From Poland to upstate NY

arm tattoo

Vestal High School will host the premier of the film “Blue Tattoo“, about Holocaust survivor Dina Rosenberg.

The documentary will showcase the personal testimony of Dina Jacobson including her friendship with local folk artist, Joe Crookston and her work with Elmira and Binghamton high school students sharing her experiences as part of the global history curriculum.

Blue Tattoo

The film will be officially released at the International Jewish Film Festival in Buffalo May 18th.

Entrance is free, donations will be accepted to benefit the Raise the Roof campaign to rebuild the synagogue and Hillel Academy. Vestal’s Temple Israel’s roof collapsed in December causing extensive damage to the building.

Dina Jacobson will be present at the screening together with the film’s producers, Rich Kellman and Marty Kerker. DVDs of the film will be available to purchase.

Dina JacobsonDETAILS: Vestal High School auditorium, 205 Woodlawn Drive 6.30PM April 25th. Running time 37 minutes.


UN Holocaust Memorial Day

Today, January 27th, is the UN designated day for remembrance of the Holocaust.

This short film was produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

path to genocide

From the Holocaust museum website:

This 38-minute film examines the Nazis’ rise and consolidation of power in Germany. Using rare footage, the film explores their ideology, propaganda, and persecution of Jews and other victims. It also outlines the path by which the Nazis and their collaborators led a state to war and to the murder of millions of people. By providing a concise overview of the Holocaust and those involved, this resource is intended to provoke reflection and discussion about the role of ordinary people, institutions, and nations between 1918 and 1945.

Eyewitness testimony

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the first Kindertransport, described as “one of the great humanitarian missions of modern times”.

Most of the 10,000 children rescued from the clutches of Nazi Germany never saw their families again. As adults, the kindertransport children would go on to make incredible contributions to the world, including four Nobel prizewinners.  Their eyewitness testimony and willingness to share their stories has a special resonance for children who can experience history as it happened to other children.

We were very fortunate that our Sisterhood president, Gale H. bought her mother Lore Jacobs to talk to some of the RFARS students as part of their Holocaust studies. Lore was rescued from Germany on a kindertransport. Her visit made a strong impression on the students. She described living through Kristallnacht, the terrifying feeling as the Nazi intimidation increased and the experience saying goodbye to her parents as a 13 year old and never seeing them again. Not only could they listen to her experience and ask questions but she also bought an album of photographs and other documents that enriched the presentation.

For more about Lore Jacobs check out the CBC news article on her story here.

Lore Jacobs meets with RFARS students

Lore Jacobs meets with RFARS students

Many thanks to Lore for sharing her story and to Gale for arranging the visit.

As an adult listening to the story, one is especially moved by the loving kindness of strangers, especially the Methodists and Quakers, who took it upon themselves to take in a Jewish child from another country at a time when there were strong anti-Semitic sentiments in British society in general. These individuals took the leap of extending themselves personally in sharing their home, and also made sacrifices financially as each host family was required to provide a significant financial sum as a guarantee. The sum was 50 GBP, about $450 in today’s money, at a time when the median annual income was worth around $3000.

Eyewitness testimony is so important and powerful in keeping memory alive and transmitting experience down the generations. We are told “Remember when you were a slave in Egypt”, but how does one accomplish “memory”? When this was mentioned last Pesach my youngest replied indignantly “but I was never a slave in Egypt!”. Being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and share experience vicariously is greatly facilitated by personal contact.

I used to be concerned that our children would not have the opportunities to talk to Holocaust survivors in a direct fashion. But not any more. We are fortunate that through the work of historians and others, more individuals who were very young during the war are being put in touch with their past and able to provide a living witness to this period. Additionally, we have new types of testimonies emerging from the perspectives of the generation that bridges direct experience of the Holocaust to the present. The movie Nicky’s Family, a documentary about Nicholas Winton by the Slovakian director Matej Mináč, vividly connects the lessons of the history to the present day using the actions of Nicholas Winton as an inspirational figure for ethical behavior. Another example is the utterly remarkable and moving testimony of Dr Bernd Wollschlaeger as he recounts his personal struggle to understand history as the son of a Nazi Wehrmacht officer.


Dr Bernd Wollschlaeger shares his personal testimony (approx 1 hour)
Click on photo for link to video

I would be very interested to hear from other parents about how they approached the subject of their children’s Holocaust education.


Nicky’s Family movie screening Dec 8th

In memory and honor of those whose lives were irreparably destroyed by “the Night of Broken Glass” Kristallnacht” 75 years ago, the film Nicky’s Family will be screened on Sunday December 8th, 2013 4 PM at Cinemapolis in downtown Ithaca.

Nicky's family

For synagogue members and families, tickets are free, and available on a first-come first-served basis.

Please reserve tickets after November 18th at the Temple Office.

Sponsored by Temple Beth El Sisterhood, Adult Education and the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund.

Breif synoposis from movie web site:

Nicky’s Family tells the nearly forgotten story of Nicholas Winton, an Englishman who organized the rescue of 669 Czech and Slovak children just before the outbreak of World War II.

Winton did not speak about these events with anyone for more than half a century. His exploits would have probably been forgotten if his wife, fifty years later, hadn ́t found a suitcase in the attic, full of documents and transport plans.

NYT review here

The silence from this individual about his heroism, even to his wife is remarkable. I wonder if it has anything to do with one of the admirable cultural character traits of the British, namely discretion, non-volubility and an aversion to intimacy that is so different in the US.

I am wondering if this movie would be suitable for a mature almost 10-year old. Any thoughts?


Kristallnacht November 1938

November 9-10th is the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, the public orgy of violence as the Nazis set their campaign against the Jews into full motion.

The US Holocaust museum has an online exhibition about Kristallnacht that can be viewed at this link. The personal testimonies are compelling. Many German Jews were completely assimilated, viewing themselves as more German than Jewish. Dealing with the shock of the violence and as Jews were being rounded up and deported to concentration camps, Jews had to comprehend the full scale of the murderous intent of the German state, the general acquiescence of the German population, together with the necessity for escape as possibilities for emigration were fast dwindling.

From the vantage point of 2013, what have we learned?  In the video testimonies, the survivors point to the need to stay vigilant and to the necessity of not being a bystander to injustice.

What should we teach our kids?  Last year, the Bnai Mitzvah class were introduced to the subject of the Holocaust and these are their questions:

what do we want to know copy

At this point in time, there is one particular aspect of Kristallnacht I am thinking I should discuss with my kids – the fact that the destruction of Jewish owned businesses during Kristallnacht was preceded by a boycott of Jewish enterprises. As the USHMM explains it:

Though only partially successful, it (the boycott) served as a harbinger of more drastic policies to come. Throughout the 1930s, German Jewish businessmen were pressured to close their enterprises or sell them to “Aryans” at a fraction of their true value. By April 1938, the number of Jewish-owned businesses had declined from about 100,000 in January 1933 to 39,552

Looking through the lens of history it is impossible to ignore the fact that at the present day efforts to boycott Israel are contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism. The documentary Anti-Semitism Today: How Hostile is Germany towards Jews? states the case very clearly (see this link for additional reporting on the documentary). I would guess that the situation is similar throughout European countries (see this article reporting on a recent survey of European Jews) even though Germany is home to the most actively growing vibrant Jewish community in Europe.

Is it alarmist to suggest that efforts to boycott Israel will legitimize attacks on Jews? What about efforts to ban circumcision? Efforts to ban Shechita currently enacted in Poland?  Yes, the US is a bastion of freedom, but, as “trendy” ideas spread worldwide, these sentiments are espoused on our doorstep (see this link for a local example). We need to be vigilant in challenging the BDS movement.

Our family discussion has touched on one other lesson for our lives today which is that, from the comfort and security of our homes, we should stand ready to take in refugees without thought or hesitation. After Kristallnacht it became increasingly difficult for Jews to escape Nazi Germany. The role of the international community in providing visa sponsorship, pressuring governments to facilitate Jewish emigration etc, was very helpful although sadly insufficient in terms of the demand. These types of activities are reminiscent of the 12th century problems of Maimonedes in his capacity as a Jewish communal leader, who had to raise funds for the rescue of captured Jews held to ransom. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh. My grandparents z”l were assimilated Jews who lived in the UK. I never thought to ask them about how they responded as individuals during this period in history. Did they have the possibility of hosting a child on the kindertransport? In a globalized world, I hope we are able to discern the concrete actions necessary to help others and are ready to sacrifice our own comfort to respond.


ETA The Methodist Church in the UK recently conducted an open survey of their participation in the BDS movement. Check out this Commentator article and keep an eye out for other opportunities to engage in constructive dialog.

Ithaca Library sale

The fantastic Ithaca event that is the twice-yearly library sale in on the last couple of days, the last day (tomorrow Tues Oct 29th) being the famous “fill a shopping bag with books for $1” day.

If you’re unfamiliar with this event, check out the website. It must be the most fantastic used book/magazine sale in the world (hyperbole? let me know if there is anything better). An enormous warehouse full of books opens up to the public twice a year for three consecutive weekends. As the sale progresses, the prices, which are reasonable to begin with, progressively decrease. Today’s price for hard cover books is 10 cents!

I popped in yesterday thinking that the place would be pretty picked over and quickly realized there are still lots of gems available. I started browsing and picked up a hard cover copy of Deborah Lipstadt’s “The Eichmann Trial”.

Eichmann trial

I began reading and was mesmerized. I could not stop, reading intermittently that evening and finally finishing this morning. It’s a superbly written and gripping account that puts this historical event into current perspective. There is a superb chapter that analyzes Hannah Arendt and the response to “Eichmann in Jerusalem“. The most breathtaking achievement of the book for me was the eloquent case Lipstadt makes for the significance of the Eichmann trial event in contemporary discourse on all levels, cultural, sociological, legal, geopolitical, the difference between the public and private faces of leadership.

If anybody wants to borrow this book please let me know, I heartily recommend it and I’m planning on going back to the library sale in the next couple of days hoping to discover other books.

Dear friends, how do you find good books to read?


Anne Frank Tree Dedication Ceremony Wednesday June 12th

AnneFrankTree poster copyThis event is to celebrate the planting of a sapling from the “Anne Frank Tree” in the Southern Cayuga School District. Read more about this project in a New York Times article.

Holocaust survivor Marion Blumenthal Lazan will be the keynote speaker at this event. She is the author of “Four Perfect Pebbles“, a Holocaust memoir and a noted speaker.

The event is taking place at:

Southern Cayuga High School, 2384 New York 34B, Aurora, NY 13026

Google maps estimates this as a ~30 min trip from Ithaca.

google map

Contact me if you would like to carpool.