• August 2013 Upstander of the Month

    The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center is delighted to recognize Max Schulman as our Upstander of the Month for August 2013.

    Max has just finished middle school and will be attending Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School in the fall. When asked about his role as an Upstander, Max said, “I think that it was obvious from an early age that I would be an Upstander. . . I cannot see an incident of bullying or violence in which there is no physical danger for me without doing something.”

    This conviction has led Max to be a leading example in his school and his community. Max utilizes his spare time by volunteering at a horse riding school for disabled children. Where he serves as a helper and assists children who need support while riding. Max does not shy away from his peers’ disabilities but embraces them, showing maturity and compassion. Max’s kindness also extends to school where he steps in and stands up for his peers.  A sense of unity among the student body is important to Max and he strives to make sure everyone feels valued.

    Max is a member of the Hawkeye program, a peer support group in his school. In this program, students can elect members of the student body with whom problems such as bullying can be discussed. Max also belongs to the student advisory board. His character is beautifully summarized by one of his teachers, Meryl Menashe; “Max intervenes whenever needed and also prevents others from demeaning his peers. Unafraid of consequences to himself, he is the defender of the underdog, a role model to his peers, by action and attitude.”

     

     

     

  • My Greatest Achievement

    Being nominated for the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County’s Friedlander Upstander Award was in itself the greatest honor I have ever received. In the beginning I was told that my chances of actually winning were slim because candidates would span all of Nassau County. I was beyond thrilled that I had been chosen by the Wheatley faculty to represent our school. I knew it was a great opportunity to put my story to writing, and even if I didn’t win, I would still be able to let people read my essay and understand how I have been affected by intolerance.

    After reading my essay, my mother’s eyes filled with tears as it had to do with one of the biggest ways tolerance plays a role in my life — my family. My older brother has Autism, and throughout my whole life I have watched as people thought less of him, told him he couldn’t do something, or just treated him differently from everyone else. He is of course different, but he is just as much a person as anyone else; that is what I try relay to people. He has given me such a gift because I am forced to look at the world in another way— I have been on the other side of intolerance.

    The least I can do is spread the knowledge I have obtained from knowing someone as amazing as my brother. It’s definitely not always easy growing up with him. It makes full family vacations near impossible. Even being all in one car together can be a definite struggle, but my whole family is so proud of where he is today. He holds 3 jobs and is a functional member of society; something many people told him he couldn’t be. Because of him, I always feel the need to step in and give the underdog a fighting chance whenever I can. People shouldn’t be treated any differently or with any less respect simply because they are different.

    Winning this award was such a personal accomplishment. It truly is the best kind of award to receive because it was based on who I am as a person. The award ceremony was one of the best nights of my life— listening to so many inspirational people tell their own stories having to do with intolerance. Reading the plaque I was later given nearly brought me to tears. It listed leadership, courage, and the ability to inspire others as three of the qualities of this award. I felt so honored and met so many amazing people. It is definitely a night I will never forget.

    This fall as part of the award I will also be a part of the HMTC’s Annual Middle School Tolerance Conferences, which I know will be another incredible experience. I am beyond excited to be able to work with these students and pass along lessons I have learned. I would like to thank the HMTC and Claire Friedlander Family Foundation for giving me and opportunity to be a part of such an amazing program.

    – Caitlin Calio
    2013 Friedlander Upstander Award Recipient

  • You Can Make A Difference

    Fourteen years ago, June 1999 as a newly Special Education retiree, I found myself in Glen Cove at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County as a docent-in-training. Since the GPS was not invented yet, I needed explicit instructions from Floral Park. I still found myself driving in a conducted maze. Would I know to navigate myself back to a highway and eventually home? This complicated travel route took over my life as I trained to become an effective docent/educator.

    Fourteen years later, while I hope that I attained my goals, I can say that I now know every short-cut, every tertiary road, avoidance of most stop signs, potholes, and traffic lights, in and out of Glen Cove.

    Why the HMTC? When there are innumerable causes one can devote time and energy to. Several years before retirement I visited HMTC, listened to a Survivor testimony, and spent time in the galleries.

    My life changed…

    While I always took the Holocaust seriously, feeling it was not the same as taking an action—an action I have never regretted. An action that brought me to extensive research, and intensive training under the most competent and highly trained leadership. Not to mention the incredibly committed colleagues that has led to lifelong friendships.

    My interaction with the Holocaust Survivors, many of whom had overcome the most heinous and inhumane crimes, changed my life! Their resiliency, their tenacity, and their capacity to breathe in life again and live it to the fullest! Their battle could not have been fought on the battlefield where possibly they could have defended themselves. Their story is a story of people who endured persecution and degradation beyond human understanding.

    Inspired by the Survivors and leadership I set my compass toward reaching thousands of diverse students throughout the school year by capturing and awakening their sensitivities.

    “Treat your peers the way you want to be treated.” The Golden Rule

    Whether it be a two hour educational program or a five hour tolerance program, the Holocaust—a brutal Jewish Genocide is the jumping off point to present-day genocides. Bullying, targeting, isolating, and scapegoating when escalated, become precursors to eventual Genocide.

    Challenged, I interface with students on many different levels hoping their personal experience here at HMTC will arouse greater awareness that they are responsible for their words and actions. It is my professional responsibility to impart my learning to the next generation and hope I have become the facilitator of a new understanding that will nurture respect for one another.

    Shortly I will be leaving New York for greater Chicago and thanks to Jennifer Low, Director of Development here at HMTC, I will be able to continue to bring the Holocaust History to others in the form of education creating new Upstanders—HEROES.

    Find out more about becoming a docent or volunteer at HMTC.

     

  • Have You Met the Book Fairy?

    Would you like to meet neighbors who live close by?  They come from all over the world, and while not ghosts, they may no longer be alive–or maybe they are. You won’t know until you seek them out. They live on the shelves of the Louis Posner Memorial Library.

    I’ve met a group of desperate Jews seeking haven who may be able to find it, in the Dominican Republic area named: Sousa. And, what about those who fled to the Orient…?

    Oh my! Do they have stories to tell! Sometimes, when the lights are out, and the door to the library is locked, I overhear them. But you can meet them in the books on our shelves. They are there, I promise–unless someone else got there first.

    Have you read last year’s “All Long Island Reads” prize-winning book: “The Lost Wife”? We made room for her in our library where she has made friends with many others who were in Terezin at the time she was.  They are all terribly talented, among the most talented in Europe, so what are they doing there?  Read some of the books about it and see. Or, check out the play we wrote and acted in for 16 LI Public Libraries.

    It is called: “Smoke and Ashes.”  We are being asked to perform it again and if you are interested in acting in it, just call Gloria Jackel. I am not in the library much lately, because I am writing our Holocaust Center’s history…You will soon find me living there too.

    See you soon.  Please share your comments– and tell me what you would like to read. Magically, it might just appear…and me too.

    From the “Book Fairy,” otherwise known as Marcia Posner . . . .

     

  • July 2013 Volunteer of the Month

    The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County is pleased to recognize Lily Perry as our Volunteer of the Month.

    Born in Vienna, Austria in 1928, Lily enjoyed a loving childhood with her mother and father.  When Lily was 10 years old, Hitler annexed Austria to Germany, and her family’s life changed forever. Jewish neighbors and friends were humiliated, arrested, and sent to Concentration Camps. When Lily’s father lost his business, the family sought to escape Austria. They planned to go to Shanghai, but instead were able to gain admittance to the United States. They arrived here in 1938, however many relatives were unable to escape and perished during the Holocaust.

    Upon moving to the United States, Lily finished her education and met her husband, who was a Survivor of the Dachau Camp. Together they built a new life in America and Lily became an elementary school teacher. She taught in New York City schools for 27 years before retiring.

    Now, Lily dedicates her time at the Center to giving Survivor testimony to school children. “I have been working at the Center for about four wonderful years. Everyone here is so friendly –it feels like family. I respect and admire everyone who works here–staff, volunteers. Everyone is so dedicated in trying to make this a better world, through education and by example. I really enjoy doing videoconferences, where I can speak to students all over the country as well as Canada and even Australia. I love coming here and sharing my experiences.” Lily is an inspiration and a delight with her joyful disposition and warm smile. This month, Lily celebrates a very special birthday as she turns 85! Congratulations Lily – you are a true asset to our Center and an inspiration to all who meet you.

     

  • July 2013 Upstander of the Month

    The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center is delighted to recognize Jake Javier Ruehl as our Upstander of the Month for July 2013.

    Jake is a junior at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor. His activism began when he perceived special needs students being treated unfairly in his school. Jake took his concerns to the principal who encouraged him to speak with the superintendent. As a result Jake’s actions, along with the district’s leadership, a resolution to address everyone’s perspectives was reached.

    Inspired by the change he was able to achieve, Jake went on to design a student-run anti-bullying team. The team is intended for grades 6-12 where students experiencing bullying can go directly to their peers to seek arbitration, rather than parents or staff. He believes this is a more effective way to solve student problems. After the establishment of his anti-bullying team, Jake attended the HOBI Student Leadership Conference at Adelphi University and hopes to implement his program in the Fall of 2013.

     

  • For Long Island Schools, There’s HMTC

    As another school year comes to an end, this is the time for reflection.  Teachers are always honing their skills and asking, “Did I do the best job for my students this year?”

    One way to answer that question is to ask, “Did I avail myself of all the wonderful resources that the Island has to offer?”  We get caught up in text book work, handouts and common core standards.  Without the big picture that there are sources in our community to aid us, we are missing out on valuable tools of the trade.

    Nestled off the beaten track, but a GEM on the North Shore of Nassau County is the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC). As a member of the educational advisory board for over 10 years, I am here to say that ANY educator who has not been there should be ashamed of him/herself.

    I know what you are going to say, “There is no money in the school budgets for trips; I don’t have time to investigate HMTC with everything I have to do for APPR and SLO, and I am drowning with all the new regulations.”

    I UNDERSTAND and sympathize, BUT we can help you.  We have the most extensive Holocaust library on Long Island for resources; we can do videoconferencing with Holocaust Survivors who speak through the marvels of Smart board technology to your classes; you can enter your students in our annual arts and literary competitions, or our Friedlander Upstander Award that appears on our website, and we can send Holocaust speakers to your schools for Tolerance programs, as well as, Holocaust education.

    The Friedlander Upstander Award is given annually to one student from Nassau County and one student from Suffolk County, who have shown her/himself to be an Upstander against intolerance of any form. It is presented in cooperation with the Police Departments of Nassau and Suffolk Counties and accompanied by a $2,500 educational scholarship generously made possible by the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation. The 2013 winners of the Friedlander Upstander Award are Caitlin Calio andKatelyn Maher. Curious as to how they rose up against intolerance? Visit www.holocaust-nassau.org for their stories.

    We additionally have a wonderful program that is a one day seminar called “Echoes and Reflections” sponsored through Yad Vashem in Israel.  I personally took the course and was floored at how much new information I learned after having taught Holocaust studies for 25 years.  This one day seminar will be given at HMTC on August 30th. For more information on “Echoes and Reflections” please visit www.holocaust-nassau.org

    This museum rejuvenates the soul and provides the visitor with an opportunity to reflect on our past and prepare for our future.  As a shaper of young minds, we need to EMBRACE that we are the future of our country because we provide guidance and support for our students. Come to HMTC and feel the passion. Visit us this summer; follow us on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook.

    Paula Jasser a COMMITTED volunteer of the Center and retired English teacher in the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District.

     

  • Memory, Regret, and Redemption

    I came into the world at an inauspicious time, in an unwelcoming place for a Jewish baby to be born. It was during the unnatural eclipse, the darkness of 1939-1945. The place was, Wegrow, Poland.

    When the Germans entered Poland, they had a specific agenda in mind. Take over that country for Lebensraum (the excuse), get rid of the Jews, and kill the Polish intelligentsia. They certainly didn’t want bright Poles to initiate a resistance against them…so, annihilate the educated clergy, professors, all political and intellectual leaders, On that count, Maria Kowalczyk would not qualify, as she probably only attended school up to 3rd or 4th grade— exactly the level the Nazis considered necessary education for all Slavs, who they claimed, didn’t even need to know numbers past 100… because they were going to be slaves in the 1000 year Reich.

    It was also a time when much of the world had lost its moral compass. What we think of today as ethical and moral behavior was turned on its head. Helping someone might result in your being killed.  Betraying someone would be a reason for reward. Nations could use excuses to turn away our people— “We don’t have a Jewish problem, and we don’t want to import one.” And yet, –And yet…there was a Denmark. There was a Wallenberg, a Sugihara. Books have been written about them, movies made.

    And there, among the famous and revered, was a simple woman, my “Matka”*, Maria Kowalczyk. She embodied the pinnacle of heroism. But you will not find her in film, in your library computer catalog, in a movie, or on youtube.

    And there was I, Gitl Przepiorka, baby daughter of a Jewish couple, Esther and Mendl Przepiorka. There was I, the cross-eyed, dark curly haired little girl who measured her height by sunflower stems. My Matka made me stand in front of them. “Look how big you got, Gucia!” she used to say. The sunflower stem was my yardstick.

    At other times, now named Gucia Kowalczyk, I remember the sunshine, the warm rays, and the gravel under my bare feet. I see scraggly randomly-growing, purple, white, yellow, and pink wild flowers. I make crowns from these for my Matka.

    As it turns out, the flowers died in a day, or two, or three. The child has lived till no longer a child… Matka did not know her after her childhood. Matka no longer got flower crowns; nor did she have anyone to create them with. She only had her memories.

    So it came naturally to me, to speak about her when I was given a phrase from the Pirkei Avot, Hillel: 2:6 (in the Hebrew Liturgy) to comment on at a Yom Kippur afternoon service in 2007.

    “Bamakom sheein anashim, hishtadel lihiot eesh.”

    “In a place where no one behaves like a human being, you must strive to be human.”

    In I had been 15 instead of 6 when I was taken from Matka, I might have been more thoughtful, and acted differently. I might have asked some questions…

    “What did you do for your neighbors not to betray me?” “What did you tell them? What influenced you? Didn’t you know you could be killed? Thank you sounds so inadequate for what you accomplished. But thank you is all I have.” I would have said “thank you for your kindness, for your patience, for your good sense, for your affection, your sacrifice, your risk-taking, your love—for my life. Thank you for being a mother to me. I will not ever forget you. I will make your name known so others will always recognize your goodness!”

    “And what made you so astute about guiding my behavior in front of those German soldiers who came looking for Jews in the middle of the night? How wise of you to make sure I knew my prayers to the Blessed Mother, Mary, the Matka Boska.”

    So on that Yom Kippur afternoon, when we are exhorted to beg forgiveness of those we have willfully or inadvertently wronged, I asked her to forgive me.

    Yes, I have memories. But also regrets.

    If I could change one thing, I would have gone back to visit her when I was an adult. I would have sent her money if she needed it. How deeply I regret never having contacted her all those years. I was so busy “becoming”; more normal, less fearful, Canadian, American. I was becoming a child, a teenager. The psychology of the time was to “Move on. Don’t dwell on the past! Forget the past. Be here now.” When I wanted to write her (at age 8 and 12), I was given the standard excuses. “We don’t have her address,” “You have to go on with your life.” “That was in the past, forget about it.” “You’re here now.” Why didn’t the adults let me write to her? What harm would it have done? I don’t remember my reaction of their reasoning. But I wasn’t forceful enough. I should have insisted! I should have had tantrums… On the other hand, I was taught to be obedient. I always had to be polite. I couldn’t disobey. There was much forgetting. Each day I was blossoming, learning, feeling, growing, catching up.

    Unfortunately these regrets cannot be addressed now. But I was overjoyed last month when, after a wait of two years, a notification arrived from Yad Vashem in Israel, from the department of “The Righteous Among the Nations,” that Maria Kowalczyk and her husband Michal have been honored for their wartime record of saving Jews, at a great risk to themselves. “Perhaps she would forgive me for my past slights.” At least now I have made her name known for others to recognize her sacrifice and courage.

    Unfortunately neither the Kowalczyks nor their next of kin are alive now to attend the usual ceremony at Yad Vashem where they would have been presented with a certificate and medal. However, there will be an honoring ceremony in America. On Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, the event, co-sponsored by the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, and the Polish Museum in Port Washington, will take place at the Community Synagogue in Port Washington. It is only fitting that this religious Polish Catholic woman who saved a Jewish child be honored at an event where the community of all faiths is welcome. I will do my utmost to make the occasion worthy of her. I hope you will join us.

    For more information about the event, please visit the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center’s website at www.holocaust-nassau.org.

    I welcome your thoughts and comments.

    Gloria Glantz

  • June 2013 Upstander of the Month

    Michelle Olakkengil

    The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center is delighted to recognize Michelle Olakkengil as our Upstander of the Month for June 2013.
    Michelle is a senior at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School. The Assistant Principal at her school nominated her for the Upstander award this year for her outstanding work to coordinate and administer Mix It Up Day at her school. This is an ongoing event at JFK High School and this year, Michelle’s work brought the day to a new level. The day provides an opportunity for students who normally do not hang out with each other to get to know one another. Michelle “was able to unit the student body and embolden individuals so step out of their safety zones….By doing so differences become negligible and people are more open to accepting each other.”
    Michelle invited a wide array of speakers to the school for the event, including three Holocaust Survivors from the Center. She also spearheaded the school’s “Stomp Out Bullying Campaign.” This initiative included students, teachers, parents, and other family members. Over one thousand pledges against bullying were collected and students created an acceptance mural.
    In the words of her Assistant Principal, “Michelle recognizes…individuals based on who they really are. She encourages others to get involved.” This deep commitment to action reflects the mission of the Center.

  • June 2013 Volunteer of the Month

    Ethel Katz

    The most profound messages are not typically those shouted from the rooftops or a soapbox, but rather those stated with quiet fortitude. The latter is Ethel Katz’s modus operandi. And she has touched profoundly the lives of hundreds of young people and adults across Long Island with her message of love and tolerance.
    Ethel first came to HMTC as the result of her daughter’s chance encounter on a bus with a person associated with the Center. She began attending lectures and soon became dedicated to both remember her family, who was killed in the Holocaust and carrying the message of Tolerance.
    Ethel recalled the moment when commemoration became her task. She and her family had a close encounter with the Gestapo. They escaped, but “my father, in a tiny, feeble voice, gasped, ‘Who will tell the world of our torment?’ After the War, I swore on his nonexistent grave, ‘I will, Daddy!’ And so I did, and continue to do, with my narrations of our life and death struggle….It is heart-warming to hear from my audience, especially the young, ‘I will tell my children, my friends, my neighbors of your suffering.’”
    Ethel’s impact has not only to do with the past, but also with the future. During one school visit nearly a decade ago, a young girl visited the Center with her class and proclaimed loudly her hatred for Jews. Ethel spoke that day to the whole class, but specifically to her. After Ethel’s testimony, the girl apologized and Ethel welcomed her to the human race. “That is what we work for at the Center: to eliminate prejudice and to promote tolerance and respect for one another, and to cultivate friendship with all God’s children. By working for a better world, we honor and remember the millions of innocent souls, victims of the ultimate hatred.”
    We are deeply honored to recognize Ethel Katz as our Volunteer of the Month for June 2013.