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Program honors little-known hero of Holocaust

 
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The Holocaust Resource Center of Greater Clifton-Passaic will hold its annual Yom HaShoah observance on April 11 at the Jewish Community Center, 199 Scoles Ave., in Clifton. The program will include a special tribute to a former New York University dean responsible for saving the lives of Jewish doctors and scientists.

Physicist Albert Einstein, who left Germany in 1933, had been trying, in cooperation with Jewish organizations, to get Jews out of Germany and Austria and into the United States. He asked leaders of scientific and academic institutions to hire Jewish professionals for teaching positions, which would allow them to get visas quickly, thus getting around the waiting periods imposed by the State Department.

One of the leaders who responded to Einstein’s plea and helped him to persuade others to do likewise was Dr. Currier McEwen, the dean of NYU Medical School. As a result of McEwen’s efforts, NYU made faculty appointments to approximately 20 German and Austrian Jewish physicians and professors. As McEwen told a friend many years later, no one school could afford to keep all the Jewish scientists and physicians on its faculty permanently, but NYU gave them two-year appointments to satisfy the State Department and get them away from the Nazis quickly. This gave them time to establish a private practice here or get themselves onto other faculties.

McEwen’s hobby was horticulture. He hybridized over 160 new types of irises and 43 new types of daylilies. Some of his irises are grown at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Upper Montclair. At the Yom HaShoah observance, the Holocaust Resource Center and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens will honor McEwen for his humanitarian efforts. Between 6 and 7 p.m., Dr. Robert and Bernice Moskowitz will host a reception for McEwen’s family, members of the Presby Memorial Gardens, and faculty and alumni of NYU Medical School. A video about his life will be shown. Members of the public may also attend this reception, but reservations are required. For information, call (973) 777-7031, ext. 147 and ask for Nancy or (973) 779-2980 and ask for Maria.

The Holocaust Memorial Observance will take place in the JCC auditorium from 7 to 8 p.m. It will be presided over by Stuart Rabner, chairman of the Holocaust Resource Center, and Max Birnbaum, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Observance Committee. Dr. Anthony Grieco, associate dean of the NYU Medical School, will speak about McEwen and Prof. Fred Einstein, a grand-nephew of Albert Einstein, will read a letter from his great-uncle to McEwen. The Presby Gardens will plant irises developed by McEwen in the raised planters in the circular front driveway of the JCC as a memorial to him, and a presentation will be made to his family.

The keynote speaker will be Ernest Michel, a Holocaust survivor who, until his retirement in 1989, was executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. Michel spent five and a half years in Auschwitz and several other Nazi concentration camps. He later covered the Nuremburg war crimes trials as a correspondent for a German news agency. Michel was also the initiator and chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem in 1981, which was attended by 6,000 survivors and their families from all over the world.

Other participants in the program will be YBH Hillel School of Passaic, survivors and their children, who will light candles in memory of the 6 million, Cantor Richard Starashevsky of Young Israel of Passaic Park, and Rabbi Dovid Hirsch, a rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Yeshiva of Yeshiva University and religious leader of Kehilas Bais Yosef in Passaic.

A separate program for children from nursery school age to fifth grade will be held from 7 to 8 p.m.

 
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French Jews face uncertain future

A look at some stories from a local leader

In the wake of the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the Hyper Cacher grocery store — a kosher market — I participated in a Jewish Agency mission to Paris.

Our delegation of Americans and Israelis arrived last week to show solidarity with the French Jewish community. We also sought to better understand the threat of heightened anti-Semitism in France (and, indirectly, elsewhere in Europe). We met with more than 40 French Jewish community leaders and activists, all of them open to sharing their concerns.

On January 7, Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen Charlie Hebdo staffers as retribution for the magazine’s cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, another terrorist held a bunch of Jewish grocery shoppers hostage, killing four, which French President Francois Hollande acknowledged as an “appalling anti-Semitic act.”

 

When rabbis won’t speak about Israel

AJR panel to offer tips for starting a conversation

Ironically, what should be a unifying topic for Jews often spurs such heated discussion that rabbis tend to avoid it, said Ora Horn Prouser, executive vice president and dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Dr. Prouser, who lives in Franklin Lakes and is married to Temple Emanuel of North Jersey’s Rabbi Joseph Prouser, said that she heard a lot over the summer from rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They said that they were “unable or not comfortable talking about Israel in their synagogues,” she reported.

“It didn’t come from a lack of love,” Dr. Horn said. “They’re deeply invested in Israel, and yet they felt they could not get into a conversation without deeply offending other parts of their community.”

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

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Initiative brings student nurses together with Holocaust survivors

Nursing is changing, according to Kathy Burke, the assistant dean in charge of nursing at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah.

“Nurses need to be prepared to move into the community, away from the hospital,” she said. “The community is the most important care-giving site.”

To ensure that their nurses receive this training, Ramapo provides its students with a variety of clinical experiences which “will redefine the health care of the future,” Ms. Burke said.

A new initiative — conceived by Dr. Michael Riff, director of Ramapo College’s Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Leah Kaufman, director of JFS of North Jersey — brings Burke’s students together with Holocaust survivors.

“Taking care of the elderly, especially those with such a unique history, will double the impact of this experience” for her students, Ms. Burke said. “It’s [important] for this newer generation of nurses to talk with individuals who have experienced the Holocaust.”

 

‘You are not numbers. You have a name’

Tenafly JCC Holocaust commemoration highlights survivor from Tappan

When the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades marks Yom Hashoah this year, its ceremony will combine words from the past with the voices of youth. Indeed — in a twist of fate Holocaust survivors could not have foreseen — Jewish children will sing the same opera performed by children at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

In 1942, Holocaust survivor Ela Weissberger, who lives in Tappan, N.Y., performed the role of the cat in the children’s opera “Brundibar.” The show was staged in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, as part of an effort to convince Red Cross inspectors, visiting delegations, and the world at large that nothing improper was taking place there.

“They took them to a staged area,” Ms. Weissberger said. “They were really fooled.”

On April 16, Ms. Weissberger — the last surviving member of the original cast — will share her memories as part of the JCC’s annual Yom Hashoah commemoration.

 

Evil, hope onstage in Teaneck

Yavneh students tell the story of Berga slave camp in annual Holocaust play

Glen Rock eighth-grader Shmuel Berman took on the role of murderous SS Sgt. Erwin Metz in Yavneh Academy’s recent Holocaust play about the little-known slave-labor camp at Berga in eastern Germany, where hundreds of American prisoners of war were interned along with Holocaust victims.

What was it like to portray a real-life Nazi?

“It was hard,” Shmuel said. “I had to try to get into the character of someone who was not a good person and did terrible things to people.

“I was hoping the audience saw that Erwin Metz considered himself a ‘normal’ person, yet he lied during the court scenes, claiming that he didn’t mistreat anyone. We can learn that evil could happen anywhere; it doesn’t require an evil person.”

 
 
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