.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Congratulations, JDC!

Our friends at the American Joint Distribution Committee launched a new website last week that will help survivors and others fill in some blanks in history. Called The Shared Legacy, the site allows people to participate in three key ways:


  • By looking at photographs and tagging people to help identify them;


  • By searching 500,000 historic documents by family name, survivors can look for their names or those of friends and loved ones; and


  • By sharing their own experiences with the JDC.

As the JDC told us, once aid was provided, people went on to live their lives and it was difficult to keep track of these folks. Whether the JDC helped in a Displaced Persons Camp or offered assistance in immigrating to a new country, they want to collect these stories on the website.


Here is a great AP story that spells out how fascinating this archive is, citing among other examples a list of 426 boys taken from Buchenwald to Paris by the JDC; one of those boys was Elie Wiesel.


This spring, all kinds of organizations are asking the public for help in identifying or otherwise filling in missing information. The USHMM launched its Remember Me project and in a separate project working with Ancestry.com, they launched the World Memory Project to create the largest online resource of information of victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution.


We always suggest starting with JewishGen when you begin search for lost friends or loved ones, but just think of how powerful all of these amazing resources can work together.


Photo courtesy of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Celebrating Israel’s Independence


Today, May 10, is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. This year we’re proud to invite you to learn about one of Israel’s first heroes in our inspiring exhibition Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh.

The holiday celebrates Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s 1948 declaration that Israel was an independent state, but many people should be honored for their contributions to the early days of the Jewish State. Hannah Senesh is one of them.

Known throughout the world as the author of the hymn Eli, Eli, Hannah Senesh came of age as a promising poet in cosmopolitan Budapest. In 1939, like many other idealistic young adults, she immigrated to the Land of Israel and became a pioneering kibbutznik. After completing two years of studies at the Agricultural School for Young Women in Nahalal, she joined the newly organized kibbutz, Sedot Yam. In 1943, she volunteered to participate in a secret British mission to parachute behind enemy lines, hoping she might at the same time aid Hungary’s embattled Jews. She was caught, and executed the following year at the age of 23. Almost immediately, Senesh became a national hero to the fledgling Jewish community in Palestine. Her remains were moved to Israel in 1950, and she is now buried in the section of Israel’s national military cemetery dedicated to the parachutists. Hannah’s mother and brother survived the war and lived in Israel until their deaths in 1992 and 1995 respectively.

Following the opening of the exhibition in New York in October 2010, the office of the Prime Minister of Israel announced that they would work with Kibbutz Sedot Yam in order to preserve Hannah’s legacy by expanding the museum in her memory and transforming it into the permanent home of her archive.

Visit www.mjhnyc.org/hannah for more information and artifact explorations. The exhibition will be on view through August 7.

Photo: Hannah and friend in Palestine, 1940-41.
Collection of the Senesh Family

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Great Writers and Important Books Now Available On E-Readers


Today’s post is from our colleagues at Open Road Media. We’re grateful that they are making these works available as e-books and hope that they will find a new audience.

In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, we are excited to celebrate the lives and works of two women who are crucial to our history: Ruth Gruber and Lucy Dawidowicz. While Ruth Gruber is known for being an award-winning journalist, photographer, and humanitarian, and Lucy Dawidowicz for being an influential historian, both women shared the same essential drive: to tell the stories that must be told, and to tell them well.

Today we will share some of these stories.

When Ruth Gruber’s book Haven was published, the New York Times called it “a visceral jolt.” The people agreed. Haven tells the powerful story of a top-secret mission to rescue on thousand European refugees in the midst of the Second World War. A simulated general with the approval of the US Government, Gruber escorted the refugees on this secret mission across the Atlantic to Oswego, New York. Each day carried the threat of Nazi capture. And each day, Gruber recorded the fears, dreams, and stories of the passengers aboard the ship.

A poignant and engrossing story of suffering under Nazi persecution and bravery in the face of the most overwhelming of circumstances, Haven is a book that has changed the lives of many. It is a book that must be read—not just by those concerned with the Holocaust or Jewish-American history, but by all Americans.

Click here for an excerpt of Haven.

Prior to the 1983 release of Haven was the release of Lucy Dawidowicz’s The War Against the Jews: 1933–1945. Written with devastating detail, the book is one of the most definitive and comprehensive books on one of history’s darkest chapters. When released in 1975, it inspired waves of both acclaim and controversy: Dawidowicz argued that genocide was, to the Nazis, as central a war goal as conquering Europe; from the rise of anti-Semitism to the creation of Jewish ghettos to mass murder, she explored in full detail the history of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” The New York Times called it, “a clarification of modern history’s most horrifying passages.” Readers across the web call it “the most comprehensive, best documented, and well-written book to have appeared on the subject of the Holocaust,” and the single volume of history anyone should start with.

Click here for an excerpt of The War Against the Jews: 1933–1945.

Please celebrate the lives and timeless work of these women by sharing these clips with friends and people who care. Tweet or share this:

Celebrate Ruth Gruber & Lucy Dawidowicz @http://bit.ly/kMqPLi.

Click here to watch and grab a documentary quality video of Ruth Gruber.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Family Observance of Yom HaShoah

Today Holocaust survivors Judith Steel, Ruth Gruener, Thea Gottesmann, Edith Rosenbaum, Jack Gruener, and Sol Rosenkranz lit candles in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. They were joined by High School Apprentices who read statements of remembrance written by Gallery Educator and Holocaust Survivor Norbert Friedman. This solemn observance, attended by Museum staff and a few guests, is a very private moment in an otherwise public space. Following the candle lighting, intern and cantorial student Israel Gordon chanted El Maleh Rachamim, a prayer for the departed. It was absolutely beautiful, and you could almost feel that this “plea of the soul” was reaching heaven.

The staff also sang the haunting Eli, Eli by Hannah Senesh. Listen to the melody here if you want to sing the words.

Eli, Eli, shelo yigamer l’olam:
Hachol v’hayam, rishrush shel hamayim,
B’rak hashamayim, t’filat ha’adam.

Oh Lord, my God, I pray that these things never end:
The sand and the sea, the rush of the waters
The crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart.


After the ceremony many of our candle lighters were in the galleries talking to students and other visitors about their experiences during the Holocaust. I listened to Salomea Kape describe life in the ghetto to a group of high school students. Witnessing illness and death, taking care of parents, young people became adults fast, she told us. But when she was in school, it was the only time she could be a child. She went on to show us a report card. I didn’t get to examine it closely, but I am willing to bet she received excellent grades. I am grateful each year for the opportunity to be with the Museum Family on this day.


Pictured above are Sol Rosenkranz, center, High School Apprentice Sarah Broughton, and Sol’s daughter Rita.