Amazing, unbelievable, awe-inspiring. Those were just some of the comments I heard over Shabbat Parshat Zachor at a weekend organized by Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky. When my dear friend Benny invited me for the Shabbat, I had no idea what it was about, but because everything he is connected to is top-notch, I gladly accepted his invitation.
The next e-mail I received about the Shabbat was from the Museum of Eternal Faith and Resilience. I had never heard of that museum, but I understood it was connected to the Holocaust. The weekend was to be held in the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan, and the list of speakers looked outstanding. I was really looking forward to it.
I arrived at the Pierre Hotel Erev Shabbat Zachor and stepped into old-world elegance, a hotel fit for royalty – perfectly suited for this outstanding event. I was immediately ushered into a room where the film “Restitution: Art and Memory” was being shown. Produced by Dr. David Milch and John Friedman, the film covers the Nazis’ theft of artwork and the incredible efforts – which continue to this day – to reclaim the art after the war.
Throughout Shabbat, we heard from former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the youngest survivor of Buchenwald; Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson; Professor Alan Dershowitz; Malcom Hoenlein; Ambassador Ido Aharoni; Mark Tress; and Elly Kleinman. It’s hard to say which speaker was the most captivating. I can only say that this was the first weekend I ever attended during which I couldn’t miss a single presentation. I have been to many inspiring Shabbatons, but this one I will never forget.
What is the Museum of Eternal Faith and Resilience (also called Ginzach)? It is not just another Holocaust museum. Located in Bnei Brak, Israel, it documents and highlights the faith and resilience of Jews who kept their faith during the Holocaust, whether they survived or not.
It is designed to pass on to future generations the legacy of Jewish values. It is the story of the men in Auschwitz who gave up their piece of bread to be able to daven one time from a siddur smuggled into the concentration camp. It is the story of a woman on the line to extermination, holding her one-week-old baby boy, begging any mohel to circumcise him so that he wouldn’t go up to heaven uncircumcised.
It is the story of people who went through hell on earth and continued to rebuild after the war stronger in their faith than before. It is the personal stories of untold numbers of Jews that are archived in this museum.
The primary purpose of the museum is “shaping the national consciousness of the Jewish People in a way that will serve as a tool to empower young students and strengthen their values… It is a testament to enduring Jewish values and faith in the face of insurmountable odds.”
Some of its artifacts were given to it by Yad Vashem and some by Elly Kleinman, founder of Amud Aish Memorial Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y., among others. This is the museum to bring students and all young people to – to show them that the Holocaust wasn’t about Jews going like “sheep going to the slaughter,” as so often has been said. It was about Jews holding onto their faith, even strengthening it. It makes one very proud.
Yad Vashem is the story of the Holocaust and a must-see for the whole world. But this museum is the next stop, especially for the young people of this generation and all the following ones.
Ginzach (or Archives, which is what the word means), has actually been around for many years, but it has outgrown its small space and now has acquired ground to build a world-class museum, a museum of “Kiddush Hashem archives,” to quote President Reuven Rivlin of Israel. This will be a “Global Educational Center, using 21st-century technology, including the use of virtual reality and interactive holograms able to respond to students’ dilemmas.”
In our generation, we have already seen a lot of Holocaust denial. In this new museum, young people will be able to “talk” to Holocaust survivors through virtual reality technology. Nothing is more powerful than bringing a story to life. Nothing better refutes Holocaust naysayers. This is the Museum of Eternal Faith and Resilience
In case anyone believes anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, Malcolm Hoenlein was at the Shabbat Zachor weekend to remind us that not only is it thriving, but in Europe it is escalating very quickly and is already readily apparent in the U.S. as well. Professor Dershowitz said we have to be vigilant in stopping the upsurge of anti-Semitism on college campuses while also arguing that we should not let critics say that we have too much power in the United States; we should say that we don’t have enough power.
The Holocaust stories of Rabbi Lau and Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson were powerful and will long be remembered even as we struggle to digest them. I couldn’t help but think what a difference this museum will make, showcasing faith and resilience.
We were also treated to the magnificent voice of Chazzan Yosef Malovaney of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and the beautiful voice of Chazzan Shai Abramson, chief cantor of the IDF, for Shabbos davening. Both were accompanied by a choir under the direction of Maestro Russell Ger.
After Shabbos, there was a banquet featuring the exquisite voice of Chazzan Yisrael Meir Helfgot, chief cantor at Park East synagogue. We also heard from Leah Shneirer, who referred to herself as a miracle child. Her mother, a twin, was experimented on by Dr. Mengele, yemach shmo. The fact that she married after the war and tried to bear children is another example of the faith and resilience this museum symbolizes.
There was also an exhibit of artwork by artists Lauren Bergman and Ronit Forman Oanono, who took stories of children murdered in the concentration camps and painted portraits of them. These portraits capture the essence of these children and brought tears to the eyes.
I saw many friends at this weekend, among them Silvia Fishbaum; Sara and Howard Gruenspecht; Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, N.J. and his wife Amy; Malkie Spitz; Effy and Shprintzy Hochstein; Judge and Fran Schulman; Debbie and Kenny Rochlin; Rabbi Moshe and Corrine Fuchs; and David Greenfield, among others.
All were unanimous in praising the outstanding efforts put in by Rabbi Avraham Kaminer, chairman of this campaign; Rabbi Tzvi Skulsky, president of the museum; Rachel Yud, chief curater, who also addressed us at the banquet; and the organizers of this weekend. How fitting that they chose this Shabbat, Parshat Zachor. We must never forget and we must never let the world forget. This museum will especially help young people remember.
“The Holocaust is like a great open pit. The closer you are, the harder it is to grasp its depth… From a distance one actually sees it in all its horror.” — Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
“The affirmation of Jewish life after the Holocaust is itself testimony that the covenant survives and that the voice of G-d continues to be heard, however obliquely and obscurely by the contemporary heirs of those who stood at Sinai.” — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The cornerstone for the new museum was laid in 2018; construction is anticipated to begin in 2020. For more information and how to participate, visit www.ganzach.org.il or call Rachel Yud at 972-3-570-3018.