• 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.

     

     

  • Tribute Dinner Honoree Profile: Stuart Narofsky

    Architect Stuart Narofsky, will be honored with the Public Service Award at HMTC’s 25th Annual Tribute Dinner on Wednesday, October 18, 2017, at Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation in Old Westbury, NY.

    Stuart Narofsky, FAIA, is the principal of Narofsky Architecture, a multi-discipline design firm founded in 1983. Stuart is the recipient of the AIA Long Island “Lifetime Achievement Award.” The Center is deeply indebted to Stuart for all of the time and effort he has donated to the project to restore and enhance our Children’s Memorial Garden. His projects are highly recognized through design awards, national and international publications, videos and exhibitions. Dedicated to pro bono service in South America, Stuart has lectured and overseen workshops at various universities in Bolivia and Argentina. He is a past president of AIA Long Island and is currently vice chair of AIA National’s Custom Residential Architects Network.

    Other honorees at this year’s Tribute Dinner are Ricky and Rabbi Myron Fenster will will be receiving the Legacy Award; and Renee Katz and Sheila Rind who will be co-recipients of the Bruce Morrell Education Award. The Consul General of Israel, Ambassador Dani Dayan, will be the keynote speaker. In addition, 3D pop artist Charles Fazzino will unveil “After the Darkness,” which he created exclusively for HMTC.

    To purchase tickets, visit HMTC’s website or contact Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or dlom@hmtcli.org.

  • Adolescent Advocates: Making Change Happen

    The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC), supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations, as part of the Communities Against Hate initiative, is pleased to announce Adolescent Advocates, a new and unique program to train and empower teens to combat the rise of hate crimes on Long Island.

    HMTC is looking for Adolescent Advocates in grades 7-11 who are committed to bringing change to their communities and adult mentors, such as educators or youth group leaders, who are currently working with young adults to learn how to conduct trainings and be ongoing advisors. After going through the Adolescent Advocate training session, students/youth/graduates will have the tools they need to be effective advocates for themselves and their peers. They will then be able to enact tolerance action plans in their communities, with support from their trained partner adult mentors.

    Training sessions for Adolescent Advocates will take place on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at the Boys and Girls Club, 471 Atlantic Avenue, Bellport NY; and on Sunday, October 22, 2017 at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY. Mandatory Training for adult mentors will take place Thursday, August 17, 2017, at HMTC.

    Teens and adults interested in participating in Adolescent Advocates must fill out an online application, which can be found on HMTC’s website at hmtcli.org/advocates. Space is limited. Mentor applications are due by June 30, 2017. Student applications will be accepted through September 1, 2017.

    HMTC was prompted to create this program by the rise in racist, anti-immigrant and antisemitic incidents since Election Day, 2016. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that 40% of all incidents occur in educational settings. HMTC is committed to empowering students with the tools they need to not only react to incidents of prejudice but to be proactive in preventing those incidents in their schools and communities.

    Communities Against Hate is a national initiative to collect data and respond to incidents of violence, threats, and property damage motivated by hate across the United States. The initiative leverages a reporting database (www.CommunitiesAgainstHate.org) that aggregates reports from both victims, witnesses and news accounts of hate incidents, as well as offers legal resources and social services to support people in need. Communities Against Hate aims to aggregate data on hate incidents, providing legal and social support, raising awareness, and educating the public on the prevalence of hate.

    The initiative is led by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and partner organizations representing diverse communities that reflect the fabric of America, including: Center for Community Change; Color of Change; Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network); Hollaback!; Muslim Advocates; National Council of La Raza; National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC); New York City Anti-Violence Project; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; The Sikh Coalition; National Disability Rights Network; South Asian Americans (SAALT) and the Transgender Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center is serving as a strategic advisor to the initiative.

    For more information about how to apply to be a part of the Adolescent Advocates program contact Helen Turner, Adolescent Advocates Program Manager, at (516) 571-8040 or helenturner@hmtcli.org, or visit hmtli.org.

     

  • TriCounty Independent Insurance Agents Association Presents Donation to HMTC

    Recently members of the TriCounty Independent Insurance Agents Association visited HMTC. While at the Center the TriCounty IIAA members took a tour of the museum and presented a donation to HMTC’s Chairman, Steven Markowitz. The group raised funds for the donation at a recent installation dinner. Pictured are (L to R: ) Adam Erickson, President of TriCounty IIAA; Steven Markowitz, Chairman of HMTC; Ronald Brunell, Member of HMTC’s Board of Directors and Treasurer of TriCounty IIAA; James Bastian, Immediate Past President of TriCounty IIAA; and Stephen Folan, a Past President of TriCounty IIAA.

     

  • Major New Sculpture by Michael Izrael Galmer on Permanent Exhibit at HMTC

    HMTC is pleased to announce, Tears of the Holocaust, a major new sculpture by internationally acclaimed silver artist Michael Izrael Galmer, is now on permanent exhibit at the Center. Mr. Galmer created Tears of the Holocaust in response to his grandchildren’s questions about the meaning of the Holocaust and the sculpture presents a new philosophic view of the Holocaust as the ultimate testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

    He said, “I chose to donate the sculpture to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, because of its potential to inspire future generations with perseverance and hope. The sculpture is meant to put the Holocaust into a context of pride in the strength of the Jewish people, and all victims who ultimately prevail over evil.”

    Mr. Galmer was born in the former Soviet Union in 1947. In 1981, he and his family immigrated to the United States. Upon arrival in the U.S., Mr. Galmer founded Galmer Ltd. in a small workshop in Long Island City. His extraordinary talent was swiftly discovered by elite connoisseurs, Tiffany & Co., and ultimately arts and Jewish museums, as well as historical societies. Galmer pieces are in the permanent collections of The John Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum & Library, Cooper Hewitt of the Smithsonian Museum of Design and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    For more information call HMTC at (516) 571-8040.

  • HMTC Can Help People Scale the Empathy Wall

    By Franklin Miller-Small

    “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

    • Stephen Covey, from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

    “We, on both sides, wrongly imagine that empathy with the ‘other’ side brings an end to clearheaded analysis when, in truth, it’s on the other side of that bridge that the most important analysis can begin.”

    • Arlie Russell Hochschild,

    from Strangers in Their Own Land:  Anger and Mourning on the American Right

    A liberal friend of mine fantasized, “I wish the whole middle part of our country could just vanish, and we’d be left with only the Coastal Blue States.”  A conservative work colleague moaned, “I’ve got to move to a Red State – I can no longer stand living in a Blue State.”  Usually a very tolerant person, I admonished my Real Estate agent, as my wife and I sought to buy a house, “Please don’t take me to any more neighborhoods displaying American flags.” When she challenged, “Why not?” I shot back, “Because they’ve come to represent a right-wing version of patriotism I’m not comfortable with.”  Is this really happening in America?  If so, can we do anything about it?

    These personal examples of sharp divisions fit into a broad trend in our society.  When Americans were surveyed in the 1960’s whether it would matter if their child married someone of the opposite political party, only 5% of both parties agreed.   Asked the same question in 2010, 33% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans registered their discomfort.  Similarly, growing numbers of our fellow citizens choose to live near others who share their political views, resulting in increased polarization. Moreover, a study found that those most politically engaged “see other people not just as wrong but as so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Evidence such as this leads some authorities to assert our widespread political differences are a more potent source of hateful prejudice than race.

    Disturbed by this dangerous rift, eminent liberal Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Russell Hochschild, in her recent book, Strangers in Their Own Land:  Anger and Mourning on the American Right, attempts to understand the “other” side.  She spent the last five years in the heart of Louisiana’s arch conservative enclave, her mission to “truly listen to the other side in order to understand why they believe – and feel the way they do.”  She particularly focused on their emotions which she believes underlies political views.  To accomplish this, without judgment, she shared deeply in their lives and conducted extensive interviews.

    Hochschild was determined to climb over the empathy wall that prevented liberals and conservatives from effectively communicating with each other.  An empathy wall she defines as “an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhoods are rooted in different circumstances.”  Throughout her research she trusted in the possibility, without losing our beliefs, to understand others from the inside, see from their perspective, and grasp the connection between life, feeling, and politics.

    Her journey began by trying to unravel the knot of why so many in this region desperately need the Federal Government’s assistance with pollution, health, education, and poverty yet reject it.  At first she searched for the answers in the cultural terrain– the companies, State government, Church or Fox News.  Remarkably, she observed these problems were scarcely addressed by them, although they all expressed, to varying degrees, disdain of Big Government. Unable to find a sufficient cause to explain the discrepancy, she eventually theorized a larger influence that explained the paradox.  She called it the Deep Story which she created based on scraps of evidence gleaned from many experiences and conversations.

    The Deep Story becomes the centerpiece of her empathic understanding.  It’s a “feels-as-if” story, told in the language of symbols, removing judgment and facts, and simply telling how things feel.  Through this story both sides of the political spectrum can stand back and explore the “subjective prism” through which the other side sees the world. In metaphorical form the story represents the hopes, fears, pride, shame, resentment and anxiety in people’s lives.  A summarized, conservative version of this story appears below.

    You’re patiently waiting in the middle of a stagnant line up a hill, leading to the American Dream.  In the back of the line there are many poor colored people.  Then you get alarmed because people are cutting in line, not following rules like you.  These are Blacks through Affirmative Action, and others like women, immigrants, and refugees.  Soon you become suspicious of who’s helping the line cutters.  You see a President who’s sympathetic to them and not to you.  All the negative talk of whites, males, and Fundamental Christians strips away your honor.  Like salt to a wound, you’re insulted or ignored throughout the media, and you feel like a “stranger in your own land.”  You struggle to feel seen and heard.

    Hochschild sent this Deep Story to many of her Tea Party friends whom she’d known for several years, asking them if this narrative fit their experience.  Without exception they nodded their agreement, some with minor modifications.  Her initial empathy allowed her to connect across difference and forge strong friendships which, in turn, afforded her ever higher levels of insight into their predicament.

    We all need to get to know people on the other side, Hochschild recommends.   For liberals, she assures they won’t find conservatives to be selfish, as some might expect.  Probably, she predicts, leftists will meet individuals who can model healthy community, toughness and the power to deal with hardship.  Liberals might also discover other positive  qualities like loyalty, sacrifice, and determination.  More importantly, through mental and emotional interactions, they’ll be able to put themselves in the other’s shoes, possibly gaining respect and seeing things somewhat differently.  A similar surprising, enriching and transforming experience awaits conservatives meeting liberals.

    Inspired by the lessons of the Holocaust, our Center champions the humanity of all individuals and groups. We debunk stereotypes inviting prejudice which can escalate to violence.  It’s true that our nation’s demeaning political sentiments don’t fit any of the traditional prejudicial categories such as race, religion, or sexual orientation.  However, the ramifications arising from this negative political situation beg for our involvement. We’re called to action because this cancer, like other forms of prejudice, not only dehumanizes our neighbors but can morph into “violence,” in this case taking the forms of a dysfunctional political system and a toxic social environment.

    Our Center can play an important role in repairing this breach.  We can, as Hochschild advocates, encourage people to get to know some people on the other side.  As we’ve always maintained, becoming acquainted with those we’ve prematurely judged often leads to greater knowledge, appreciation and closeness.  In addition, facilitating empathy by holding constructive dialogues across political difference could promote more trust, moderate views, and lead to more fruitful solutions to common problems.

    At a time when partisanship is rampant, tempers are flaring, and precious few are reaching across the aisle, HMTC can be a beacon of tolerance, enabling people to scale the empathy wall – the surest way to heal the wounds of our current crisis.

     

  • HMTC Presents Spring Professional Development Workshops for Educators

     

    Educators will have three opportunities to attend professional development workshops at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC) this Spring. Survivor: Aron’s Story, will take place on Tuesday, May 9, at 4 p.m.; Teaching Mockingbird, a Facing History and Ourselves workshop, will take place on Tuesday, May 16 at 10 a.m.; and Choice and Responsibility During the Holocaust, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum workshop, will take palace on Thursday, June 8, at 9:30 a.m. All three workshops will be held at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY.

    Humanities and art educators are encouraged to attend Survivor: Aron’s Story on May 9. Author Alex Teplish will immerse the audience into his grandfather’s memoir, utilizing Shoah Foundation video testimony, artwork from the book, as well as historical music and imagery. The first part of Survivor: Aron’s Story shared Aron’s experience of living in Odessa, Ukraine and his survival as a teenager until the Romanian/Nazi occupation during WWII. Aron’s story, visually depicted in graphic novel form, allows readers to experience the events first hand, though the eyes of young Aron himself.

    The May 16 workshop will introduce Facing History’s resource, Teaching Mockingbird, which incorporates civic education, ethical reflection and historical context into a literary exploration of Harper Lee’s beloved novel. Participants will discover new interdisciplinary teaching strategies that reinforce historical and literacy skill and will also receive a free copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. This workshop is recommended for 6-12th grade English Language Arts, Social Studies or Humanities educators. There is a $10 registration fee for this workshop.

    On June 8, HMTC and USHMM will present a one-day workshop that will provide teachers with resources and pedagogical approaches to teach the Holocaust. The workshop is open to middle school, high school and community college educators, as well as pre-service educators and administrators. Participants will receive books and resources from USHMM and a certificate of participation at the completion of the program. A light lunch will be provided. There is a $15 registration fee for this workshop.

    To register for the Facing History workshop on May 16, visit https://www.facinghistory.org/calendar/w2017ny5-new-approach-teaching-kill-mockingbird/ . For more information or to register for Aron’s Story or the USHMM workshop, contact Tracy Garrison-Feinberg at (516) 571-8040 or tracygarrisonfeinberg@hmtcli.org.

  • “Descent into Darkness”


    Irene Hizme and René Slotkin with their mother in 1942.

    HMTC presents a Yom Hashoah Holocaust Commemoration program, Descent into Darkness, featuring testimony from Twin Survivors of Dr. Josef Mengele, Irene Hizme and René Slotkin, on Sunday, April 23, 2017, at 2 p.m. The program will take place at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY. This is an extremely rare opportunity to hear direct testimony from twins who miraculously survived horrific “research studies” by Mengele, Auschwitz’s infamous “Angel of Death.”

    Irene and René were born in Czechoslovakia. Their father was murdered in Auschwitz-Berkenau in December 1941. The twins and their mother were sent first to Tehresienstadt, and in 1943, they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After four months together the twins were taken by Mengele for “experimentation” and their mother was murdered that night. They were six years old. Irene said, “To talk about it is a descent into darkness.” Irene and René were separated at liberation and reunited in the United States in 1950. Both Irene and René live on Long Island. They may be the last living Twin Survivors of Mengele.

    There is a $10 suggested donation to attend. Seats are limited; RSVP in advance is strongly recommended. To RSVP contact Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or dlom@hmtcli.org.

  • Film Screening of “No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story” at HMTC

    The Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center’s David Taub Reel Upstanders Film Series presents a screening of the film, No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank’s Story, on Sunday, March 12, 2017, at 12:30 p.m., at HMTC, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY.

    The film is about the stunning discovery of lost letters by Anne Frank’s father, Otto, which reveal an unknown chapter of their family’s life. There will be a discussion following the film with Joan Adler, author of For the Sake of the Children: The Letters between Otto Frank and Nathan Straus, Jr.

    There is a requested donation of $10. RSVP to Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or dlom@hmtcli.org. Reel Upstanders was established in honor of David Taub (1932-2010), a Holocaust Survivor and respected friend to HMTC.

  • Toby Tobias to Perform “Journey from Johannesburg” at HMTC

    South African born songwriter and musician, Toby Tobias, shares his personal story of hope during a time of division, war and upheaval across three continents during a performance of Journey from Johannesburg, Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 2 p.m., at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County, Welwyn Preserve, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY.

    Toby Tobias’s life story, captured in his original music, begins in Johannesburg, South Africa under apartheid rule, then continues in Israel as it battled for its own identity, and finally to America where he makes his home. In this special performance, Toby will be joined by members of Glen Cove’s Calvary A.M.E. Church Choir led by music director , Robert Meeks and Choir Director, Dolores Waller. Huntington based musicians, Mike Nugent on guitar and Richie Guererro, on percussion, will round out the band.

    There is a requested donation of $10. RSVP to Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or dlom@hmtcli.org.