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April 5, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 5, 2013 PAGE 15A Klein From page 1A "People are used to the synagogue community as the primary connection to the Jew- ish community. Butwe need to understand ourselves in aworld context that includes people for whom synagogue is not front and center." He added, "We want to build networks that transform the world one person at a time. I think my colleagues are very good at creating and leading in different spaces with- out shying away from issues that matter, like world poverty, slavery and Israel." Perhaps his perspective comes from his own leadership role at Hillel, which he said has already undergone a similar kind of transformation. "Hillel has gone from being asynagogue on campus, a pro- grammatic center, to being a foundation for Jewish campus life," he said. "We judge the success of our work based on the kinds of relationships being formed." The smallest of the major streams, Reconstructionism is sometimes said to chart a mid- dle path between the Conserva- tive and Reform movements. The Jewish Reconstructionist Movement comprises just over 100 synagogues and havurot, mostly in the United States and Canada, and the RRA has a membership of nearly 300 rabbis. The success of the move- ment, Klein said, needs to be measured not only in its membership but in its influ- ence. As an example, he cites the first bat mitzvah. Held in 1922 for the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, it has become a standard life- cycle celebration across the denominations. Even Modern Orthodox synagogues create ceremonies for girls. "To what degree are we re- newing ourselves as a force for Jewish engagement, a force for good in the world? The current generation joins less, so our mantra must be less about membership and more about community," he said. Klein takes over at a time of transition, as Rabbi Dan Ehrenkranz, headoftheRecon- structionist Rabbinical College, has announced that he plans to step down when a successor is selected. Klein spent his earliestyears in East Brunswick, N.J., and moved with his family to Mont- clair when he was 8 years old. He graduated from Montclair High School. His mother was a Jewish educator and his father worked in the pathology depart- ment at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. By the time he was in fourth grade, Jason knew he wanted to be a rabbi, and occasionally signed his name "Rabbi Jason Klein." While he gravitated toward science in college, he ultimately returned to his first love--though scientific refer- ences still pepper his sermons. Klein's last few days of high school helped him realize the importance of the Jewish com- munity in his life. That was when he made national head- lines for handing out condoms at the senior prom. "Those days are connected to social justice. I had learned the concept of tikun olam quietly and persistently," he said. "And in those last few days of high school, some peoplewere upset, but I really felt the support from the leaders of the Jewish com- munity. It crystallized a lot of what I had learned." Johanna Ginsberg is a staff writer for the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission. Story From page 2A "recruited" thematAuschwitz in February 1944. By then, Gilbert was 80 and had published his memoir, "Of No Interest to the Nation," in French and English. He wanted not only to tell what he remembered, but also to provide evidence. He had spent many hours in archives and consulted historians. Sit- ting at his laptop, he had typed out the facts of his parents' fate in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The fightagainst Holocaust denial was most important to him. His new hero was U.S. historian Deborah Lipstadt, who dared to call David Ir- ving a Holocaust denier and triumphed in Irving's lawsuit against her. In his memoir, Gilbert recalled French complicity in the deportation of Jews. He lovingly portrayed his father's yearning to immigrate to America and his rejection at Ellis Island in 1923; Gilbert's own childhood dream to be an actor; and the shock of Nazi occupation and his arrestwith his mother by French police at 2 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1944, two days before his 18th birthday. A week later, Gilbert saw his mother for the last time as she was driven away from the Auschwitz platform in a truck. It was at the death camp that a Siemens representative recruited Gilbert and about 100 others to a work unit. His father's insistence that Gilbert learn a mechanical trade saved his life. Gilbert was se- lected for armaments produc- tion. Siemens kept its Bobrek factory prisoners together, even after the SS evacuated them in the death march from Auschwitz in January 1945. They were transferred together from Buchenwald to Berlin. A few months later, the War was over. Sixty-one years later, Gil- bert was back in Berlin. Visit- ing the unfinished Holocaust memorial, he said the insur- mountable chain-link fence was more evocative than the Peter Eisenman construction itself. I went with the Bobrek survivors to the Siemens of- rices. Each told his story. Then my cousin stood and insisted that the company finally open its archives to historians so they could get some answers: Why were these slave laborers kept together? Why were they saved? The Siemens representa- tives froze; they had no re- sponse. The archive remained closed. In the years since, I did some research for Gilbert, finding original documents about his family in other postwar archives. But it was always the Siemens archive that haunted him. For years he carried on conversations and correspondence with sympathetic company repre- sentatives, yet never got into their archive. Meanwhile, each year on his birthday, Gilbert and Mireille invited several friends--sur- vivors and their spouses, and me--to lunch in a Paris hotel. With champagne we would toast to life. More than once, Gilbert drove me through the streets of Paris, pointing out the apartments where he and his parents had lived, the parks where he had played as a child, the hotel where he had been put up after his return to Paris in 1945, emaciated and alone. I never fully understood how Gilbert could resettle in Paris after all that had happened. But somehow he achieved a balance: holding on to his postwar American citizenship, bonding with fellow survivors, digging to find out what happened to his parents, writing his book and speaking to Frenchyouth about his life. Always, however, he won- dered what was in those Siemens archives. In 2010, the semi-official Siemens historian who had held the proverbial key to the company archive was killed in a freak accident when the brakes failed in a reproduction of a historic Siemens auto. After that, Siemens took some real steps to improve access to the archives. In a visit to the company archives in Munich in 2011, I glimpsed underground rooms housing miles of files stacked on metal shelves. And I received an open invitation to spend a couple of days pe- rusing the newly catalogued Bobrek files to my heart's content. Gilbert, however, would never get a chance to see them. Last July, Gilbert called to tell me that the melanoma he had fought for years was back. "I am being attacked," he said. "This is really the last stretch." Just as this news arrived, we also learned that a Ger- man translation of Gilbert's memoir would be published. He had wanted to reach out to young Germans, whom he had never blamed for the past. The layout was ready. The cover was finished. "How fast do you think you can get the book out?" I asked the publisher. "We're rushing," I was told. That August, I arrived at the American hospital in Paris with a photo of the book cover on my computer. Gilbert lay in bed with an IV attached to his arm. Days before, his wife had hired a home-care nurse who, seeing Gilbert's Auschwitz tattoo, took it as an occasion to complain about past Jew- ish patients. Mireille bit her tongue: She feared she could not easily find a replacement in August. Gilbert once told me hewas not afraid of death, since he had seen so much of it. He died two days after I returned home from my visit to Paris. His memoir in German was published a few weeks later, last fall. Not long ago, I received a call from the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. "I just read your cousin's book," Constanze Jaiser, a research associate there, told me. "We'd like to use an excerpt on our educational website for German students." I still haven't managed to visit the Siemens archive; it's been too hard to contemplate with Gilbert gone. But his passing does not mean his quest has died. Maybe the archive con- tains only lists with names. Or maybe it contains some answers. Gilbert will never know-- perhaps I will. Debut From page 2A to plead with the American Charge d'Affaires, Raymond Geist. Using his lawyerly skills, Kraus argued that some U.S. visas already issued had not actually been used; some recipients went elsewhere, while others had died or were unable to travel. This line of reasoning convinced Geist, who agreed to re-issue 50 of the unused visas in favor of the "Kraus children." Advised by the Berlin Jew- ish leadership that the need was greater in Austria, Kraus immediately left for Vienna. He sent for his wife (who had to leave their two children, ages 9 and 13, behind) and also asked his friend, Dr. Robert Schless, a Philadelphia pediatrician, to join him there. In Vienna, the Jewish community in- vited Jewish parents to bring their children to be selected for possible immigration to America. Dr. Schless then examined each of the children assembled, and selected the top 50 that were both physi- cally healthy and emotionally stable enough to withstand the journey as well as the stress of separation from their parents and their home. Narrated by Alan Alda and the actress Mamie Gummer (as the voice of Eleanor Kraus), Steven Pressman's gripping film weaves together never- before-seen archival footage as well as photographs and keep- sakes of the rescued children, nine of whom share some of their experiences in the film. One of the more rem~rk- able aspects of the rescu~ is the quick and seemingly e~sy adjustment the children made to their new home. All of them spent several weeks in a guest house on the property of Camp B'rith Shalom in Collegeville, Pa., after which--according to Henny Wenkart, one of the 50 children--most were reunited with their parents or other family members and "scattered." Now 84 and a Harvard Ph.D., Wenkart recalls a night when she and her friends watched the young male and female counselors in the neighboring recreation hall "throwing one another around." The children were not surprised--"after all, we were told America is a violent country," Wenkart says. It was only later that they learned the counselors were jitterbugging. Similarly, Erwin Tepper, then 7 and now a retired radiologist, remembers being served a dessert of sliced bananas and jelio. Not having ever seen or tasted jello, he was convinced it was a preserva- tive which had to be scraped off before eating! "50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus" was written, directed and produced by Steven Pressman; Editor, Ken Sch- neider; Directors of Photog- raphy, David Sperling and Andrew Black; Original Musi- cal Score, Marco D'Ambrosio; Narrator, Alan Alda; Voice of Eleanor Kraus, Mamie Gum- mer. It will air on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 8, on HBO, and is presented in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Remembrance From page 4A I haven't mentioned--that's the point. The persistence of genocide suggests, firstly, that it is a gen- eral phenomenon, impacting Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, and including whites in Europe and blacks in Africa among its victims. Secondly, that governments will rarely intervene to prevent genocide from taking place. In that sense, the NATO campaign in Kosovo in 1999 was very much the exception, not the rule. It's at this point that we can merge the particular with the universal. I've always rejected the insulting notion that the Holocaust should have turned Jews into pacifists, and that by defending ourselves and our state on the battlefield, we are somehow violating the memory of our grandparents and great-grandparents. But I do think that the experience of the Holocaust, along with the undoubted influence which Jews as a group enjoy, should motivate us to form alliances with those who are being per- secuted and slaughtered now. Many of these groups, such as the 25 million stateless Kurds, or the 100 million Christians living with varying degrees of oppression, cannot count on sustained media coverage of their plight. Only a handful of western politicians can be relied on to pick up the cudgels on their behalf. That's why, if we are searching for a lesson for this Yom HaShoah, I would modestly propose this one: That we extend our concept of what constitutes self-defense to embrace those peoples vho cannot--at least not yet--do so effectively for themselves. That doesn't mean coffer- ences and dialogue groups md experience-sharing semimrs. It means hardcore politicalad- vocacy, it means energetically chasing down war criminals like Sudan's leader Omar al- Bashir, and it means providng weapons and other aid to tl~se exposed to the horrors of n-ass slaughter. Above all, it means taat when we say "never agan," we mean it. Ben Cohen is the S ill- man Analyst for His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Com- mentary, the New York Post, Ha'aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.