Your Daily Phil: Keeping alive the memory of the Shoah

Good Wednesday morning!

This year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins in a matter of hours in Israel, comes eight decades after the beginning of the Final Solution — and Holocaust education groups are continuing to figure out how to keep alive the memory of the Shoah as they confront a future when survivors will no longer be able to share their stories.

One of the latest attempts is called Bring Testimony Home, and aims to digitize the experience of hearing a survivor’s story firsthand. It’s a collaboration between Zikaron BaSalon — which has organized in-person meetings with between small groups and survivors with 1.5 million total attendees — and the University of Southern California Shoah Foundation — which has collected some 52,000 survivors’ testimonies since 1994. The project’s goal is for the small groups to continue meeting, but without the survivors. It condenses seven of the foundation’s hours-long testimonies to less than 45 minutes each, and provides discussion questions and prompts that help small groups digest and talk through the narrative.

“It’s getting harder and harder for survivors to physically participate in salons in people’s homes, and by piloting this partnership and using testimony… we can hopefully future-proof the project,” Jayne Perilstein, the Shoah Foundation’s director of community outreach and programming, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “Going forward, as there won’t be survivors left to participate, we’ll be able to use testimony.”

The project’s testimonies all date from the mid- to late 1990s and cover a range of survivors’ experiences — from a woman born in 1918 who was saved by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg to a man born in 1929 who was a slave laborer in the Birkenau camp.

Other initiatives surrounding Holocaust Remembrance Day also aim, in different ways, to maintain the day’s emotional force as the years pass. Another project by a group of organizations including Yad Vashem — Israel’s Holocaust museum — hopes to introduce ritual to the day, encouraging families to light six candles at home and recite either El Maleh Rachamim, a prayer for the deceased, or a classic poem about the Holocaust by the Israeli poet Abba Kovner.

Perilstein acknowledges that video testimony, however packaged, can’t replace an intimate conversation with a real person. But she hopes the videos can acquaint younger generations with these stories. Members of several student groups at USC are among the approximately 125 people who signed up to host virtual testimonies as of Tuesday, and they’re also being promoted by Dov Forman, a teenager who created a TikTok account with nearly 2 million followers to help his great-grandmother, a survivor, tell her story.

“It’s never the same when the survivor isn’t there in person,” Perilstein said. But, she added, “Their stories won’t be lost. There will be opportunities for future generations to hear their message of hope and resilience.”


Behind the scenes at Yad Vashem

Ruth Eglash

A moth-eaten teddy bear, a mangled silver spoon, a well-worn headscarf – all inanimate objects, yet each tells a story, in a powerful and sensitive way, of one of the darkest periods of human suffering, shedding light on both the trials and triumphs of individuals during the Holocaust. As Israel prepares for Yom Hashoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash was given a unique look inside the vast archives and storage vaults at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, catching a haunting glimpse into the horrifying experiences of the millions who perished and those who survived.

Reopening: This week, as Yad Vashem prepares to hold its first live ceremony after two years of COVID-19 closures, the museum has returned to life. Local and foreign visitors were there to learn and remember. Adjacent to the archive building, cranes and laborers were busy working to expand the existing storage space. A new, 65,000-square-foot center – The David and Fela Shapell Family Collections Center – will provide improved storage conditions for these precious artifacts and allow more of them to be displayed to the public; it is set to open in 2023.

Careful watch: Michael Tal, curator and director of the artifacts department in the museum’s archives division, keeps careful watch over each item stored in the archive and catalogs new arrivals – a handful of objects are received each week – sent from across the globe by aging survivors or their descendants. He is diligent about researching the backstory of everything that reaches his hands, cross-checking personal stories with the extensive list of names – Holocaust survivors and victims – kept at Yad Vashem and searching out the photographs of each item’s owner and their relatives.

Priceless objects: “Even though I’ve been here for a very long time, I’m still surprised that we keep receiving things,” Tal told JI in an interview. “Gathering artifacts is only one element of what needs to be done, we also need to tell the stories behind them too. That’s what makes an ordinary object so impactful, so priceless. When we receive an object, we try to find out as much information as we can on the person who it belonged to,” he continued, underscoring that in many ways, these belongings are as much testimony to what happened 80 years ago as the writings, artwork and photographs that are also kept at Yad Vashem.

Telling the story: “Every object tells a story,” Tal said, estimating that there are more than 42,000 artifacts stored at Yad Vashem, from the striped uniforms once worn by those imprisoned in concentration camps to unused stacks of yellow stars the Nazis forced Jews to sew onto their clothing, as well as long-lost precious Shabbat candlesticks, Chanukiahs(eight-branch candelabras) and other religious paraphernalia.

Read the full piece here.


The search for lost Holocaust music — and why it’s important

Ruth Eglash

“An untold number of musicians were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. Despite the horrific conditions they experienced, they found the courage and inspiration to write and perform music, most of which has never been heard… But a surprising amount of music written or performed in concentration camps actually survived. It was encoded on material of all kinds, from notebooks to toilet paper to telegrams, or handed down by heart,” writes Janie Press, president of the Holocaust Music Lost & Found, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

Preserving memory: “I believe this music could be an invaluable tool in preserving the memory of the Holocaust, honoring the victims and educating Americans about this catastrophic historical event.”

Lost music: “Three years ago, I knew nothing about lost Holocaust music. In 2019, I was watching ‘60 Minutes’ when I saw a piece about Maestro Francesco Lotoro, an Italian pianist, composer and conductor who has dedicated the past three decades to recovering, studying, archiving, performing, recording and promoting thousands of works produced in concentration, extermination and civil and military imprisonment camps. I was so moved by what I saw that I reached out to Maestro Lotoro to learn more. The result of that chance encounter with Lotoro’s work is Holocaust Music Lost & Found, a nonprofit organization that I founded to help him recover more lost music, specifically in the United States.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

Start Me Up: Intel Ignite selected 10 Israeli startups out of 200 applicants for a sixth cohort of its startup growth acceleration program, Calcalist reports: “Each startup will work with leading mentors and industry experts, and receives a tailor-made program to meet its specific business needs. The program covers a wide range of fields including founders’ dynamics, go-to-market strategy, marketing and sales, product development and management, recruitment, and more. The selected startups come from various tech industries, including artificial intelligence, digital health, robotics, sensors, hardware, developer tools, and cybersecurity…Since the program’s launch in 2019, the participating companies have raised nearly $700 million in funding.” [Calcalist]

The Farmers Next Door: 
Israeli startup SunDo connects farmers and residents living close to each other, helping consumers buy locally and get to know local farmers, i24News reports: “’What SunDo does is essential for farmers, as it offers them a turnkey solution. The vast majority of farmers don’t understand logistics, technology, marketing or after-sale service,’ [organic farmer] Alan Zinger said. ‘You have a platform that manages everything from A to Z, and delivers the products as quickly as possible to the consumer with the lowest possible costs.’” [i24News]

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Word on the Street

There are 161,400 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, according to figures published today by Israel’s Social Equality Ministry ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day…

Today marks the third anniversary of the shooting at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., killing congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounding three others. The shooter, a white supremacist, was sentenced last year to life in federal prison without parole…

Moshe Kantor has severed his longstanding ties to Tel Aviv University after coming under international sanctions for his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin  — joining a growing list of Russian Jewish billionaires who have been forced to curtail their philanthropic activities after facing sanctions… 

The Weber School in Atlanta announced a $19 million grant from The Zalik Foundation to support the retention and recruitment of top educational professionals, enhancements in curriculum and programming and expansion of its facilities…

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), based in Riverdale, N.Y., received  a $1 million gift from Micah Philanthropies, founded by Ann and Jeremy Pava. Part of the funding has been allocated to launch the inaugural Zakkai Fellowship for Rabbinic Innovation at YCT, which supports the professional growth of alumni, with a particular emphasis on the development of entrepreneurial and innovation skills…

The Seattle-based Samis Foundation launched a new day school affordability initiative: families earning up to $350,000 a year will never pay more than $15,000 per student or 15% of their adjusted gross income, whichever is less. The initiative is aimed at helping families in the middle income range, which is approximately $175,000-350,000 in Seattle.…

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced two grants totaling $100 million in support of public charter schools at Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy and a third grant of $100 million to Success Academy…

The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County received gifts totaling $13 million to relaunch its internship program…

Several Bay Area rabbis are taking up new posts: San Francisco’s Beth Sholom is promoting RabbiAmanda Russell to the position of rabbi, making her the first woman rabbi to lead the Conservative congregation; Or Shalom, San Francisco’s only Reconstructionist synagogue, announced that its spiritual leader, Rabbi Katie Mizrahi, will move on after 15 years to become rabbi at Congregation B’nai Havurah in Denver; and the Conservative B’nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma, which calls itself “California’s oldest congregation north of San Francisco,” announced Rabbi Ted Feldman would be retiring after 17 years…

Pic of the Day

Boaz Ozery

Participants in the Israeli American Council’s #6MillionSteps program in Philadelphia on Sunday head from the “Rocky Steps” of the Philadelphia Art Museum to the Holocaust Memorial to remember the Holocaust and spotlight rising antisemitism. 



Physician, former NASA astronaut, and chief of the education/medical branch of the NASA astronaut office, Dr. Ellen Louise Shulman Baker

Financial executive Harvey Hirsch… Turkish figure living in exile in Saylorsburg, Pa., Fethullah Gülen… Nonprofit executive who has managed the 92nd Street Y, the Robin Hood Foundation, the AT&T Foundation and Lincoln Center, he is also the lead director of First Republic Bank, Reynold Levy… Former director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority, previously a member of Knesset and deputy director of the Shin Bet, Yisrael Hasson… VP at Covington Fabric & Design, Donald Rifkin… Biologist and professor of pathology and genetics at Stanford University School of Medicine, he won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Andrew Zachary Fire… Entertainment executive and cofounder of Casamigos tequila, Rande Gerber… Partner in 100 State Street Development, Elliot Mayerhoff… Showrunner, director, screenwriter and producer, Brian Koppelman… Founder and CEO of NYC-based Gotham Ghostwriters, Daniel Gerstein… Author, political analyst and nationally syndicated op-ed columnist for The Washington PostDana Milbank… U.S. senator since 2013, Cory Booker (D-NJ)… Professor of science writing at MIT, Seth Mnookin… Cinematographer and director, Rachel Morrison… Identical twin brothers, between the two of them they won 11 Israeli championships in the triathlon between 2001 and 2012, Dan and Ran Alterman… Deputy regional director for AIPAC, Leah Berry… Television and film actress, Ariel Geltman “Ari” Graynor… Basketball coach, analyst and writer, profiled by Sports Illustrated in 2018 as “the smartest basketball mind outside the NBA,” Benjamin Falk… Creative director at Trilogy Interactive, Jessica Ruby… Jonathan H. Glidden… Judicial law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, David Jonathan Benger… Founder and CEO at EREM outdoor footwear and apparel company, Noah Swartz… MD/MPH candidate in the 2025 class at the University of Arizona College of Medicine where he serves as the student body president, Amir Kashfi

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