Here at the JFR, we are almost all out of our virtual Hamentaschen! We would like to wish everyone a happy Purim! We hope you made lots of noise, ate lots of good food, and of course, enjoyed some Hamentaschen!
We at the JFR have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and generosity that our charity knitting project has elicited from people throughout the United States. This project kicked off in early 2011, with the intent to accept donations of homemade scarves and hats to send to our beloved rescuers during those cold Eastern European winters. Nothing could have prepared us for the response that we got! To date, we have sent out over 1,000 scarves to our rescuers! We have been continually touched by the kindness of our donors. We have received donations from a variety of individuals, groups, families, and organizations from a multitude of backgrounds. We have found that this project has helped to bring people together through the formation of knitting groups and social gatherings with this common goal in mind. As a result, all of our rescuers have received a homemade scarf, and we are no longer accepting donations at this time. We have received many letters of thanks from our rescuers, expressing how deeply touched and grateful they were for this unexpected and welcome gift. We at the JFR feel very fortunate that with the help of some very dedicated and generous knitters, all of our rescuers have had a warmer winter.
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Monsignor Beniamino Schivo. Monsignor passed away on January 30, 2012 at the age of 101. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) provided Monsignor with monthly financial support due to his rescue of the Korn family during the Holocaust. Monsignor Schivo rescued the Korn family by hiding them in various locations throughout Italy during the war. In 1986, Monsignor Beniamino Schivo was declared a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. Monsignor Schivo was a very special man who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time. May his memory forever be a blessing.
On January 19, JFR Trustee Abby Crisses and her husband Andy, held a book signing at the Penn Club in Manhattan. The featured book, At the Edge of the Abyss: Concentration Camp Diary 1943-1944 was edited and introduced by Professor Robert Jan van Pelt. Professor van Pelt lectured on David Koker, the writer of the diary, and placed this work within the context of Holocaust history and historiography. The book signing presented those attending an opportunity for exposure to exceptional scholarship, and the chance to meet Professor van Pelt. In addition, the book signing was a wonderful occasion to spend time with our donors, who make the important work of the JFR possible. We so very much appreciate the generosity of our donors and the support of the scholars who participate in our teacher education programs. The book signing was truly a memorable event, and we hope to partake in more events just like it in the future. We thank Abby and Andy Crisses for sponsoring this event.
On January 17, the JFR held a seminar for NYC teachers at the Museum of Tolerance-New York. The theme of this year’s seminar was “Holocaust Diaries” and featured scholars Robert Jan van Pelt and Alexandra Zapruder. Our NYC seminars offer an opportunity for educators from New York and New Jersey to be exposed to outstanding scholarship. Professor van Pelt discussed At the Edge of the Abyss: A Concentration Camp Diary, 1943-1944, which he edited and introduced. During the seminar, he placed the writing of the diarist, David Koker, within the context of Holocaust history and historiography. Alexandra Zapruder discussed excerpts from her book, Salvaged Pages, which focuses on children’s diaries during the Holocaust. Alex offered a number of methods with which to use diaries to connect personal stories to larger historical elements. Each of our scholars emphasized the benefits of using individual histories as a way for students to draw connections and correlations to historical events as a whole. Our attending teachers were thrilled with the pedagogical recommendations and strategies for utilizing diaries in social studies, history, and English classes. Our teachers noted that they are greatly looking forward to the next seminar, and we couldn’t agree more!
The JFR has had a busy and exciting January- beginning with our annual Advanced Seminar from January 14-16 at the Hilton Newark Airport. We welcomed 27 Lerner Fellows, and scholars Deborah Dwork, Christopher Browning, Samuel Kassow, and Robert Jan van Pelt as our speakers. We were also thrilled to welcome Hannah and Roman Kent for part of the weekend. The theme of this year’s seminar was “The Best of the Best,” and each scholar lectured on a topic of their choice, encompassing their most recent work of scholarship. One of our proudest accomplishments as an organization has been our ability to develop close and meaningful relationships with leading scholars in the field. Such relationships have allowed us to offer our educators the very best training in teaching methodology and pedagogy concerning the Holocaust. This year’s Advanced Seminar exemplified these relationships. Our goal has always been to design and offer quality teacher education programs, and based on the feedback from our Lerner Fellows, we are succeeding!
It is with great sadness that we report the death of Jerzy Bielecki, a Righteous Gentile,who risked his life to save Cyla Cybulska, a Polish Jew. Jerzy died on Thursday, October 20, 2011, at the age of 90 in Poland. Jerzy had one of the few successul escapes from Aushwitz. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) provided Jerzy with monthly financial support for years. I had the honor and priviledge of meeting Jerzy in his home in Nowy Targ, Poland. We met again in Auschwitz when Jerzy meet with a group of JFR Alfred Lerner Fellows.
Jerzy was a very special man who will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are will his family on this sad day. May his memory forever be a blessing.
This past Sunday I participated in the Danskin Women’s Triathlon, where I raised money for the JFR’s 2011 Christmas Food Program for rescuers. Each year the JFR sends an extra grant to rescuers living in Eastern Europe (where the majority of our 850 rescuers live) for the purchase of food during the Christmas holiday season. The Triathlon, which is a ½ mile open water swim, 12 mile bike ride, and a 5K run, takes place at the Sandy Hook National Recreation area at the Jersey Shore. My goal was to raise $5,000 and I did! I finished third in my age group! Thank you to all those who helped me reach this goal – your generosity will make this year’s holiday season a plentiful one for those Christian heroes who saved Jews during the Holocaust.
To learn more about the Danskin Women’s Triathlon series, click here.
To usher in the new school year, the JFR has launched a new program for students – the Ask a Rescuer program. The program invites students to submit questions to rescuers, who in turn answer them. Students then receive an e-mail response, and the question and response will be posted on our website. This is a wonderful way for students to learn, first-hand, the stories of modern-day heroes.
So far nine of our rescuers have graciously agreed to answer questions. To read some of the questions and responses already asked, and to learn more about the program, please visit the Ask a Rescuer section of our website. We look forward to hearing your questions!
A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at Beth El Synagogue in Margate, New Jersey. The Richard Stockton College Holocaust Resource Center, one of our Centers of Excellence, was screening the film Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers at the synagogue, and I introduced the film. Having met Irena Sendler, a beloved rescuer who the JFR supported for many years, I was able to speak about the incredible person that she was (she passed away in 2008 at the age of 98). After the film I took questions from the audience. The screening was very well attended, and I was thrilled to see a number of our Lerner Fellows there.
To read about the film, click here.
To learn more about Irena Sendler, click here.
After a summer hiatus, the JFR’s Charity Knitting Project will be starting again this fall. Wondering how you can get involved? Knit or crochet scarves for our rescuers, mail them to the JFR office, and we will distribute them to the rescuers. To access more information about the Charity Knitting Project, including an online photo album of the rescuers wearing their scarves, click here.
I am out of the office this week, in Lithuania, filming the reunion documentary for our 2011 Annual Dinner. This year the reunion will take place between Mary Erlich, a survivor, and Egle Bimbiriene and Kazimieras Aurimas Ruzgys, the pair of siblings who saved her. Just as in years past, hearing these brave siblings’ story of rescue is incredibly moving, and being a part of this film shoot has been a very interesting experience.
Every year we conclude our program with an entire morning with Professor Robert Jan van Pelt. Professor van Pelt engaged the teachers in an intense discussion about the study of the Holocaust, covering a range of topics from the inner-workings of Death Camps to a discussion on when the Holocaust began.
After this intense morning, we had a working lunch to wrap up the discussion. Participants were then given “open mic” time, where each one spoke about their experience participating in the Summer Institute, and what they will bring to their classrooms from the week. Each one of our European teachers invited American guests to visit them in their home countries, and plans were made for a reunion.
We concluded the program after lunch. It was an exceptional Summer Institute, and I am already looking forward to SIT 2012!
Today was another jam-packed day of incredible speakers. Professor Sam Kassow gave an eye-opening lecture on Jewish life in ghettos. He talked about the Judentrat, the Jewish governments of the ghettos, and the challenges they faced. Professor Kassow also talked about Jewish resistance movements – there were many forms of resistance and Jews were forced to make “choiceless choices” to try to survive.
In the afternoon, scholar and survivor Dr. Nechama Tec spoke about her story of survival, and her books on rescue. Professor Tec talked about how she was able to survive by being hidden by Christians who were paid, and also by pretending to be a Christian. Many of our teachers have already ordered a few of Professor Tec’s well-known books!
To close the day, I spoke on Rescue and teaching Rescue in context. It is critical to teach about these Christian and Muslim heroes, who so courageously risked their lives to save Jews. Keeping rescue in context is critical in order to understand the gravity of their actions.
Tonight we ended with our closing dinner at Bello Restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal and warm conversation. Some wonderful friendships have been made, and I am so glad that participants want to stay in touch with each other not only as colleagues but also as friends.
This morning we began with a tour-de-force from Professor Jeffrey Burds, who lectured about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. Professor Burds focused on the major differences in how Jews were persecuted in Eastern and Western Europe, explaining his thesis on why the Holocaust was carried out so brutally and openly in the East.
After discussing the lecture in break-out groups, participants were able to absorb what was learned and once again present ideas to each other on how to incorporate the subject matter into a lesson.
We then heard from Sheila Hanson, a former teacher who now works at the USC Shoah Foundation. Sheila walked our teachers through the Shoah Foundation’s testimony library, and showed teachers how the Shoah Testimonies can be used in the classroom.
Finally, we got to hear from our beloved Board President Roman Kent, a survivor, who told his incredible story. Roman is a paragon of goodness, and we were all incredibly moved by his story. We also had the pleasure of seeing his wife, Hannah, who is also a survivor. Roman closed by reminding us that love has no limit, and there is no place in our life for prejudice.
After his lecture, each teacher got a copy of Roman’s book, Lala, which was gifted by Roman himself. Everyone lined up to thank Roman and get their copies signed.
Each year, one participant of the Summer Institute receives the Sonder Award. This award was founded by Johanna Stark and Kate Tarnofsky, two sisters who, as children, were able to leave Germany before WWII began. The award is named for their grandfather Eduard Sonder, who they adored. Eduard was not able to leave Germany, and the girls never saw their grandfather again – he was killed during the Holocaust.
The award is a full scholarship to attend the program. The recipient also recieves Teuscher chocolates, a reminder of the chocolates Eduard would bring his two granddaughters upon his return from business trips to Switzerland. This year’s recipient of the Sonder Award was Terry Beasley from the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.
Kate and Joan presented Terry with the award, and made plans to keep in touch.
The JFR is able to make the Summer Institute happen in large part because of our donors. Alfred Lerner was a wonderful donor, who contributed generously to the JFR’s education program, which is why we call each of our teacher participants Lerner Fellows. In order to honor his memory, we take a picture each year in front of Alfred Lerner Hall, the building on Columbia University’s campus named for him.