Original Article Published on The Jewish Ledger

WATERFORD — Rabbis across the country recently received an important pre-Pesach letter from Eli Zborowski, chairman of the American and International Societies for Yad Vashem.

“I am a Holocaust survivor and the words from slavery to redemption’ hold special meaning to me,” Zborowski wrote.

He then asks that rabbis and their congregants collect Pages of Testimony for the Yad Vashem Online Names Database to help ensure that every victim has a place in our collective memory.

Already the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, which was opened in November 2004 for global access (http://www.yadvashem.org), is helping to make sure victims of the Holocaust are recorded. It currently has recorded close to three million names.

Dr. Romana Strochlitz Primus, a Waterford resident, mother of four, and a member of the executive board of the American Society for Yad Vashem, has been involved in the collection of testimonies since 1977.

“We submitted forms for grandparents, aunts and uncles killed during the Holocaust. And we encouraged others to get the data in as well. We even sat with some of them to insure that they filled out the forms,” she said.

Primus, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and she served as chairperson of the Life Reborn Project, in which collected artifacts and hosted an international conference in January 2000 on Jewish Displaced Persons, 1945-1951.

Primus acknowledges the usefulness of the on-line database and sees potential for increased interest in the Holocaust.

Primus recounts the story of two sisters, Clara and Chana, who last saw each other in the Budapest Ghetto in 1944. Until a granddaughter began using the database, the sisters assumed the other had died during the Holocaust. The sisters, who both live in Israel, have since been reunited. Primus also notes that the on-line nature of the database allows for easy entry and is less threatening, especially for younger people.

“I hope they will become more interested in the Holocaust and find a direct connection.”

Primus has mainly used the on-line database to make corrections to entries of her family members, and to point out duplications. For example, Primus notes that her maternal grandfather was one of 12 siblings. When the youngest survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel, he also submitted the pages of testimony, which had already been submitted by Primus. “It is really important to get duplications out and for Yad Vashem to have credible claims about the numbers,” notes Primus. “It is important to have an accurate history of the Holocaust.”

Primus was delighted when, three weeks ago, she found news of a living relative she hadn’t known.

“When I was looking in the database, I found my paternal grandmother. Another person was also searching. She wrote and said that my grandmother was her aunt.”

Yad Vashem began collecting Pages of Testimony in 1955. Approximately 30,000 new pages of testimony are recorded each year. More than two million names have been recorded on pages of testimony since 1955 and an additional million names have been taken from other archival resources.

According to Rachelle Grossman, director of communications for American Society for Yad Vashem, there has been “overwhelming interest” and “several million visits” to the site thus far.

Dr. Romana Strochlitz Primus will be honored by the American Society for Yad Vashem at its Fifth Annual Spring Luncheon on Wednesday, May 25. For more information, call American Society for Yad Vashem at (212) 220-4304 or send an e-mail to info@yadvashemusa.com.

Primus has mainly used the on-line database to make corrections to entries of her family members, and to point out duplications. For example, Primus notes that her maternal grandfather was one of 12 siblings. When the youngest survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel, he also submitted the pages of testimony, which had already been submitted by Primus. “It is really important to get duplications out and for Yad Vashem to have credible claims about the numbers,” notes Primus. “It is important to have an accurate history of the Holocaust.”

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

For Jennifer Kugler, Poland was a logical stop on a physically and emotionally tiring journey which has taken her from her hometown of Glenside, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C, to Auschwitz. And she prays she will get to go to Israel next year.

Kugler, a social studies teacher for sixth through eighth graders at St. Catherine of Sienna school in Horsham, Pa., is one of 130 Catholic school teachers who attended the March of the Living. Kugler was accepted to and completed a five-day Anti-Defamation League (ADL) – sponsored program in Washington, D.C. entitled “Bearing Witness.”

The program features both Catholic and Jewish theologians and teachers and is jointly sponsored by the National Catholic Educators Association, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the ADL.

“This program completely tears you apart and puts you back together again,” reports Kugler, as she described an intense week in Washington last July.

“On the first day, we learned the history of anti-Judaism, how it evolved into anti-Semitism, and what the Church did to promote and encourage it,” she explained. “We then learned how the Nuremberg Laws have striking parallels to the Edicts of the Popes from 400 years earlier. Then, they tear you down further by showing you examples of anti-Judaism in the New Testament. Now, you are really in pain.”

Kugler described the rest of the week, which included two trips to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, addresses by Holocaust survivors, a visit to a local synagogue, and a “mock” Shabbat dinner — on Monday.

“Finally, we learned about modern-day anti-Semitism, and the importance of Israel to Jewish people,” she said. “At this point, we feel we wanted and needed to do something. On the last day, we addressed anti-bias education.”

Barbara B. Balser, ADL National Chair, noted that Kugler and other participants in the March of the Living and the “Bearing Witness” program “will be emotionally moved when witnessing firsthand accounts of the Holocaust. [Their experience will] allow them to pass on the memories of this tragedy since the survivors are dying.”

Kugler said she and her classmates feel the “Bearing Witness” Program has been truly transformative. And after experiencing the March of the Living, Kugler said she is eager to return to her students at the St. Catherine of Siena school. “When I was at Birkenau and Majdanek, I felt so helpless and enraged. Where were all the people? I will continue showing my students where hatred can lead. We are all responsible for each other.”

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Ledger

WOODBRIDGE – The Dream Team came to the Jewish Community Center last week. But this team didn’t come to show off their athletic skills; they came for a graduation of sorts.

This Dream Team of teen leaders from 22 Southern Connecticut Conference high schools have spent the year participating in the Diversity Dream Teams: Differences That Make The Difference program. Participants in this program of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) “A World of Difference” Institute met regularly throughout the school year to increase awareness and understanding about diversity and to complete a “diversity action plan” for each member school.

“You have redrawn the color lines, you have stood up!” David W. Maloney, project administrator, ADL trainer, and assistant principal at Branford High School told the group.

Following an “Action Planning Exercise” lead by Debbie Colucci of the ADL’s A World of Difference Institute, the students assembled by school to reflect on the year and to share their action plans.

Students at Wilbur Cross High School listed on their chart such accomplishments as “stop using homophobic terms” and “courage to stick out for other people.”

The East Haven High students wrote on their poster under “What we have learned:” “Tolerance is a key factor in building healthy relationships” and “Working with other diverse groups helped us to overcome prejudices and discrimination.”

Students from Guilford High School engaged in an intense discussion on use of the terms “gay” and “fag” and about racial jokes.

“It’s not okay to say ‘that’s so gay,” one student chimed in. Another student recounted an incident when an African American student, during an argument with another student was told, “It is a privilege for you to even be here!”

In a nod to what they have learned over the past year, the Guilford students listed “Unity Dinner,” “Unity Week” and “Students Speak Up/Out” in their list of activities for the academic year.

“You take a diverse group and bring them together, and they reach a common platform of understanding—it’s amazing,” Maloney explained, watching the groups of students participate in the day’s activities.

Students attending the conference explained the appeal of the Dream Team program.

“It’s great to come together with kids from other schools and hear their different perspectives,” said Mike L’Altrella, a senior at Shelton High School, who notes, “Other than through sports, we don’t have many ways to come together with students from other schools.”

“It’s a great learning experience and a chance to meet people in our own school and out,” added Duy Pham, a junior at Branford High School.

“It was a crash course in diversity,” said Andre Gabriel, a sophomore at Shelton. “You get to meet people from different economic and racial groups. You don’t realize there are multiple ways to solve problems.”

SCC Commissioner Al Carbone praised the group for their participation and remarked, “The key is to bring what you’ve learned back to your schools.”

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Original Article Published on The Jewish Ledger

WARSAW — Why would 15 day school teachers and administrators come to school at 10pm on a Saturday night? Because the staff of the Lauder-Morasha School, under the leadership of principal Helise Lieberman is eager to talk about and to show off their 250-student day school.

Dr. Norman Ravski, co-chair of the New Haven delegation to the March of the Living in Poland, welcomes the late night visitors.

“We are proud to have a strong bond with the Warsaw and Lauder Morasha communities,” reports Ravski, who went on to recount how the special relationship between Warsaw’s Lauder-Morasha School and Woodbridge’s Ezra Academy has unfolded during the past four years. Dr. Henry Spencer, also a Woodbridge resident and Ezra parent, was intrigued when he came across an article about the Lauder-Morasha school in a New York Jewish newspaper several years ago. When Spencer traveled to Poland as part of a genealogical research project, he made a point of stopping at the school.

Upon returning to Connecticut, Spencer shared his experiences at the school with the students at Ezra. Three students, Evan Ravski, Mika Larrison, and Deborah Krieger, who would soon be traveling to Poland and Israel on the March of the Living, were similarly intrigued. When they had an opportunity to visit the Lauder-Morasha school, they wanted to see the school’s Torah which they couldn’t seem to find anywhere. “Why do you have to have such tight security? Is your Torah locked up?” Ravski wondered.

Lieberman answered, “We don’t have a Torah!”

Ravski, Larrison and Krieger were dumbfounded. With the help of Dr. Spencer, the students approached the Ezra staff, board and student body, and requested help in securing a Torah for the Warsaw school. At the time, Ezra owned a kosher Torah and a “pasul” (non-kosher) Torah.

Under the leadership of Shelley Krieger, the Ezra Academy embarked on an extraordinary school and community-wide learning and social actions adventure: the students learned how Torahs are made, what makes a Torah kosher, and they raised nearly $7,000 for the repair of the scroll. A sofer ultimately repaired the Torah, and the entire student body, under the direction of local artist, Jeanette Kuvin Oren, designed and decorated a Torah mantle.

Just after Shavuot, 31 adults from New Haven and several Ezra upperclassmen, traveled to Poland to present the Torah scroll.

“This was perhaps the greatest moment of my ten years at Ezra,” observes Krieger, who described the love and care shown toward the Torah throughout the trip to Poland. “Everyone took turns ‘guarding’ the Torah — on the bus, on the plane [the Torah had its own seat!], at Auschwitz [the Torah couldn’t enter since Auschwitz is considered to be a cemetery], and while touring Poland.

The Torah was presented to the school at the end of the trip, and the delegation was greeted by singing and dancing children who lined the stairways of the Lauder-Morasha school.

Lieberman introduced her staff, who joined the New Haven delegation for a moving Havdalah service and led tours of the impressive school building, a former old-age home whose purchase was financed by philanthropist, former-Ambassador Ronald Lauder. As the group enjoyed Polish pastries, Lieberman commented on the timing of the group’s visit.

“We lend the Torah to the Nozyk Synagogue when necessary (i.e. Sabbaths and holidays when two Torahs are needed). They have to insure that love and care will be shown to the scroll. Just today, the synagogue dedicated a new Torah scroll. Now, we can take our Torah back.”

Lieberman praised the New Haven delegation, many parents of current or former Ezra Academy students.

“The Torah symbolizes a real commitment, a relationship that will go on forever, into the next generation.”

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