Sharing Stories Across Generations

By Rosie Gertzman

This spring, students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Holocaust Education and Reflection Club (HEAR Club) loaded up a bus and headed to Wesley Enhanced Living (WEL) in Media, a senior living facility previously known as Martins Run. The eighth- through 11th-grade students embarked on a day of sharing, learning and growing with the WEL residents. It was a day filled with laughter, tears and thought-provoking questions. [Read more…]

World War II Treasures Discovered in a Shoebox

At the Passover Seder, we recite the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. For Marc Shatzman and his family, there is also another Passover story to tell — how Shatzman’s maternal grandfather, Bruno Elkan, celebrated Passover as a Jewish American soldier in Europe in 1945:

While I was in Belgium I attended a Seder given by the seven Jewish families left in town. … The stories they told me are hard to believe but I know they are true. How they managed to survive the Hitler regime is hard to comprehend. They were lovely people & I felt quite at home.

These words were written by Elkan to his future wife, Adele Berkowitz, in a letter dated March 30, 1945. In a subsequent letter, he mentions a young girl at the Seder, who told him things that “no human being can understand.”

Bruno Elkan during World War II.

Through his letters to Berkowitz, Elkan created a first-hand account of the life of an American soldier in Europe during World War II. Until recently, his prolific wartime correspondence dwelled in a shoebox in Marc Shatzman’s closet. Although Shatzman never met his grandfather — who survived the war, but died from an allergic reaction at an early age — he feels connected to him, in part because of their physical resemblance. [Read more…]

Leonard Bernstein Exhibit Inspires at NMAJH

At the press preview for the “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music” exhibit at NMAJH. From left to right: Ivy Weingram, Alexander Bernstein, Nina Bernstein, and CEO and Gwen Goodman Director of NMAJH Ivy Barsky. Photo credit: Bonnie Squires

Maybe you thought you knew a lot about Leonard Bernstein — or maybe just the Broadway show or film “West Side Story.”

But you will learn a lot more about the legendary Jewish-American composer’s history and accomplishments after a visit to “Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music,” the  latest exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH).

Ivy Weingram, is the curator — or more appropriately, conductor — of the impressive exhibit, which is in tribute to Bernstein’s hundredth anniversary. Worldwide, countless events have taken place, and will continue to occur throughout 2018, to celebrate the deceased music icon. Philadelphia has already had its fair share of events honoring Bernstein, including “Lenny’s Revolution,” a concert conducted by Bernstein’s protégée, David Charles Abell, and the Philly POPS orchestra.

[Read more…]

Cattle Car of Dreams on Display at Barrack

Every year, the Holocaust Education and Reflection (HEAR) Club at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in suburban Philadelphia creates a special school legacy project, with the goal of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. One year, it was a flower garden dedicated to the children of the Holocaust. Another year, it was butterflies stenciled on the walls of the school stairwells, commemorating the poem The Butterfly, written by a young Holocaust victim, with the iconic line “I never saw another butterfly.”

Cattle Car of Dreams. Photo: Shira Stein.

And for 2017-2018, it is the Cattle Car of Dreams. At first, the project’s title seems a bit jarring. How could a vehicle that transported Jews to their deaths, obliterating their hopes for the future, be described as a “cattle car of dreams”? [Read more…]

Ode to Arthur

Arthur Koestler.

By Marie Miguel

There are certainly more than enough horrific tales of how the persecuted lived under fascism in the middle of the 20th century, and indeed dozens of books with “Koestler” on their covers.

“Scum of the Earth” is a unique kind of autobiographical adventure, a guide to suffering atrocious treatment with as much good humor as possible. The book also describes  how a totalitarian regime can subvert the morals of both states and individuals.

For someone who wasn’t actually a criminal, Arthur Koestler certainly saw the inside of a large number of cells. Reprising this aspect of his personal history is possibly the best way to explain what the reader can expect from “Scum of the Earth.”

[Read more…]

Author Chronicles His Life From Childhood in Nazi Germany to Success in America

Mazel tov” is the customary exuberant response to the sound of shattering glass at the conclusion of a Jewish wedding ceremony. But for a young Fred (Fritz) Behrend, the sound of breaking glass meant anything but celebration.

The harrowing events that defined the formative years of Behrend’s life are chronicled in an engrossing book that he co-authored with Larry Hanover, Rebuilt from Broken Glass: A German Jewish Life Remade in America. In this book, we learn about the years leading up to the Holocaust as witnessed though the eyes of a young boy who led a life of innocence and privilege. But in 1938, when he was 13, the life he knew was abruptly shattered by the event known as Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). [Read more…]

Barrack Students Visit Home of the Paper Clips Project

From left to right, Maddison Barrack, Rebecca Shaid, Sarah Scheinmann and Emma Dorsch.

When their plane touched down in Tennessee, Emma Dorsch, Sarah Scheinmann, Rebecca Shaid and Maddison Barrack — four high school students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in suburban Philadelphia — did not realize that they were about to embark on a life-changing experience. Representing Barrack’s Holocaust Education and Reflection (HEAR) Club, the girls would be attending a dedication at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee, home of the famous Paper Clips Project. [Read more…]

Tears for Our Country

-Deanne Scherlis Comer

I, like so many, am weeping at the words I heard yesterday from the leader of our beloved country.

Moreover, I am wondering if any of the president’s supporters who have any shred of moral credibility left are looking at themselves in the mirror and asking, “What have I done?” And when will other members of that coterie of his inner circle show some backbone and call out, loudly and clearly, the heinous words and actions that have tarnished this presidency?

This is the time to be an “upstander” and not a “bystander” in our daily interactions as well. Our children, whose footsteps are shaping the path of our nation’s history, are listening.

This is the time to remember and honor all those who have stood up and fought against Nazism, Fascism and global genocides at any level.

March by white nationalists carrying torches in Charlottesville. Photo:

White nationalists marching in Charlottesville. Photo: All InOne News video.

This is the time to remember the diminishing number of Holocaust survivors who are the heroic remnants of the horror inflicted by racial and ethnic hatred.

This is the time to feel empathy for the African Americans who still feel the inequalities, for the moderate Muslims who feel threatened, and for the undocumented, law-abiding immigrants who want a fair opportunity and path to citizenship.

My father fled the pogroms of Communist Russia and always cautioned me about speaking out on issues I believed in. He felt that as a Jew, I should keep a low profile. “Well,” I told him, “Elie Wiesel believed that even if no one is listening, we need to yell against injustice so others don’t change us!”

So, as a human being, as the daughter of an immigrant, as an American Jewish woman, as a mother, as a grandmother and as a Holocaust educator, I will continue to speak my mind.

Hillel said, “If not now, when?”

Deanne Scherlis Comer is past chair of Abington School District’s Holocaust Curriculum Committee and is an education consultant for the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center of Delaware Valley.

Gratz College Offers an Online Ph.D. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies

As world events churn perilously with ethnic hatred and violence, expertise in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies is needed more than ever. Atrocities perpetrated by terrorist groups around the world and hate crimes on the rise in the United States and Europe make the promise of “never again” seem to ring hollow. In response to these acts, experts are needed to inform government policy, educate the public, and provide teachers with the tools they need to instruct the next generation on the dangerous repercussions of hatred and intolerance.

This fall, Gratz College will launch an online Ph.D. program in Holocaust and genocide studies, making this important field accessible to students everywhere. This program is the first in the United States to offer a Doctor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies degree, as opposed to a Ph.D. in a related discipline, such as history or sociology. [Read more…]