Analysis: The Global Jewish Shuk

PM Netanyahu at the Opening Plenary greeting attendees (Photo vy AG for JFNA)

PM Netanyahu at the Opening Plenary greeting attendees (Photo vy AG for JFNA)

It was a shuk — a marketplace — of ideas. Attendees heard new and familiar voices. There was an abundance of give and take.

At the 2013 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, which ran from Nov. 10 to Nov. 12 in Jerusalem, participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the most important issues facing the Jewish state and the Jewish people. They learned, they were challenged, and judging from the buzz in the hallways and the smiles on the shuttles, North America’s top Jewish communal leaders and professionals were refreshed and renewed.

The messages: Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh , all Jews are responsible for one another. This is a challenging time, but a time of great global Jewish opportunity.

“We spend a lot of time talking about the challenges that face us,” said Jerry Silverman, JFNA president and chief executive officer. “But the biggest challenge is something that I believe we take for granted until it is too late, and that is the idea that we are best when we stand together – as a single community, as one nation.”
A clear call to action: Unite.

A difficult appeal, judging by the dialogue and debate at the GA, which was branded “The Global Jewish Shuk: A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate.”

Unlike a traditional general assembly, with dozens of sessions focused on solicitation techniques, storytelling and community study data mining (although a handful of these sessions did exist), the 2013 GA on the one hand, focused on Diaspora-Israel relations, on the challenges of a maturing Jewish state and on the need to celebrate Israel’s successes . On the other, there was much talk about Iran, the peace process and Israeli security.


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says Israel’s security is his first priority. (Photo vy AG for JFNA)

Speakers ranged in stature from the prime minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset members with and without portfolios (Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, MK Nachman Shai, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, MK Aliza Lavie and others) to leading Israeli CEOs, journalists and activists. The more than 3,000 participants unpacked what it means to be a Jew living in Israel versus a Jew living in the Diaspora, and they deliberated about ways in which the two contingencies can live with – and learn and grow from — each other. Talks tackled issues such as civil marriage in the Jewish state, making a place for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel and the need for increased Israeli philanthropy.

Some speakers urged Diaspora Jews to lobby and help move the Israeli agenda forward. Others called on American Jews to support the state but to leave the politics and the policies to those who live on the land.

“I am disturbed by Jews who live abroad and don’t have a connection to Israel,” said Ziv Shilon, a 25-year-old captain in the Israel Defense Forces. “Think right. Think left. But for Heaven’s sake, think! … Even if you don’t live here physically, live here in your mind and your soul.”

“With a 71 percent intermarriage rate among the non-Orthodox, the Jewish community in North America has a lot of work to do, and they should do it before they decide what we should do here. There has always been a policy that Jews outside of Israel do not mix into Israeli politics—right or left, more or less religious,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Elefant, chief rabbi of Dimona.

All speakers called on Israeli and Diaspora Jews to talk more, and more often. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro spoke about his focus on people-to-people bonds as the “undergird for bilateral relations” and said he hopes to build new and better opportunities for exchanges.

“Our work here in Israel is not over, but it is changing,” said the JFNA’s chair of the board of trustees, Michael Siegal.


Defining Identity

The Pew Research Center survey on U.S. Jews was the elephant– or maybe the large, purple gorilla – in the room, in that North American Jewish leaders are focused today on the study’s indication that Jewish non-Orthodox young people are not affiliating, are intermarrying and think the Holocaust and Jewish humor better defines who they are than synagogue life or religious rituals.

But what was striking during the conference was how quickly it became apparent that the struggles for self-definition, the push for a more pluralistic and individualistic Jewish identity, even within the confines of the open U.S. society, were not that dissimilar from the struggles of many Jews in Israel. And that the Israeli way of relating to Judaism may be similar to the growing cultural (as opposed to religious) affiliation of many young secular North American Jews.

Calls by leaders such as MK Shelly Yacimovich, chairwoman of the Labor Party, for a civil agenda, for support for freedom of religion and worship for all sects of Judaism, for a government that supports civil marriage and gay rights (including gay marriage) were met with thunderous applause. (In 2012, the non-Orthodox Jewish community was among the most vocal contingencies in the State of Maryland lobbying for Question 6, which was also called the Maryland same-sex marriage referendum.)


Participants enjoy Israeli food before the opening plenary (Photo by AG for JFNA)

Statements by top leaders such as Rabbi Uri Regev, president and CEO of Hiddush, that “the more committed halachic Jews need to understand that pushing religion down the throats of Israelis endears Judaism to no one” nearly echoed the sentiments of young American Jews who sat on a panel about engagement.

“Young adults want Judaism like their music. They want access to everyone, and they want to make their own playlist,” said Rachel Hodes, planning associate in the Commission on the Jewish People at UJA-Federation of New York.

“The Pew study confirms there is not one Jewish identity, there are Jewish identities. Regardless of all these different names that I have for myself [Sephardi, white Jew, Israeli, American], one thing that unites all of them is the fact that I am Jewish. … You can define in different ways and still be Jewish,” said Oren Okhovat, an intern at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

In a talk titled “It’s Different Here: Is Jewish Identity in Israel Distinct from Diaspora Jewish Identity?” secular Israeli Jews expressed that they see the Bible as their inspiration but create a Judaism for themselves that resonates with them in 2013.

“I take inspiration from these stories [in the Bible], said Bella Alexandrov, director of Tor Hamidbar. “I don’t ask myself if it happened or if it didn’t happen. I take it as it is, and when I want to do something with it, I create from it a ritual to which I have a connection. It is not a source of authority, but of inspiration.”

“Judaism means history and heritage and family and a Jewish calendar and school system,” said MK Nitzan Horowitz in a separate session. “I see myself not less Jewish [than the rabbis] … even though I am secular. I feel Jewish, and I am 100 percent Jewish.”

The story of Jewish life in Israel, as speakers stood up and expressed at the end of the identity session, is best grasped through its people. And in Israel, while the news reports show a society of black and white, as one participant indicated, “There isn’t one kind of Judaism, one option; everyone can find [his or her] own place.”

Stop The Bomb

This was a second underlying theme of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. From Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech on the opening night until MK Shelly Yacimovich’s talk at the final plenary, the theme of no deal is better than a bad deal when it comes to Iran could clearly be heard from right, left and center politicians and security officials.

The PM told attendees that an Iran without a nuclear weapon was good not only for Israel, but also for the world. But, he said, “For us, it is a matter of our existence.”

Netanyahu lashed out at the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, plus Germany) who at the time of this writing was negotiating with Iran in Geneva. He said agreeing to lighten sanctions on Iran because it comes to the table pleading is making a bad deal. He said Iran is ready to negotiate because the sanctions are having impact and that if the P5+1 placed demands on Iran to cease and desist the building of capabilities to produce atomic bombs, and Iran is on its knees, why now would we want to come to a deal without Iran dismantling anything?

Elyezer Shkedy, a retired Israeli Air Force major and president of El Al, said “I think we should do everything in order to prevent them [Iran] from getting nuclear capability. I think we should, at least in the beginning, work with the U.S. But in the end, the prime minister of Israel is the leader of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation around the world, and he will have to be able to look into the mirror and know he is doing the right thing.”

Minister of Finance Yair Lapid also spoke in terms of a potential military attack. He said some people draw parallels between the Iranian threat and the Holocaust. He said he refused to believe it was inevitable that Iran would have nuclear capabilities and made clear, “No one will scare us anymore. We have the capabilities to protect ourselves.”

While he noted that “diplomacy is always better than war,” he said that when in discourse with people who “lie for a living” one has to be extra careful.

“My role is to bring alternative ideas to the public, to speak out and challenge the government,” said Yacimovich in reference to her role as the head of the opposition party. “But sometimes we must put aside our disagreements. There is no disagreement that Iran must be stopped from getting the bomb.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief —

Israeli Rescue Teams Take Off for Philippines

Israel rescue

Members of the F.I.R.S.T rescue team in Ben Gurion Airport before takeoff.

In response to Typhoon Haiyan, which plowed through Asia over the weekend, leaving in its wake massive destruction and scores of wounded and dead, two Israeli rescue groups reached the Philippines Monday. The preliminary teams have been tasked with assessing the situation on the ground and deciding what the necessities are in preparation for the coming of much larger rescue teams.

The first team, commissioned by Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, is composed of members of the IDF’s search and rescue unit, the medical corps and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The second team is headed by F.I.R.S.T (Fast Israeli Rescue and Saving Teams), a voluntary civilian organization that specializes in search and rescue missions. The team is composed of members of Israel’s civilian rescue teams from around the country, commanded by retired Lt. Col. Tsafrir Shifman. The experienced organization can provide search and rescue support as well as medical services.

Chairman of F.I.R.S.T, retired Brig. Gen. Avi Bachar, said the teams are ready to ship out and provide support to those in need, as it has done over the past 20 years in 11 countries across the world.

Israeli rescue missions have responded to many recent natural disasters, including the earthquake in Japan in 2011, the Haiti disaster in 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

There are many ways that local Jews can make a difference, click here.

Saul Kagan, Claims Conference founder and chief, dies at 91

Saul Kagan, the founder and chief of the Claims Conference for nearly five decades, died Saturday November 9, 2013 at age 91.

Kagan helped found the organization in 1951 to be the main vehicle for negotiating with Germany over restitution for Holocaust survivors.  In a statement announcing his death, the Claims Conference credited Kagan with securing tens of billions in restitution payments.

“Saul always made his work about the mission and never about himself,” the Claims Conference said. “He was the very embodiment of humility, decency, integrity and wisdom.”

A native of Vilna, Lithuania, he fled the country in 1940 to Vladivostok and then Japan before reaching Hawaii. He eventually made his way to New York. His father survived the war in the Soviet Union, but his mother, brother and grandparents were killed by the Nazis.

Kagan was back in Europe before the war’s end as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force. After the war Kagan, who spoke six languages, coordinated property restitution in Germany for the U.S. Army.

According to the Claims Conference, he was involved in the creation of U.S. Government military order No. 59, which allowed Holocaust survivors and victims’ families to file claims for property confiscated by the Nazis.

In 1952, Kagan played a key role in the landmark Luxembourg Agreements, when representatives of Israel, Germany and the newly created Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany sat down to hammer out a reparations agreement for the crimes of Nazi Germany.

The mood at the negotiating table was solemn, recalled Kagan — by then the executive director of the Claims Conference — in a video shown at a July 2012 event in Washington marking the 60th anniversary of the Claims Conference.

“There were no handshakes, there was no banter or anything else,” Kagan said in halting tones. “We somehow had the feeling that we were not alone in this room. Somehow we felt that the spirits of those who couldn’t be there were there with us.”

The document signed that year established payments from West Germany to the Claims Conference and Israel.

“For the first time in the history of the Jewish people, oppressed and plundered for hundreds of years … the oppressor and plunderer has had to hand back some of the spoil and pay collective compensation for part of the material losses,” Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote in a 1952 letter to the Claims Conference’s first president, Nahum Goldmann.

The early years of restitution were contentious among survivors and the Jewish community. The Knesset saw violent confrontations over whether and how Israel should accept money from Germany, and Kagan was threatened by survivors and had to hire a bodyguard.

Kagan was instrumental in setting up some of the most significant compensation programs at the Claims Conference.

In 1980, Germany agreed to the establishment of the Hardship Fund, which has issued one-time payments of 2,556 euros (or their equivalent) to 390,000 victims of Nazism. Following the reunification of Germany, Kagan helped negotiate the creation of the Article 2 pension program to pay Nazi victims who had not received compensation from the agreements dating back to the 1950s. He also helped extend the Claims Conference’s purview to include restitution from Austria.

Through the Claims Conference, Kagan helped establish the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem and the program to honor righteous gentiles — non-Jews who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.

Kagan stepped down from the helm of the Claims Conference in 1999 and was succeeded by Gideon Taylor.

Kagan’s name was back in the news this year when it emerged that he was among those CC’d on correspondence in 2001 about allegations of fraud at the Claims Conference. Investigations that year by Claims Conference leaders failed to detect a massive fraud scheme was underway that would rack up more than $57 million in fraudulent payments by the time it was discovered and stopped in 2009. The fraud dated back to 1993.

Even after he handed over the reins of the Claims Conference to Taylor, Kagan still did work on behalf of the organization. He also was a board member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, the World Jewish Restitution Organization and Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

Kagan is survived by his wife, Eleanor; a daughter, Julia; and stepchildren Jonathan and Emily Lobatto.

Emergency Response to Typhoon Haiyan: Ways To Give

The Jewish Federations of North America are mobilizing a communal response to the super Typhoon Haiyan, which has wrought widespread destruction in the Philippines. JFNA on Nov, 10 opened a mailbox for Federations to support relief efforts by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which is raising funds for relief efforts.

JDC is consulting with local officials, the Filipino Jewish community and global partners to assess the evolving situation on the ground in the Philippines, where one of the strongest storms on record has wrought widespread destruction. More than 10,000 people are feared dead, with reports of ocean surges as high as trees. The central city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte is among the worst hit on the Pacific nation.

The Federation-supported JDC has led relief efforts for previous storms in the Philippines, and helped support the local Jewish community in a nation that sheltered 1,000 European Jews fleeing the Nazis during World War II.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Filipino people suffering from this terrible storm’s unimaginable destruction,” said Cheryl Fishbein, chair of JFNA’s Emergency Committee.

The JFNA Emergency Committee is coordinating the Federation response with JDC and its global disaster relief partners. Donations can be made on our online relief page or given by mail at Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund, The Jewish Federations of North America, Wall Street Station, PO Box 148, New York, NY 10268.

Jewish Federations have a proud tradition of supporting the Jewish communal response to disasters around the world and at home, raising tens of millions of dollars for emergency assistance and longer-term aid. Most recently, Federations supported the national response to severe flooding in Colorado. In recent years, Federations responded to tsunamis in Japan and southeast Asia, the Haiti earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast.

Other ways to give:
>>The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore: or 101 W. Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore 21201 (Attn:Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund)

>>American Jewish World Service:

>>B’nai Brith: 800-573-9057

>>Union of Reform Judaism:

Follow JFNA at its
General Assembly in Jerusalem>>



Up In Arms

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish  soldiers in Kharpert, Armenia in April 1915. Ninety-nine years after the  Armenian genocide, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian  suffering is being held hostage by the White House. (Project SAVE via Wikimedia Commons)

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers in Kharpert, Armenia in April 1915. Ninety-nine years after the Armenian genocide, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian suffering is being held hostage by the White House. (Project SAVE via Wikimedia Commons)

Ninety-nine years after the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian suffering is being held hostage — by the White House.

The prisoner is an 18-foot-long rug. It was woven by 400 Armenian orphan girls living in exile in Lebanon as a gesture of appreciation for America’s assistance to survivors of the genocide. In 1925, they sent the rug to President Calvin Coolidge, who pledged that it would have “a place of honor in the White House, where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.”

Unfortunately, the rug is instead becoming a symbol of the unseemly politics of genocide. An Armenian-American dentist, Hagop Martin Deranian, recently authored a book called “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” and the Smithsonian Institution scheduled an event about Dr. Deranian’s book for Dec. 16. But when the Smithsonian asked the White House to loan the rug for the event, the request was denied.

Reporters who asked the State Department about it this week were referred to the White House. When they asked a White House spokesman, they were curtly told that he had nothing to say except, “It is not possible to loan it out at this time.”

Armenian-American leaders believe the Obama administration is responding to pressure from the Turkish government, which denies that genocide took place. And Armenians have good reason to be suspicious. As a presidential candidate in 2008, then Sen. Obama declared, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide.” By contrast, the statements that President Obama has issued each April on Armenian Remembrance Day have never included the g-word. Instead, he has used an Armenian expression — “Meds Yeghern,” meaning “the great calamity.” Fear of displeasing the Turks appears to be the only plausible motive for that rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

Armenian-Americans are not the only ones who should be upset. American Jews should be up in arms, too. Not only because of the sympathy that victims of genocide instinctively feel for one another, but also because if the White House can permit political considerations to trump recognition of the Armenian genocide, there is a danger that memorialization of the Holocaust could one day suffer a similar fate.

In any event, at least one president did keep his word: Coolidge proudly displayed the Armenian Orphan Rug in the White House for the rest of his term.

After he left office, Coolidge took the rug to his Massachusetts residence. It was still there in 1939, when former first lady Grace Coolidge became a leading figure in the struggle to rescue a different group of children from a genocidal dictator. Mrs. Coolidge lobbied in support of the Wagner-Rogers bill, which would have admitted 20,000 German Jewish children to the United States. But President Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to support the legislation, and it was buried in committee.

Ironically, FDR’s relative and predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, advocated declaring war on Turkey over the Armenian genocide.

“The failure to deal radically with the Turkish horror means that all talk of guaranteeing the future peace of the world is mischievous nonsense,” the then ex-president asserted in 1918. Teddy Roosevelt was correct to fear that tolerating genocide would pave the way for it to happen again.

Indeed, Adolf Hitler reportedly once assured his subordinates that their atrocities would not be remembered, saying, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The genocide rug eventually made it back to the White House and was in use during at least part of the Clinton administration. But it has not been seen in public since then. If the Obama administration and the Turkish government have their way, it seems, the imprisoned rug may never again see the light of day.

In December, Americans will flock to a new movie called “Monuments Men.” Directed by (and co-starring) George Clooney, it will tell the true story of a handful of U.S. military personnel who risked their lives to rescue famous paintings, monuments, and other precious European cultural artifacts from the Nazis in the waning days of World War II. It seems that it might take a new generation of Monuments Men to rescue the Armenian genocide rug and restore the treasured heirloom to its rightful place — in a public display.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.” This column was provided by


‘Tell Your Story’

110813_tell-your-storyWhile it may not seem like the breaking of glass windows at Jewish-owned buildings by the Nazis would have inspired any creativity at all, two upcoming concerts at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda prove that it takes a lot more than that to quiet art.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, more than 300 people from 22 area synagogues will perform a concert entitled Voices of the Holocaust on Nov. 10. The night before, an original opera called “Lost Childhood” will make its debut before a full orchestra.

Sunday night at 7:30, a concert featuring cantors and youth and adult choirs from the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area will perform a musical work organized in five parts. It has been arranged from 22 original melodies written by Jews while they were living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Holocaust.

“It’s a major undertaking. We are talking about a lot of volunteer choirs. Each group has to sing some Yiddish, and not everyone is comfortable with that,” said Cantor Laura Croen of Temple Sinai. She, along with Cantors Marshall Kapell of Congregation B’nai Tzedek and Susan Berkson, who teaches at Howard County Community College, are co-chairs of the event.

“It’s going to be amazing,” added Berkson, who has been cantor at Temple Emanuel in Kensington and Congregation Ohr Chadesh in Damascus. “All the cantors each are doing a solo or a duet. It’s going to be a very, very big thrill.”

“But there are moments when we will all be singing together,” said Croen.

Voices of the Holocaust marks the third time area synagogues have performed together. They also did for Israel’s 60th birthday and the 350th anniversary of Jewish music in America.

Performing along with the synagogue choirs will be singers from Juniata College in Pennsylvania. The Columbia Orchestra will accompany the singers, and Jason Love, a conductor and cellist from Howard County, will lead the entire production.

A discussion with arranger Sheridan Seyfried and moderated by Tara Sonenshine, former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, will precede the concert. Following that, there will be a short service to commemorate Kristallnacht.

About two years ago, Berkson was visiting her son at Juniata College and attended a school concert with music from the Holocaust.

“We were just amazed how wonderful it was,” she said, adding that the concert became the seed that eventually led to the upcoming communitywide concert.

Individual choirs have been practicing separately and will only get together as a group two times before the actual concert.

The night before, an opera that has been 16 years in the making will be performed. It is a collaboration by two cousins and tells the story of a troubled Jew, who was a child during the Holocaust, and a younger German from a prominent family of Nazi sympathizers. It is loosely based on the book “The Lost Childhood” by Yehuda Nir, but it mainly centers around a fictitious meeting of the two as adults.

Composer Janice Hamer, who teaches at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and librettist Mary Azrael of Baltimore, who writes poetry and teaches poetry writing at Johns Hopkins University, collaborated on this production.

Azrael, the mother of two and grandmother of three, has lived in Baltimore and has written poetry most of her life. She has had a few books published, some poems set to music and is a co-editor of “Passager Journal” and an editor at Passager Books, a press that focuses on the work ofwriters over 50.

After reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” as a child, she knew at once she wanted to be a writer.

“I got from her that it’s really important to tell your story, because the world can change at any minute,” Azrael said about Frank.

Azrael had collaborated once before with Hamer and won a national award. “So we were kind of giddy,” and they thought they should keep working together, Hamer with the music and Azrael with the story and words.

They decided to write an opera, thinking it would consume a year or two of their lives. They spoke of doing something about Anne Frank or some other child who had been in hiding during World War II.

A set of coincidences followed, and Hamer met Nir, who gave her a copy of his memoirs, and Gottfied Wagner, the great-grandson of composer Richard Wagner. Hamer and Azrael are fascinated by the way both men’s childhood experiences continued to affect their lives.

Nir’s anger arose from his youth when he had to pose as a Polish Catholic during World War II after his father was killed by the Nazis. Wagner was horrified by his family’s strong anti-Semitic views, which he continues to fight.

“They shared a kind of anger,” said Hamer, whose parents live in Rockville. She noted that Wagner has nothing to do with his family. And Nir “called himself an angry Jew,” explaining he was not a victim but a veteran of the war. “He had kind of an aggressive stance.”

Azrael began writing the words (the libretto) after reading Nir’s book.

While Nir and Wagner “are really good friends,” she chose to place them in conflict. Their story, she explained, deals with the question, “If you are not my enemy, who are you? Who am I? This is not only a story about Jewish persecution.”

She wrote what she felt, imagining the rhythms and spirit of the music and what instruments would be played as she went along. Azrael plays piano and hammered dulcimer and considers poetry the closest word form to music.

Meanwhile, she spoke with Hamer as she progressed, working to “inspire Janice enough to write the music for it.”

Then Hamer worked on the music, hearing “the sounds in my mind, all the colors,” she said.

The result is a score of 473 pages that took about 10 years to write, five years to orchestrate and another two years to proof read. The women raised $100,000, too.

The pair utilized lots of workshops sponsored by American Opera Projects in New York. This gave them a chance to hear the work sung by top singers and get audience reactions. The opera was performed using just a piano during a summer festival in Tel Aviv in 2007. The concert by the National Philharmonic at Strathmore Music Center on Nov. 9 will be the first performance with full orchestra and soloists. National Philharmonic will make a recording of that performance, which the two women will send around hoping to convince opera companies take it on.

See related articles:
Kristallnacht: 75 years since the Night of Broken Glass >>
On Deaf Ears: Cartoonists spoke out against Kristallnacht, called for the U.S. to help save the German Jews >>

Suzanne Pollak writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

On Deaf Ears

110813_on-deaf-ears“I could scarcely believe that such a thing could occur in a 20th-century civilization,” President Franklin Roosevelt declared in the wake of the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom, which devastated the German Jewish community 75 years ago next month.

Most Americans, like their president, were appalled to read of Nazi stormtroopers burning down hundreds of synagogues, ransacking thousands of Jewish-owned businesses, murdering some 100 Jews and hauling 30,000 more off to concentration camps Nov. 9 to 10, 1938. In the days following the pogrom, three American editorial cartoonists would try to channel the public’s sympathy for the victims into concrete steps to help German Jewry.

In response to Kristallnacht, President Roosevelt recalled the U.S. ambassador from Germany for “consultations” and extended the visitors’ visas of the approximately 12,000 German Jewish refugees who were then in the United States. But at the same time, FDR announced that liberalization of America’s tight immigration quotas was “not in contemplation.”

In the wake of Kristallnacht, humanitarian-minded members of Congress introduced legislation to aid German Jewry. The Wagner-Rogers bill proposed the admission of 20,000 German refugee children outside the quotas. Nativist and isolationist groups vociferously opposed the Wagner-Rogers bill.

Typical of the opposition’s perspective was a remark by FDR’s cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, who was the wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration. She warned that “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”

An appeal to FDR by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to support Wagner-Rogers fell on deaf ears, and an inquiry by a congresswoman as to the president’s position was returned to his secretary marked “File No Action FDR.” Mindful of polls showing most Americans opposed to more immigration, Roosevelt preferred to follow public opinion rather than lead it. Without his support, the Wagner-Rogers bill was buried in committee.

Ironically, when Pets Magazine the following year launched a campaign to have Americans take in pure-bred British puppies so they would not be harmed by German bombing raids, the magazine was flooded with several thousand offers of haven for the dogs.

Most American editorial cartoonists, like most Americans, exhibited little interest in the plight of Germany’s Jews. But there were exceptions. A handful of cartoonists used their platforms not only to express sympathy for the refugees, but also to call for practical steps to help them.

Six days after Kristallnacht, Paul Carmack, staff cartoonist for the Christian Science Monitor, drew a cartoon titled “The Best Answer to Race Persecution.” It showed a large hand, labeled “Humanity,” handing a document titled “Assistance” to a crowd of Jewish refugees.

Five days later, the Christian Science Monitor published another editorial cartoon responding to Kristallnacht, this time by J. Parker Robinson. It showed a mass of people, labeled “Jews,” marching past a sign pointing to “Exile,” with a giant question mark looming over the horizon. He titled the cartoon “Wanted: A Christian Answer.” The question was the fate of the Jews; the answer, the cartoonist insisted, was for Christians to accept their moral responsibility to help the downtrodden.

Meanwhile, in the pages of the Chicago Daily News, another cartoonist pleaded for help for Germany’s Jews. Staff cartoonist Cecil Jensen drew a group of Jewish refugees on a large rock, surrounded by turbulent ocean waves. They can see, in the distance, a 17th-century-style ship, labeled “World Rescue Efforts.” Whether or not the ship will save the refugees is unclear. Jensen titled the cartoon “Mayflower,” invoking America’s own powerful historical symbol of refugees from religious persecution reaching a safe haven.

Sadly, few Americans heeded the appeals of Paul Cormack, J. Parker Robinson and Cecil Jensen, despite the horrors of Kristallnacht. When a “Mayflower” ship called the St. Louis approached America’s shores just a few months later, President Roosevelt turned it away.

Expressions of sympathy were not matched by deeds. There were no U.S. economic sanctions against Nazi Germany, no severing of diplomatic relations, no easing of immigration quotas.

The Roosevelt administration’s muted reaction to Kristallnacht foreshadowed the terrible silence with which it would greet the Nazis’ Final Solution.

See related articles:
Kristallnacht: 75 years since the Night of Broken Glass >>
‘Tell Your Story:’ Two concerts to commemorate Kristallnacht, bring beauty out from the darkness >>

Rafael Medoff is founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. This feature is adapted from his forthcoming book, “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust,” co-authored with Craig Yoe, and was provided by


110813_Kristallnacht“How did I become aware of Kristallnacht?” asked Holocaust survivor Johanna Neumann of Maryland. “[Nov. 9 to 10, 1938] was not in the era of TV, of radio, etc.”

It did not have to be. Neumann, who was 8 years old at the time, discovered the horrors of the Night of Broken Glass, which continued into the morning, on her walk to school.

“I walked by our synagogue. Hordes of people were standing in front of it and throwing stones through the beautiful stained-glass windows. They had gone into the synagogue, ransacked it and threw the Torah scrolls into the streets,” Neumann recalled.

As soon as she arrived at school, her teacher said, “Something horrible happened last night. Your parents have been alerted, and they will come pick you up.”

Hebert Hane of Severna Park has a similar story. Only 3 1⁄2 years old at the time and born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, he said the morning after Kristallnacht, when his mom heard what happened, “she took me to see the local synagogue that was burned, and that has remained in my memory. What I remember is that the outer walls were still standing, but it was all smoldering, and you could smell the burning wood that was in ashes. My mother was very sad.”

On Nov. 9, it will be 75 years since Kristallnacht, literally Night of Crystal. The number of survivors who remember the terror are diminishing. But for those who do remember, the memories are often vivid, for they say the sadness and the fear of what became a turning point in the Holocaust is etched into their very souls.

On that night (and into the morning), the Nazis staged violent pogroms — state-sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots — against the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. They broke synagogue windows, demolished and looted Jewish-owned stores, community centers and homes. Instigated by the Nazi regime, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools and homes, as police and fire brigades stood aside.

Kristallnacht was a turning point in Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust, the systematic, state-sponsored mass murder of the European Jews. That it was a turning point, said Victoria Barnett, is one of the reasons we commemorate Kristallnacht above and beyond many of the other equally as tragic points of destruction initiated by the Nazi regime.

Barnett, who is the director of the programs on ethics, religion and the Holocaust at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Kristallnacht foreshadowed the extreme violence to come.

“There was no denying what was going to happen after Kristallnacht,” she said.

Barnett described the Night of Broken Glass as a “big shock moment.”

In 1938, Adolph Hitler’s government began to expand, so people were becoming worried about Nazi Germany. But in November 1938, with this mass outbreak of violence, which targeted people directly — their synagogues and businesses and Nazis breaking into people’s homes and beating them and destroying their belongings — the National Socialist Movement became one that the Jews could no longer ignore.

“Until then, some Jewish families in Nazi Germany thought that they could muddle through. It was difficult to emigrate. After Kristallnacht, that illusion was gone,” said Barnett. “That is one of the reasons that Kristallnacht is etched in history in such a powerful way. It was so blatant, so direct and so widespread, in terms of the violence against ordinary people.”

“[After Kristallnacht], my father finally believed that his service in the German army during World War I would not help our family,” said Emmy Mogilensky in a project recorded by Jeanette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs for the Baltimore Jewish Council. “He came home from Dachau [prison] a broken man. My parents sent me away on a Kindertransport to England, and three months later, they sent my brother away, also. My parents were shot and thrown into a mass grave in Kovno with thousands of others.”

“After living through Crystal Night, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that there was no more life for a Jew in Germany,” Ingeborg Weinberger told the BJC.


Eva Slonitz was 12 years old in 1938, but she still remembers that night — and how after Kristallnacht, “we hardly ever left our house.”

Eva Slonitz was 12 years old in 1938, but she still remembers that night — and how after Kristallnacht, “we hardly ever left our house.”

This tragic and painful realization also happened for Baltimore’s Eva Slonitz (nee Stern), a resident of North Oaks Retirement Community, and her family. Slonitz was 12 years old at the time.

“Two polite policemen came to our door at approximately 8 a.m. and asked my father come with them. He thought that he was being taken into police protective custody. … He took his faithful briefcase, my mother made him some sandwiches, he took a bar of chocolate and a piece of soap with him, all of which was of great value in Buchenwald,” recalled Slonitz, noting that Buchenwald at the time was a political prison/concentration camp and not a death camp. “He was taken to the Siechhof [church], a place where all the Jews of Nordhausen were assembled, having been torn from their homes during the night. … That day, my father and a group of 56 men and boys 17 years of age and older were taken to Buchenwald. As I remember, seven of them died there at the time. … The important task now was to do everything possible to get the men out of there; all the women worked every angle to achieve that goal.”

At that point, the Sterns determined to leave.

“After Kristallnacht, we hardly ever left our house,” said Slonitz, who never saw the burned-out synagogues or smashed storefronts. She noted that some of her friends were taken for a “sightseeing tour” before being taken to the Siechhof.

“‘See what we have done to your house of worship!’ I heard all of these horrible stories, but I did not experience them,” said Slonitz.

Shortly thereafter Slonitz was sent to England on a domestic permit. Her mother secured visas to Peru for her herself and Slonitz’s father.

“Thanks to these visas, my father came home from Buchenwald after four weeks, looking thin and with shorn hair. When we told him, ‘You are going to Peru,’ he was shocked. He never told me anything he had experienced in the concentration camp, but others, when they came home, told me that my father was very calm, and one night when the Nazis sent wild dogs into the barracks, my father cautioned, ‘Lie still, do not move, and they will not hurt you.’ He probably saved the men from injuries or even death,’” said Slonitz, who survived the Holocaust along with her parents, reuniting in Baltimore several years after the war. “I heard terrible stories about the seven men I know who died. I prefer not to go into details. Only one story stands out: The father of a young Hebrew teacher was killed. Then the young [teacher] took his own life by drowning himself in the cesspool. A short while later, his poor mother got visas.”

The arrests were widespread. Area survivor Herbert Friedman vividly recalls the night.

“About 8 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1938, there was a bang on the door and a shouted command, ‘Open Up.’ My parents, sister and I froze with fear. Two stormtroopers had come looking for my brother, who fortunately was not at home. They debated taking me,” Friedman said. “My mother pleaded, ‘He’s just a little boy. He hasn’t don’t anything.’ They left without me. My uncle escaped capture by hiding under a kitchen table, which was covered by a long tablecloth.”

Friedman left Austria a month later on a Kindertransport.

Mogilensky said she was babysitting at the time of Kristallnacht.

“The Nazis broke into the house, looking for the father. ‘Not here — sick — in the hospital,’ I stammered, but they refused to believe me and looked for him all through the house. I pulled the sleeping children out of their beds and cribs moments before the bayonets went through the bedclothes,” Mogilensky said.

Werner Cohen was himself arrested, as was his father. He was attending a Jewish school in Cologne, about two-and-a-half hours from his home. He left early in the morning, unaware of the night’s destruction. When he arrived, the school gates were closed. A non-Jewish English teacher nearby whistled him to the side.

“Don’t you know what happened?” the teacher asked Cohen.

Herta Baitch says,  “I grew up in an  atmosphere of fear.”

Herta Baitch says, “I grew up in an
atmosphere of fear.”

Cohen said he immediately returned to his hometown of Essen. As he approached his home he was struck by a “huge crowd, mostly neighbors, standing around my house. They had to part like the Red Sea to let me go through. … My mother said, ‘The police have been here and they have taken your father into custody, and they were asking for you. They may come back, so go upstairs and hide there.’ They did come back, and they found me and took me into custody.”

Cohen was taken to Dachau. “There were so many of us, and we were given little food. We had to stand at attention beginning at 5 a.m. to be counted. We were left standing for three or four hours in the cold,” Cohen recalled.

He stayed in Dachau for four weeks, and then, shortly after his 17th birthday, by miracle he was let free. His former principle, Erich Klibansky, had added his name to a list of students who would be sent to learn in England, sponsored by a synagogue there. The cutoff for Kindertransport was 16, but Klibansky got him, and later his sister, through.

Cohen’s rescuer, however, was killed during the Holocaust.

Said Cohen: “He ended up together with his wife and three sons, all younger than 11, on transport to Minsk in 1942. … The train was emptied … everyone ended up in the trenches, which the Germans had dug with Russian prisoners of war. Klibansky, his wife and children were shot on the rim of those trenches, and they perished.”

Polish Synagogue Defiled By Swastikas

Swastikas and other anti-Semitic symbols were painted on a synagogue building in Gdansk, Poland.

The vandalism was spotted on the facade of the building on Monday morning.

“Someone just came in broad daylight and defiled our temple,” Mieczyslaw Abramowicz a representative of the Gdansk Jewish community, told TVN24 television. “It was done by anti-Semites or someone who does not know what that sign means and he did it out of sheer stupidity.”

Police investigating the case are not excluding the possibility that it may be the same vandals who three weeks ago set fire to a mosque in the city that caused approximately $16,000 in damages.

The synagogue vandalism was classified as the promotion of Nazi symbols, which could result in two years in prison.