Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jewish Music Comes to Life in Yad Vashem Synagogue

Last week I was privileged to hear a very special choral concert in the Yad Vashem Synagogue. The Synagogue, a monument to all the Syngogues destroyed in the Holocaust, and filled with Judaica rescued from destroyed synagogues in Europe, was a fitting stage for The "Leipziger Synagogalchor" to perfom. The choir, comprised of non-professional musicians with some professional training, was joined in their performance by two soloists who are singers with various opera houses in Liegpzig, Berlin, and Zurich.

The Choir's 26 non-Jewish members devote their work to 19th and 20th century synagogue music and Yiddish and Hebrew Folklore songs. The songs, all sung with traditional Ashekanazic (German) pronounciation, aim to preserve a vibrant cultural heritage. The choir is committed to reviving and disseminating Jewish muisc in Germany and across Europe.

The moving melodies ranged from traditional tunes like Ma tovu (How goodly are your tents, O Jacob- a traditional prayer said the synagogue) and Leach Dodi (Come my beloved, sung to welcome the Sabbath eve) to Yiddish and other folklore tunes.

The Syngagogue, overflowing in capacity - with an audience ranging in age from young teens to Holocaust Survivors - was filled with the music of Jewish tradition.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The story of a Sephardic community in the Holocaust

A fascinating new exhibition has gone up on, looking at the Jewish community of Monastir. Of the 3,351 Jews who lived there before the Germans invaded, only a few survived the Holocaust. Almost all the aspects of the Holocaust -- the various stories and possibilities are seen in the story of this small town. I found the testimonies particularly moving. It's so difficult to think about this entire world that has been lost. It's certainly helped me gain an understanding of what the Holocaust has taken from all of us.
July 1939, Jewish youths from Monastir on a sailboat

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Producer of Avatar at Yad Vashem

Today, Jon Landau, producer of Avatar and Titanic, among other films, visited Yad Vashem with his wife. They visited the Holocaust History Museum, and the Visual Center at Yad Vashem. In the Visual Center, they were touched to discover two films produced by his late father Ely Landau, The Man in the Glass Booth and The Pawnbroker among the Visual Center's collection, and viewed part of The Man in the Glass Booth at one of the Center's viewing stations.

The Visual Center at Yad Vashem is dedicated to creating the world's most comprehensive resource center of cinematic work related to the Holocaust. Currently some 6,100 films have been catalogued, and more than 3,800 films and 60,000 testimonies are available for viewing on demand.

Photo: Jon Landau and his wife viewing his father Ely's film, The Man in the Glass Booth in the Yad Vashem Visual Center today. [Yossi Ben David/Yad Vashem/Editorial Use only]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

VP Biden just left Yad Vashem

Vice President Joe Biden just concluded his visit to Yad Vashem. He visited with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Although VP Biden was here in the past, this was his first visit to the Holocaust History Museum that opened in 2005.

After a tour of the Holocaust History Museum, a memorial ceremony, and a visit to the Children's Memorial, Biden spoke about his experiences bringing his sons, as young men, to Dachau and then to Israel.

"As a young father, when I introduced each of our sons - who are grown men now - to Europe, I took them first to Dachau so they could understand as young men... the ability of mankind to be so brutal. But also I took my son here to Israel, to let him know that the indomitable spirit of human beings is not able to be snuffed out.
What I wrote in the book, is - as a fan of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats writing about his Ireland - he said, too long a suffering makes a stone of the heart. What I wrote here is that, 'every day Israel makes a lie of the poet's words, too long a suffering makes a stone of the heart.'
Because for world Jewry, Israel is the heart, for world Jewry, Israel is the light, for world Jewry Israel is the hope. If anyone ever wondered about that they ought to take a tour of the museum, they will not doubt it again."

In Memoriam - Elly Dlin

Elliott (Elly) Dlin passed a way from a massive heart attack last week. He was 57 years old.

Elly began his career in the field of Holocaust Education and Museums at Yad Vashem in 1978. Along with a changing cast that included Shalmi Barmore, Yehiam Weitz, Itzik Mais, David Silberklang, Yaacov Lozowick, Michael Yaron, Shoshie Rozin, Adina Drechsler and myself, he was the heart of the then Education Department at Yad Vashem throughout the 1980s. In the early 1990s, he became the Director of the Valley of Jewish Communities. After 22 years at Yad Vashem, Elly assumed the position of Director of the Dallas Holocaust Memorial, which he held until his passing.

In the summer of 1978, I entered the Ulpan for Hebrew language study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, toward my graduate studies. On the first day of class I became acquainted with a tall, husky and very friendly Canadian – Elly Dlin. We soon learned that we had more than being new immigrants in common. My graduate work was to focus on the History of the Holocaust and Elly already had an MA in Modern European History from the University of British Columbia – Vancouver. In addition to starting his studies toward teacher certification at the Hebrew University, he was slated to begin working part time at Yad Vashem as a lecturer and guide.

After I finished my coursework for my MA and begin working on my thesis in the summer of 1980, Elly helped set up my first real job in the field. Joining him, I began lecturing at Massuah, the Holocaust educational institute at Tel Yitzhak. Having never really lectured before, Elly provided me with important tips about outlining a talk. To this day I follow his invaluable advice about focusing on only a few main points.

By the following summer, Elly was working fulltime at Yad Vashem, and I was putting together my PhD. proposal. He suggested I begin work at Yad Vashem and I soon took to guiding groups and lecturing alongside him there as well. Elly was the person who listened to me the first times I guided and lectured, once again offering constructive criticism. Eventually like him, I was able to give a coherent lecture on a number of topics at a moment’s notice.

One of the most important changes at Yad Vashem to which Elly was a partner, was the initiation of seminars for teachers from abroad. He and Shalmi Barmore set up the first seminar in the early 1980s in English. This was the beginning the many international contacts Elly maintained while at Yad Vashem. The seed he helped sow, yielded much fruit. During the last calendar year (2009), Yad Vashem ran 90 such seminars in a multitude of languages. As a senior member of the Education Department, Elly worked on curriculum development and educational units. One of the most successful was his unit on Kristallnacht.

In the early 1980s we frequently had conversations that in retrospect I think were ahead of the curve. I remember us discussing the idea that one cannot construct Jewish identity solely around the Holocaust and talking about how problematic the idea is of deriving a specific set of lessons from that painful history. Pursuant to the latter, Elly used to lecture on how one could learn such a variety of things from human behavior in the Holocaust, much of it contradictory, that one must be very careful about drawing simplistic lessons. No matter which job Elly fulfilled throughout his career, at his core he was an educator.

Around the time Avner Shalev became Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate (1993), Elly was made the Director of the then, new, Valley of Jewish Communities. It is in this job that Elly began to shine as a curator of museum exhibits. He brought a number of exhibits to the Valley, including one on Lubomil and another on diplomats who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

Elly was not only creative, he had an amazing memory and breadth of knowledge. I recall discussing some subject with him on a bus ride, when he not only quoted a passage he had read, but cited the footnote as well. Although he began but never completed his PhD. dissertation, Elly knew as much if not more about the history of the Holocaust than most University professors. He was a voracious reader, redolent with curiosity, and never seemed to be able to learn enough.

For many new immigrants to Israel, friends often take the place of distant family. For me, Elly was like family. I remember his bubbling enthusiasm when he first introduced me to his future wife, Carol. At his wedding, I clearly remember hoisting Elly into a chair, along with David Silberklang and few other close friends, and dancing with him. It must be borne in mind that it was no mean feat, since Elly was never a 90 lb weakling. Over the years we participated in each other’s family events, Brit Milah ceremonies, parties for the births of our children, Independence Day picnics and more. And then there were the dogs. Elly always had at least one dog and they were invariably as friendly, warm and gentle as their owner. Although one may well make friends with co-workers over time, it is a rare treat to begin work with someone who is already a friend, and to maintain that friendship while working together despite the ins and outs of office politics.

Sadly, over the last few years after Elly moved to Texas, our contact lessened. Life sometimes overtakes the best of intentions. But I know that for me, and for many others at Yad Vashem, Elly’s passing came as a great shock. As a colleague, mentor and friend, we continue to hold his memory dear.

Rob Rozett
Tuesday, March 09, 2010

5770 Poster for Holocaust Martrys' & Heroes Remembrance Day

There is now a new official poster for the commemoration Holocaust Martrys' & Heroes Remembrance 5770. Full of visual strength and meaning, the poster integrates the traditional "yizkor" prayer with the names of victims of the Shoah, creating a dialogue between the two. The use of traditional, and even perhaps cliched symbols - the yellow of the star of david and the gray stripes, remnisicent of the uniforms worn in the concentration and death camps - are utilized in a new way. The differing elements create interest and are sure to successfully arouse curiosity and encourage deeper study of the subject of the Holocaust.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Personal Memories - Prof. David Bankier, obm

Since David Bankier (z”l) passed away last week, I’ve been trying to remember when we first met. I have clear memories of him giving me rides out of Yad Vashem in the early 1980s when we both gave lectures in what was then called the Education Department. I can’t recall if this was as early as the summer of 1981 when I began there, or somewhat later. I do recall that David was well along in his doctoral work and I was just at the beginning. I also have a clear recollection of him finishing his PhD in 1983 and I retain a gnawing feeling that we may have met much earlier, perhaps when I began my MA in 1978 at the Institute for Contemporary Jewry. But I can’t pin down that memory.

I got to know David better in the early 1990s when he asked me to teach with him in the School for Overseas Students at the Hebrew University. He gave a course that included a lecture and a more intimate, hands on class, looking at documents. He asked me to teach a weekly session of the documents class and we put together a sourcebook. Of course when David joined us at Yad Vashem as the Head of the Research Institute in 2000 our contact grew even more.

Everyone who knew David recalls that he was not only brilliant and had a great sense of humor, but he was always himself and never put on airs or acted pompously. I think it was arduous for him to wear a jacket and tie, when the situation required it. He was direct and especially when it came to intellectual honesty, was rigorous.

I greatly admired David’s intellect. I recall at a Yad Vashem Conference, he once answered a question by citing the marginal comments he had seen on a document at the Public Records office in London. What made it remarkable, is that the document had nothing directly to do with his research, but was one he apparently saw while sifting through other material. I doubt he ever mentioned the document in his writing, but he recalled it completely. As a scholar, David was open to new ideas, but they had to be well-founded. He really had no patience for bad scholarship, and he sometimes made that clear in his comments and questions following a presentation at the Institute.

Although I learned a great deal from participating in numerous conferences, symposia and discussions with David, there remains one area in which we disagreed. David was a “documents” man. He liked traditional documentation and believed that testimonies and memoirs are not particularly good sources for historical inquiry. For my part, I think that testimonies and memoirs are extremely important, albeit flawed sources, for many kinds of historical information. Even though we disagreed, he expressed both interest and support for my research, which rests to a large extent on firsthand accounts. I’m very sorry he will never read my forthcoming book on the Hungarian Jewish forced laborers on the Eastern Front, since among other things, the support he gave me through the Tauber Fund in the Institute facilitated the research.

David’s contributions to the field of Holocaust scholarship are many. When his book The Germans and the Final Solution appeared in 1992, it became a must read for anyone who deals in the subject. Even today, 18 years later, it remains the best monograph on the subject.

I think one of the most important things David did at the Research Institute was take up the challenge of organizing and presenting basic information about the Holocaust. He was not necessarily the originator of the ideas, but he saw how important is to have accurate and concise information about the ghettos, camps and killing sites. He understood the importance of pinning down the geography of the Holocaust. To his great credit, he not only understood this should be done, but he initiated and then accompanied the actual projects.

Another innovation in the Institute during his tenure is the ongoing exchange between our young scholars and young scholars from around the world. Getting the chance to hear young scholars from abroad is not only enlightening in terms of information, it is very important for us to understand what is being researched and how. It is equally valuable for providing a vehicle for exposing foreign scholars to all the things Yad Vashem has to offer. Lastly, the exchanges provide a very beneficial by product – personal relations between our people and many upcoming foreign scholars.

When David first became ill it was a bit awkward to express concern and interest without crowding him. I took to coming into his office fairly frequently and telling him a new joke, since I knew he was always a great audience for something funny. Lots of times he repaid me with a joke of his own. As the years went by and David’s health remained poor, as we all know, he continued to work. Since for a certain period, I gave him rides home, during which we had non-work time to chat, I became more and more comfortable talking to him about his situation. He was candid, but he certainly did not like to dwell on his ill health.

Like everyone I know at Yad Vashem, I greatly admired the way he fought his illness. He fought it so valiantly that it seemed he might not succumb at all. The morning after he lost consciousness, somebody asked me how he was, since he as absent from the symposium that was being held that morning for Tuvia Friling’s new book. Because I had not yet heard about what had happened, I answered that he has his ups and downs, and I imagine he’ll be back soon. Even when I heard later that day that he was in a coma, against all logic, I still felt deep down that he would come back. Of course that didn’t happen. Even nearly a week after his passing, I have to suppress the desire to pop into his office and ask him how he’s doing. I’m sure I’m not alone in intensely feeling his absence and I’m sure we will feel it along the corridors of Yad Vashem and in our hearts for some time to come. May his memory be blessed.

Rob Rozett, Director of the Libraries
Wednesday, March 03, 2010