Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Moments of Bonding & Remembering

(L-R) Leonard Wilf, Michael Bloomberg,  Avner Shalev
Michael Bloomberg Honored by the America Society for Yad  Vashem 
This week the Annual Tribute Dinner of the American Society for Yad Vashem, was held on Sunday, November 10th. With inspiring addresses from honoree Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev, and Mauthausen survivor Ed Mosberg – the dinner marked thirty-two years since the Society was established by the Founding Chairman Eli Zborowski z”l, along with other Holocaust survivors.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was honored with the Yad Vashem Remembrance Award, given for his visionary leadership and for his support of Yad Vashem’s efforts to strengthen the cause of Holocaust remembrance and education. Most recently the recipient of the prestigious Genesis Prize, Mayor Bloomberg has been a central figure in empowering New York City as the capital of tolerance, innovation and growth.
The program, entitled ‘Legacy and Gratitude,’ was presided over by Dinner co-Chairpersons Marilyn and Barry Rubenstein, with the Chairman of the Board Leonard Wilf giving opening remarks. The evening program featured a special memorial tribute to the life and contributions of Eli Zborowski z”l.
At the event, held on the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, speakers reflected on the Shoah and emphasized the importance of education and legacy, ensuring that the torch of remembrance is assumed by the second and third generations.
This year’s dinner also recognized the tenth anniversary of the Columbia Shuttle disaster. Tributes to Petr Ginz and Col. Ilan Ramon were especially powerful, thanks to the presence of Ginz’s nephew Yoram Pressburger and Ramon’s son Tal Ramon, who performed a song he composed in memory of his father. In addition to Tal Ramon’s appearance, the program included performances by Hazamir: The International Jewish High School Choir, with moving renditions of "Walk to Caesarea," written by the young paratrooper Hannah Szenes and the "Yugnt Hymn," dedicated to the youth club in the Vilna Ghetto and written by partisan Shmerke Kaczerginski.

--Avital Chizhik
Tal Ramon performing a song in his father's memory
As an experienced Jewish communal professional, I have participated in my share of fundraising dinners. However, last night’s Annual Tribute Gala sponsored by the American Society for Yad Vashem was my first as the new Executive Director/CEO.  I was struck by what made this evening so unique – unique, because of our mission and our guests. How fortunate that we were able to hear from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Ed Mosberg, Holocaust survivors themselves. Their stories deeply touched us. Permit me to share some additional thoughts why this dinner was so different from others:
Most of the 600 guests shared a deep connection to one another, often across generations. To the survivors among us, their shared story of living under the Nazi horrors links them together, and for many, the American Society for Yad Vashem dinner allows for important moments of bonding and remembering. Together, survivors remember loved ones murdered, communities destroyed, and the trust that they once had about the goodness of life brutally taken from them. Sadly, today the number of survivors amongst us is dwindling, and the absence of many significant leaders and activists among the survivors was profoundly felt last evening.
To the second generation of survivors, the event reminded many that the responsibility of Holocaust remembrance rests on their shoulders, and that the institutions that the survivors created, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the American Society, will not be able to fulfill their individual missions without them. For second generation survivors, being together reminds them that their personal stories may vary greatly but also are very similar emotionally.
Last night, there was also a large contingent of the “Third Generation” , members of our Young Leadership Associates. Like all young people, they are concerned about their professions, growing families and also growing financial obligations. For many Third Generation participants last night, the Third Generation recognizes that long after the survivors are gone, they are obligated to tell their stories, some of which they heard first hand from their grandparents.
What linked all of our guests was the importance of celebrating. It may be surprising to hear, but this group feels a special responsibility to celebrate. Hitler did not win: "we are here, and we have rebuilt Jewish life after the Holocaust despite all that we have suffered." Living as Jews is the ultimate victory against the Nazis, because celebrating life is a Jewish response to suffering.
Yes, this week's Tribute Dinner was a great success. We raised critical funds to extend our efforts for Holocaust remembrance, commemoration and education. We honored Mayor Bloomberg for his commitment to Holocaust remembrance; paid tribute to Eli Zborowski, may his memory be a blessing, for founding ASYV with other survivors 32 years ago and for chairing ASYV as a volunteer for all of those years; and we remembered the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon who died in the Columbia shuttle tragedy ten years ago while carrying 16-year-old Petr Ginz’s drawing “Moon Landscape,” painted by Ginz in Theresienstadt before he was murdered in Auschwitz.
But perhaps the most significant success of the evening was that we were celebrating together. Rabbi Lau succinctly made that point when he ended his remarks, “Am Yisrael Chai - the nation of Israel lives!” We are alive – and that alone is cause for celebration.
--- Rabbi Dr. Eric Lankin,  Executive Director/CEO of the American Society for Yad Vashem

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