Monday, December 30, 2013

A Sacred Gift for the Auschwitz Jewish Center

This blog comes from Shiri, the U.S. Director of the Auschwitz Jewish Center, who was happy to share this beautiful story in time for the new year. 

Something wonderful happened at the Auschwitz Jewish Center recently. Rabbi Kevin Hale, who is also a Sofer (a Jewish scribe of sacred scrolls), helped breathe new Jewish life into our new building in an incredibly meaningful way. 

Backing up a few months, his connection to the AJC started  when he discovered our Kickstarter campaign last spring which raised more than $28,000. Some 250 supporters from around the world helped us raise much needed funds for renovating the last Jewish home in Oświęcim (Auschwitz) and turning it into Café Oshpitzin, a welcoming space for international visitors for education and dialogue.

Not only did Rabbi Hale donate to the campaign, but he reached out to us because he wanted to contribute more than money, he wanted to bestow a very special gift.  He was headed to Oświęcim on a retreat and told us that he had intended to write a kosher mezuzah scroll while there. He very kindly offered that scroll to us for the doorpost of Café Oshpitzin.

We believe that this mezuzah scroll, written in the AJC’s Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue, is the first to be written in Oświęcim in more than 70 years.

Photos courtesy of the AJC.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What are your plans for Dec. 25?

The countdown begins to the busiest day of our year. Dec. 25 this year will be especially exciting because we are welcoming back Joshua Nelson and his Kosher Gospel Choir for two concerts. Previously playing to sold out crowds at the Museum, Josh’s combination of jazz and gospel styles makes melodies like Adon Olam and Oseh Shalom sound like you’ve never heard them before. Listen to an interview with him on YouTube (with a little music thrown in for good measure). I am listening to my copy of Hebrew Soul, his 2004 CD, while I’m finishing my work this afternoon.  Tickets are still available for the 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. shows. Buy your tickets now. There is plenty of time for a movie and Chinese after the show.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shalom, Bonnie

In the history of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, we have observed a lot of life cycle events of the staff. Engagements, marriages, births of children and grandchildren, b’nai mitzvahs of said children and grandchildren, but today we mark just the second retirement.

Bonnie Gurewitsch joined the Museum in 1990 (following our merger with the Center for Holocaust Studies, where she had worked previously). She curated or co-curated many MJH exhibitions, including two award winners, among them: Citizens Betrayed; Scream the Truth at the World; Ours to Fight For; Daring to Resist; Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow; and Against the Odds.  She worked on research for the inaugural Core Exhibition; integrated CHS items into our cataloging system and library; conducted video interviews; acquired artifacts for the collection; assisted researchers; lectured regularly at Education Department trainings; and so much more! 

Bonnie is a true teacher, and as one of her many students, I can say that we will miss Bonnie greatly, and we wish her a happy and fruitful retirement.

Photo: Nancy Fisher

Monday, December 2, 2013

Giving Tuesday, A Day to Make a Difference

This blog is from Emily, who, along with many other staff members, is very excited about taking part in #GivingTuesday for the first time.
We all know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and now we have Giving Tuesday, a new day to add to our holiday calendars. Giving Tuesday is a day dedicated to encouraging philanthropy and to helping cultivate a culture of giving throughout the United States by asking individuals to donate to a nonprofit of their choice. Giving Tuesday launched last year with 2,500 organizations participating and raising a total of $10 million. This year, there are 8,302 participating organizations, including our Museum.
 For Giving Tuesday, we are encouraging people to support our Interfaith Living Museum. This is a dynamic program that brings together Jewish and Muslim fifth graders from New York City to learn about one another. Over the course of six months, these students visit each others’ schools and places of worship and curate an exhibit together that showcases their own families’ treasured cultural artifacts.  As they realize how much they share and have in common, friendships develop among students who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet and spend time together. 

As one participant explained, “I learned that people who believe in different things aren’t very different, and two people who believe in different things can easily make a great friendship.” 

There is no cost to the schools to participate in this important program. In order to continue providing funding, the Museum is asking for donations to help keep the program free for participants.

The program is predicated on the belief that it is possible for the next generation to live in a world whose currency is mutual respect, an appreciation of cultural differences, and a knowledge of shared values. Because it is within our power to give the students the tools to help make the world a better place, we embrace this opportunity to provide an enriching learning experience to so many young people.                  

To learn more, please visit our Giving Tuesday website by clicking here.  

Photo by Melanie Einzig

Monday, November 25, 2013

Coming to a theater near you: The Book Thief

Our marketing coordinator, Emily, previews the film adaptation of one of our book club’s favorite picks.

Liesel Meminger, the title character of Markus Zusak’s young adult novel The Book Thief, is good at keeping secrets, even when it involves hiding a young Jewish man and rescuing a book from being burned by the Nazis. 

Her captivating story has captured the hearts of millions across the globe, so it was only a  matter of time before the novel was optioned for the big screen. While it promises a large, built-in following, it is nonetheless a difficult story to capture on film. Zusak’s writing style is nothing short of unique, as the novel is narrated not by Liesel, but by Death. Having a disembodied narrator worked well for the novel, but it never would have had the same effect on screen. Consequently, director Brian Percival cut-back Death’s narration considerably. 

While this will disappoint some fans, the movie has a number of redeeming qualities. The cast, for one, is exemplary. Sophie Nélisse embodies the role of Liesel perfectly. The quick-fingered young girl is just as infinitely lovable on-screen as she was in print. Nico Liersch, similarly, brings to life Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s love-struck, Jesse Owens-obsessed best friend. The cast also includes seasoned film stars Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, who play Liesel’s foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. While the film explores dark themes, there are lighter moments of comedy that come from the way Rush and Watson portray the unusual, miss-matched couple.

Ben Schnetzer, who plays Max, the young Jewish man in hiding, is relatively new to acting, and yet he holds his own against Rush and Watson, and is the perfect older-brother figure to Nélisse’s Liesel. He also delivers one of the more memorable lines in the film: “Words are life, Liesel. All those pages, they’re for you to fill.”

 The film lacks some of the depth of Zusak’s novel, but it would be impossible to condense a nearly 600 page book into a two and a half hour film without glossing over certain points. There are a number of heart-wrenching moments in the film, and you can’t help but fall in love with Zusak’s characters all over again. Like the book, the film speaks volumes about the power of words and the durability of the human spirit. It is currently playing in select theaters in the city, and will be opening in theaters everywhere on November 27.

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Special Visitor to the Auschwitz Jewish Center: Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

Today, our colleagues in Poland at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim welcomed  Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General for a very special visit. The Secretary General visited to tour the Center’s Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue, accompanied by Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, rabbi of Katowice and Upper Silesia, following a visit to the former camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

This is the first visit by a UN Secretary General to the Auschwitz Jewish Center, the only Jewish presence in the vicinity of Auschwitz; the Center’s facilities include Oświęcim’s only surviving synagogue.

Secretary General Ki-moon discussed the UN’s work for genocide prevention, tolerance, and peace while at the Center and wrote in the Center’s guest book, “I am honored to visit this synagogue and learn about Jewish life in Poland before the cataclysm of the Holocaust. I am especially impressed to see the staying power of Jewish tradition and the rebirth of Jewish life. Coming at the end of a deeply moving visit to the Nazi death camp, I leave Auschwitz saddened but also with the hope, determination to build this world of equality, human dignity and peace.”

Tomasz Kuncewicz, the Director of the Auschwitz Jewish Center says, “We are honored by the visit of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, which affirms our commitment to educating about European Jewish history and the Holocaust as a response to today's dangers of social exclusion, anti-Semitism, and other forms of xenophobia.  His determination to advance peace, development, and human rights serves as an example in today's world.”

Dr. David Marwell, President of the Auschwitz Jewish Center and Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, says, “We are so pleased that the Secretary General was able to visit our Center and witness evidence of the vibrant Jewish life that animated the town of Oświęcim before the war – a powerful counterpoint to what he had seen earlier in the day during his tour of the Nazi death camp just a few kilometers away. We hope that this powerful experience will help to inform his important work of pursuing peace in the world.”

Images: Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General at the Auschwitz Jewish Center. Photo by Dominik Smolarek. Image of guest book by Artur Szyndler.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Excerpt of Fascinating Book about A French Priest Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

Next month, we’re honored to be welcome historian Susan Zuccotti who will be presenting her new book, Père Marie-Benoît and Jewish Rescue: How a French Priest Together with Jewish Friends Saved Thousands During the Holocaust (Indiana University Press, 2013) on December 11 at 7 p.m.

The book explores the life and work of Père Marie-Benoît (1895-1990), a courageous French Capuchin priest who risked everything to hide Jews in France and Italy during the Holocaust, by providing false papers, helping them to elude their persecutors. From monasteries first in Marseille and later in Rome, Père Marie-Benoît worked with Jewish co-conspirators to build remarkably effective Jewish-Christian rescue networks. To shed light on the priest’s life, Zuccotti delved into archives in France and at the Vatican and personally interviewed Père Marie-Benoît, his family, Jewish rescuers with whom he worked, and survivors who owed their lives to his network.

Click here for an excerpt of the book which the Wall Street Journal praised for helping “to keep alive the memory of one of the brave men and women whose actions showed that goodness and charity will survive even in the midst of a great evil.”

Susan Zuccotti will be joined by investigative journalist Leslie Maitland, author of Crossing the Borders of Time (Other Press, 2012), which is the compelling account of her mission to discover what happened to her mother’s long lost love after the war. Admission is free.