Eichmann, Rosh Hashanah, and Celebrating What We Have

Photo courtesy The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.

By Dan Tadmor

Few words in the English language are as badly abused as the word ‘unique.’ It’s the calling card of a thousand daily press releases and marketing campaigns. Rarely do they live up to their claims.

I was struck by this thought on Thursday evening, sitting just meters from someone whose life has been pinpointed by a series of events for which no other word could suffice.

Michael Goldmann-Gilead, born in the Polish town of Katowice in 1925, saw the full horrors of the Holocaust, surviving Auschwitz while his entire family was wiped out. Fifteen years later, as an Israeli, he served as a special investigator in the prosecution and trial of Adolf Eichmann, following Eichmann’s capture by the Mossad in May 1960.

By any standards, it’s a mind-bending sequence of events, made all the more poignant today by the fact that Goldmann-Gilead is one of only two living members of the forty-person team responsible for Eichmann’s prosecution.

Without laboring the point, this genial, humble man went from the brink of extermination to the conviction of the sole Nazi war criminal ever captured by Israel (and the sole civil execution in Israel’s history.)

In and around these events, he saw the destruction of a thousand years of Jewish life in Europe, and the birth and growth of the sovereign State of Israel. His life is history as told through biography.

Breaking down the evening’s events in my head later that night, I was struck by an unexpectedly optimistic thought, fitting for the build-up to Rosh Hashanah.

I had the good fortune to hear Goldmann-Gilead tell his story, for the first and last time ever in New York City, at The Museum Of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, which is currently exhibiting “Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolph Eichmann.”

Here was a remarkable human story, shared with a room packed with attentive listeners, in a magnificent setting in the cultural capital of the World. That night, for several hundred people of mixed ages with no immediate connection, the hottest ticket in the town was to hear an elderly man from a faraway place, born in an even further-away place, talking quietly about his life.

How did this happen, and how does it happen continually, in countless museums, synagogues, community centers and schools throughout the world?

In truth, daily events such as this – openings, discussions, lectures, film screenings, food tastings, musical performances, Torah classes and a hundred other types of Jewish cultural gathering – take place because of a vast network of people who want and work to make them happen.

Taking our event as a case study, it was Avner Avraham, the Mossad’s chief archivist, who first set the wheels in motion. My own institution, The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, proceeded to secure the blessing of the Mossad and the Israeli government to turn the Eichmann files into a genuine exhibition for the public, which opened in 2012. The exhibition was subsequently brought to America only through the tireless work of Milton Maltz in Cleveland, and then to New York by the leadership of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. And so on and so forth.

Collaboration between these various parties – with their differing needs and priorities – is made possible by one reason alone: a shared sense of responsibility and commitment to the grand project of the Jewish people.

Across the globe, there are teams of dedicated professionals working across the spectrum of Jewish life, each seeking to push forward their own vision. There are funders and fundraisers, strategists and managers, volunteers, veterans and student activists, held together by a Talmudic web of organizations and committees, all pulling loosely, but unmistakably, in the same direction.

Yes, there are huge cracks in the Jewish people today. The political, social and technological conditions of life in the twenty-first century are posing very real threats to the oneness and unity of the Jewish people.

For a moment though, as we count down to the joyous and reflective days of Rosh Hashanah, let us recognize what we have.

At the heart of the Jewish people today, there is a global network of passionate, committed doers, working tirelessly to make sure that cultural golddust, such as the life of Michael Goldmann-Gilead, will be shared, preserved and celebrated far and wide.

For that, whatever our politics, and whatever the synagogue that we may or may not attend next week, we can all be grateful.

Dan Tadmor is the CEO of the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.

“Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolph Eichmann” is on view through December 22, 2017 at The Museum Of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City.