• The Story of Yiddish: The Language of Belonging Part I

    The Story of Yiddish: The Language of Belonging

    By Dr. Linda Burghardt, Scholar-in-Residence


    For many of us, the earliest words we remember learning as children were in Yiddish, the language of home, of family, of warmth and cooking and close-knit community.  And because Yiddish — and Yiddishkeit — often encompassed and defined the world of our parents and our grandparents, it continues to hold a great emotional power that can still connect us to parts of ourselves we experienced in bygone times.

    Recently, I gave a presentation at the Center that explained the origins of this rich and vibrant language and talked about its decline after the Holocaust and its surprising resurgence today.  Here are some of the highlights from the lecture.


    In the Beginning

    Even those who know Yiddish well have differing views of where it came from and how it developed.  What are its roots?  Is it a true language, a dialect, a linguistic mishmash — or something much larger, even a way of living.  And does Yiddish still matter today?  Is it still the best language in which to insult someone, to tell a joke, to complain?

    A good place to start to answer these questions is with an understanding of the language itself, the mame-loshen, as it is called, literally the mother tongue, the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews.

    Linguistically, Yiddish is predominantly a combination of German and Hebrew, with other languages mixed in as well, including some Aramaic, Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian, and also some words from the Romance languages such as French.


    Language Families

    Yiddish belongs to the Indo-European language family, the largest of the many language groups in the world.

    Major Language Families of the World

    Yiddish is an Indo-European language, which means it is part of one of the world’s major language families.  Indo-European is the largest of the 147 language families, a linguistic classification that contains nearly 500 languages and dialects just in itself.  It comes, not surprisingly, from the Germanic branch, one of the oldest — older even than Latin — and that Germanic branch includes English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish and Swedish, in addition to Yiddish.  All these languages derive from a common ancestor, with a common syntax, or grammatical structure, and phonology, the sound system of the language.

    But Yiddish is also so much more than a language.  And that’s because Jews have a deep-seated belief in the power of words.  After all, didn’t God create the world through speech?  The Torah tells us, with great authority, that the world was created with ten sentences.

    My Yiddish Momme

    Sophie Tucker is perhaps the most well known and well loved Yiddish singer of moving melodies.

    Beyond Borders and Boundaries

    Also, there is something about Yiddish that makes it unlike any other language today.  And that’s because all other languages have a country base.  For Jews, Hebrew is the language of a country — Israel.  But Yiddish is something else: a language that transcends borders and boundaries yet unites its speakers in ways that go beyond national identity, working as a cohesive force in a world that often forces people apart.  Yiddish is a language of culture, of community, of belonging.

    The word Yiddish is, of course, a noun, but it is also used as an adjective at the same time to designate attributes of Ashkenazi culture, as in Yiddish music or Yiddish literature.  Thus we begin to see that the Yiddish language and the Yiddish way of life, the culture, are inseparable and, like the double helix, grow and change together, each one reinforcing the other.


    Dr. Linda Burghardt

    Dr. Linda Burghardt, the Scholar-in-Residence at HMTC, is a journalist and author from Great Neck, NY.  She worked as a freelance reporter for the New York Times for 20 years and is the author of three non-fiction books.  Her articles and essays have appeared in newspapers across the U.S., and she has lectured to both national and international audiences.  She holds a Ph.D. from LIU Post and is the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Vienna.

  • The Time I Was An Upstander, Not a Bystander

    Michael (3rd from right),a student at Wellington C. Mepham High School recieved Honorable Mention for the Friedlander Upstander Award at HMTC’s 2018 Tolerance Benefit.  His essay bellow demonstrates that he has acted as an Upstander against bullying and intolerance.

    Freshman year of high school was definitely my caterpillar to butterfly phase.  I grew so much by developing connections with life long friends and learning about their culture.  My best friend was a beautiful and kindhearted Muslim girl named Rina.  We got placed next to each other in earth science and it was the best.  Rina stood out in the crowd because she wears a hijab, a head covering scarf worn in public by some Muslim women.  She decided to start wearing the hijab freshman year so it was pretty new to her.  Unfortunately, she told me that the day she put on the hijab was the day people started discriminating against her, calling her a terrorist or part of ISIS, and in one case was attacked by a woman who tried to pull it off her head.  Those stories shocked me to my core and I always hoped that nothing like that would ever happen again.  A few months later, a bright sunny April day, was the day I became an Upstander.  As Rina and I worked on our lab, a boy decided to ask Rina questions.  One question many people as Rina is, “Do you hear that in the shower?” laughing, Rina said ‘Nope!” But the boy proceded to continually ask Rina hurtful and racist questions while also making Muslim jokes.  He said “Are you an ISIS bride?”, “You’re probably going to bomb the school”, “Why the hell would you ever cover up your hair?”.  Worse things came out of his mouth and both Rina and I were upset, shocked, and disgusted at what this boy was saying.  Rina was visibly upset, not saying anything, head turned and shaking.  My heart was beating so quickly because I couldn’t believe I was witnessing this kind of behavior.  Without even thinking I turned around sharply, asked politely for him to please stop.  That didn’t work.  Again I said with a little more force “PLEASE stop”.  He said he was not doing anything wrong but I explained to him that he was being racist towards someone just because of their religion and how they display it.  Her hijab, a symbol of pride towards her religion, is no different than wearing a cross around your neck or a yarmulke.  I asked this stunned boy “How would it feel if someone started shouting racist comments to you? About how you’re Italian and how you wear that big cross around your neck?”  Instead of fighting fire with fire, Rina and I both decided to teach this boy the meaning of equality and difference of religion, to not judge a person based on what they look like or what they practice, but how big their heart is.  Even though Rina was my best friend and best friends stand up for each other, I stood up for everyone.  Every color and religion.  This moment forever gave me the strength and power to furthermore be an Upstander in my every day life.

  • Change the World

    The ever-growing incidents of anti-Semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic have had many looking over their shoulders in recent months, but the devastating Pittsburgh synagogue massacre that left eleven people brutally slaughtered has evoked images of Nazi Germany like never before. Seeing innocent people murdered in cold blood in their place of worship simply because they were Jews is a horrific reminder that we cannot let the Holocaust be forgotten and that it is crucial to teach the younger generation about racial tolerance while empowering them to change the world by promoting harmony and positivity. An all-new star-studded music video shot in Warsaw with footage of the POLIN Museum of Jewish History aims to bring that message home, showing that educating our children is the key to acceptance, the first step towards eradicating hatred and racial bias.

    Featuring the legendary Dudu Fisher, the son of a Holocaust survivor, Israeli superstar Gad Elbaz, Saul Dreier of the Holocaust Survivor Band and more than 80 Polish children of all religions, Change the World offers a much-needed message of hope at a time when so many are still grieving the Pittsburgh bloodbath that has left the world reeling. “In a world that so often is filled with darkness, we need to find the light that gives our world its beauty and its purpose,” said Margules. “It is the purity and innocence of the children that will guide us in that direction, helping us to change the world so that peace and brotherhood can reign supreme once again.” Banishing the chaos and animosity that breed anti-Semitism is crucial, explained Cecelia Margules, who wrote both the music and the lyrics for Change the World, in addition to serving as the video’s executive producer along with Arie Taykan and Sylvia Kahana. “We are living in a world filled with political rhetoric, hate, and antagonism, all created by adults and the time has come to say enough,” said Daniel Finkelman, producer, and director of Change the World. “The time has come to for us to start a new chapter, so that our children can live in a new world, one that is filled with acceptance and tolerance.” Dreier, a Holocaust survivor who was whipped with a belt by infamous SS commander Amon Goeth, celebrated his 94th birthday while filming in Warsaw. Sharing the occasion with friends and a group of children on Polish soil was an uplifting and emotional experience, one that demonstrated that positive relationships and tolerance can be a reality. Those sentiments come alive in Change the World, which was co-directed by Aharon Orian, with line production and concept written by Chaya Greenberg. “Why did I go back to Poland?” mused Dreier. “Because I believe in the children. And I believe that they are the key to ending anti-Semitism and making sure that what happened in my childhood should never happen again.”

  • Book Review: Dirty Jewess’: A Woman’s Courageous Journey to Religious and Political Freedom

    Dirty Jewess: A Woman’s Courageous Journey to Religious and Political Freedom by Sylvia Fishbaum

    In expectation of Sylvia Fishbaum’s appearance at the HMTC  in the Spring of 2019, here is a glimpse of what its author endured during her journey to religious and political freedom as described in her memoir: Dirty Jewess’: A Woman’s Courageous Journey to Religious and Political Freedom.

    While the Russians used all their strength and resolve to conquer the Third Reich’s forces, one by one the countries they reclaimed, the concentration camps and the local populace they freed, and the Resistance who joined them, paid a terrible price. They were not returned to their former freedom, but had become subjects of the USSR.  From now on, it would be the USSR that dictated to them who they were and what they were  allowed to do.  Despite being freed from the Germans, the recaptured countries were places from which one strove to escape, and Sylvia Fishbaum, eventually did.

    Picture this:

    It is Czechoslovakia.  The war is long over.  It is now 1961, but the same fury that fed Russia the strength to fight the Nazis, has now been marshaled against the citizens it freed.  They are living in a cage of rules and regulations, and the author of this book can no longer stand it.  She has about her: parents who had been freed from Hitler’s camps by Stalin’s soldiers; two lovely sisters born since who have accommodated to the strictures of the regime, each in their own way; a few close friends, none of whom are Jewish  but who are however, loyal to her, as she courageously strives to make her way out of the steel grip of Communism and the local antisemitism.  After a stay in Italy, and with the help of HIAS, she finally reaches New York City, a new love and a new life.

    There is also a side story of her art teacher, the compassionate dwarf, Ludovit Feld whose talent and humanity the HMTC has already acclaimed in a previous exhibit, and who is particularly precious to the author who plans to honor him in the near future.  I expect we will all want to make this book our own and look forward to meeting its warm hearted, brave, lovely author, who is to make a personal presentation at HMTC in the Spring of 2019.  I know that I do.

    Review by Marcia Posner, the Louis Posner Memorial Library/HMTC of Nassau County

  • A Word from HMTC’s Chairman

  • Photos from the 10th Annual Golf and Games Outing

    Chairman of the Board Steven Markowitz with our honorees Andrea and John Stark

    Golfers ready to play on the course.

    Golfers getting ready to head out onto the course.

    Games player enjoying Canasta, Bridge, and Mah Jongg

  • HMTC’s 10th Annual Golf and Games Outing

     Join us Monday, August 6 for HMTC’s 10th Annual Golf and Games Outing!

    Come to a new location at Fresh Meadow Country Club for a fun day of golf, games, shopping, and more.  Spots are filling up fast and the day is rapidly approaching!  For more details about packages and prices or to register online visit www.hmtcli.org/golf or contact Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or dlom@hmtcli.org.

  • Steven Markowitz Elected to Fourth Term as Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County

    Glen Cove, NY… Steven Markowitz, of Great Neck, NY, has been re-elected to a fourth term as Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC).

    Under Mr. Markowitz’s leadership HMTC has opened the state-of-the-art Claire Friedlander Education Institute, embarked on a restoration of the Children’s Memorial Garden which will feature an outdoor amphitheater, and will oversee the installation of interactives and other technology in HMTC’s world-class museum. In the 2017-2018 school year, while Mr. Markowitz has been chairman, over 14,700 students from across Long Island, the metro-New York region, the United States and the world, visited HMTC for educational programming or took part in a video-conference with a Survivor.  HMTC has also expanded programming with the Nassau and Suffolk County police departments, and nursing students from area colleges and universities.

    In addition to his role as Chairman of HMTC, Mr. Markowitz is founder and past chairman of MultiState Associated Inc., one of the largest lobbying companies in the United States. Active in community, religious and political affairs since he moved to Great Neck with his family in 1975, he is one of the longest serving members of the Great Neck Student Aid Fund, served for many years on the Executive Committee of the Board of the Gold Coast Arts Center and is a long time member of the Board of Zoning Appeals of the Village of Great Neck. A member of the Board of Trustees of Temple Israel of Great Neck for 30 years, Mr. Markowitz is also a past Temple president. He has been the local Democratic Party leader for many years and is President of the Great Neck Democratic Club and a Vice Chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee.

    For the past fifteen years the major focus of Steve’s community activities has been HMTC.  Founded over twenty five years ago by a small group of Holocaust survivors, the Center has grown to become the pre-eminent Long Island resource for the teaching of the history and lessons of the Holocaust.  Located in Glen Cove, the Center includes a world class museum and library on the Holocaust, and an education institute where thousands of young people and adults learn both the history of one of the darkest periods of human existence and how it relates to the conduct of their lives today.

    After serving on the Board of the Center for a number of years, Steve became a Vice Chairman and in 2012 he was elected as the third Chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center.  On June 13, 2018 he was elected to his fourth term as Center Chairman.  Though it’s a volunteer position, it is a full time job overseeing the important work undertaken by the staff of the Center and hundreds of volunteers, as well as raising the money to fund its operations.

    Steve and Trudy still live in the same home into which they moved in 1975 and are grateful to have their daughters, sons-in-law, and, most importantly, their four grandchildren, relatively close by.

    For more information about HMTC, call (516) 571-8040, visit www.hmtcli.org, or find the Center on social media at Facebook.com/HMTCNY and Twitter.com/HolocaustTolCtr.

  • Butterfly Release at HMTC


    Sixth graders from Lynbrook North Middle School visited HMTC and enjoyed a tour of the museum.  Following the tour they release butterflied in the garden in remembrance of the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered during the Holocaust.  The students were also given the opportunity to share poetry they had written in response to learning about the Holocaust in school.

  • Washington’s Promise to Minorities and its Meaning for our Center


    Washington’s Promise to Minorities and its Meaning for our Center

    by Frank Miller-Small

    It’s now no more that tolerance is spoken of as it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights…

    … the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…

    Every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be no one to make him afraid.

    — excerpted from George Washington’s letter to
    the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, 1790

    Our country’s rising tide of intolerance toward minorities caused me to wonder about our founders’ values and, if knowing that, might help our Center foster greater tolerance.  I wanted to know if, as some claim, we were intended to be a white Christian nation, relegating minorities to an inferior status.  Or, did our founders envision an egalitarian, multi-cultural America, with different groups living in harmony with each other?  Were Americans, perhaps, of mixed opinions on this issue? My search for answers led me to an insightful collection of essays entitled, “Washington’s Rebuke to Bigotry.”

    This book, written mostly by well- credentialed scholars, educators, and legal experts, explores the significance of our first president’s important, yet relatively little known, 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. It further examines subsequent American responses to the intent of the letter.   To better comprehend the letter’s meaning at the time, the volume begins by providing an historical perspective, which I’ll briefly summarize below.

    At the letter’s writing, Rhode Island, founded by Puritan dissident Roger Williams in the mid-17th century, had long granted religious freedom to minorities, much to the disdain of the other colonies.  Concerned that its rights would be trampled upon, Rhode Island delayed ratifying statehood until the Bill of Rights (1791) promised religious liberty.

    Washington celebrated the new country’s unity by visiting Newport, and, while there, several religious groups gave welcoming speeches, the most memorable by Moses Seixas, president of the Hebrew Congregation. Several days later, Washington penned his famous letter, responding to the Jewish hope that America would treat them with greater tolerance than had been their long experience. Washington’s letter, highlights of which are quoted above, assured the Jews that all minorities would have equal freedom of religion under the law.  Moreover, the government, in our current idiom, would provide protection from “hate crimes” and other forms of prejudice. These promises, from a head of a national government, were revolutionary, unprecedented in the Western World.

    However, they didn’t arise in a vacuum. The amazing success of Rhode Island’s religious freedom experiment provided the main inspiration and model.  Enlightenment ideas and the ideals and recent victories of Madison and Jefferson to wean Virginia away from a state-supported Anglican Church also lent support.

    The intention of the letter and the way it was interpreted went well beyond promising religious freedom to the Jews.  Widely circulated, read and discussed, it gave hope of toleration to all minorities.  More than merely a legal doctrine, this letter presented a vision of a moral, idealistic, harmonious national community.

    Although embraced by minorities, many intellectuals, some leaders, and other sympathizers, the struggle for the fulfillment of this vision had just begun.  Several states continued to use tax support to promote the Christian religion.  Many states had religious tests for public office.  Remarkably, the main reason for eventual Church-State separation derived from the plethora of competing Protestant sects, each fearing the other’s government control, and the last government established Church persisted until 1833, in Massachusetts.  It took several more decades to attain full legal toleration of all religions at the state level.

    America’s initial ambivalence toward minorities, shown by the disparity between the letter’s lofty ideals and the states’ stubborn opposition to them, set the stage for subsequent ambivalent development.  This ambivalence began even with the founders’ original vision which contained some striking contradictions. Washington’s statements and the year-later Bill of Rights didn’t mention the rights of women, ethnic or racial minorities, or slaves.  Moreover, the negative ramifications of this ambivalence played out throughout most of US history, where Jews and other minorities were, at best, merely tolerated by the White Protestant majority.

    This conflict between ideals and realities exposes one of the central American moral paradoxes.  Although there has been and continues to be tremendous discrimination toward many minority groups, this co-exists with the ever-present and potent promise of an inclusive America.  This promise has roused the voices of toleration for many compassionate documents  and court decisions as well as fueled minority rights struggles by individuals and groups, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Marriage Equality Act.

    Armed with the knowledge of the paradoxical nature of Washington’s original vision and its aftermath, we can use this to help our Center broaden the circle of tolerance. We can use Washington’s promise as a springboard to conversations about our present state of minority rights.  We can hold up the examples of the choices American upstanders, such as George Washington and Martin Luther King, made to promote greater minority inclusion as courageous role models. We can employ the circumstances surrounding upstander and opposition choices to initiate and work through difficult and complex conversations about inclusion.

    We can relate these difficult conversations to the important idea, implied in Washington’s letter, that democracy can only work if people cooperate, and this can only happen if people feel free from prejudicial fear. Ideally, as John Dewey said, schools should be the training ground for democracy, the place where young people learn peaceful, cooperative living and its connection to the democratic process.  Unfortunately, many schools don’t have the time, interest, or capability to do this.

    Our Center fills this important void.  We make the democratic connection and provide the unique opportunity to have the aforementioned difficult conversations, helping students recognize and resolve differences by working through them in a civil way.  During this process, as Adam Strom, Facing History educator says, we help them “… separate fact from rumor by breaking own stereotypes and countering myth and misinformation.”  This is what our Center does so well and one reason why our Center is so much needed, particularly, in these troubled times.

    If we can integrate the lessons borne of the American struggle toward inclusion with the lessons of tolerance learned from the Holocaust, this dual focus will brighten our torch to illuminate the dark places in our midst.

    To charge our energies for this challenge, we can summon the words of African –American poet, Langston Hughes, to resound in our ears:

    O, yes I say it plain

    America never was America to me,

    And yet I swear this oath –

    America will be!

    May his faith be ours, and may it inspire us, as we go back to the trenches, to carry forth the spirit of Washington’s letter, despite the strong headwinds, and continue our vital work.