• “While There’s Life…” a Book Review by Marcia Posner


     by Ruth Minsky Sender

    After writing three books, all memoirs : “The Cage,”  “To Life,” (which you may borrow from our library) and “The Holocaust Lady,” Ruth Minsky Sender Sender has recently published a book of poems, mainly written after 1950.  They are poems of the deepest emotions and yes, perhaps trust too. “Each poem is a delicate work of art.” wrote one reviewer. Most have been translated from the Yiddish and a few from the  Polish, during her  incarceration in the Mittelsteine Slave Labor Camp (1944-1945).  She wrote them in a little notebook given to her as a gift by the Nazi Commandant as a reward for entertaining the guards at Christmas, which all 400 Jewish slave labor girls were forced to do. Ruth would also read her poems each Sunday to the 50 other women sharing the room with her.

    Discussing the writing of poetry, has your heart ever been so heavy that you,too, wrote poetry to sustain yourself ? Ruth Minsky Sender was blessed to have a mother who managed to maintain hope, saying: “Where there is life is hope;” even in the camp, until she died. Perhaps that is why Ruth was able to pour out her feelings in poetry written secretly during her stay at the slave labor camp. They were not only poems of despair, but also of infinite wisdom and hope.  As one reviewer wrote: “While There’s Life . . .” is a volume that should be read and re-read by people of all faiths.  It is a portrait not just of survival, but of how one woman transformed her pain in humanity’s darkest hour into art. . . into life.”

    How fortunate are we, to be free, to be able to share, words so rare.  Hoorah, Ruth Minsky Sender. Welcome to HMTC.

    Mrs. Minsky Sender will be at HMTC on Sunday, May 19, 2019 at 3:00 pm for a poetry reading and book signing.  Please RSVP to info@hmtcli.org or (516)571-8040. $10 suggested donation; light refreshments will be served.

  • You’re Invited to The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County’s Tolerance Benefit: “Taste of Long Island” and Silent Auction Monday, May 6, 2019, at 6:00 p.m.

    Glen Cove, NY…  Experience a taste of Long Island’s best restaurants at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County’s (HMTC) annual Tolerance Benefit: “Taste of Long Island.”  This year’s benefit features a tasting event and silent auction on Monday, May 6, 2019, at 6 p.m. at Westbury Manor, 1100 Jericho Turnpike, Westbury, NY.  In addition, three middle and high-school students will be presented with the Friedlander Upstander Award.

    Bidding at the Silent Auction

    The Tolerance Benefit is a way for donors, volunteers, Holocaust Survivors and members of the community to join together to raise money in support of HMTC’s Holocaust, anti-bias and anti-bullying education programs. Those donations make it possible to provide transportation for school groups to visit HMTC’s world-class museum and to hear first-hand testimony from a Holocaust Survivor and for nurses and law enforcement officers to participate in free training workshops.

    The Friedlander Upstander Award, presented by HMTC and the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation, in conjunction with the Nassau and Suffolk County Police Departments, is awarded to Nassau and Suffolk County middle school and high school students who have acted as Upstanders against bullying or intolerance in any of its forms. Recipients receive a $2,500 scholarship.

    The Tolerance Benefit is sponsored by Samar Hospitality, the Ike, Molly & Steven Elias Foundation, Stewart Title Associates, The Claire Friedlander Family Foundation, and Mojo-Stumer Associates. Other Sponsorship opportunities are available. Tickets are $135 a person and a ten-pack of tickets is available for $1,200. To make a donation or purchase tickets or a sponsorship online visit http://weblink.donorperfect.com/tolerance2019.

    For more information about sponsorship packages and to purchase tickets, contact Deborah Lom at (516) 571-8040 or dlom@hmtcli.org.

  • HMTC in the Community: Lila Alexander

    H.H. Wells Middle School, Brewster, NY

    On Friday, February 15, 2019, HMTC docent and educator, Lila Alexander, spoke at H.H. Wells Middle School in Brewster, NY, to two groups of eighth grade students along with their teachers. Lila was invited to speak by English teacher Cathy Dima after Ms. Dima was approached by Lila’s granddaughter, Alexandra Schajer, a student in Ms. Dima’s class, who told her teacher that her grandmother was an educator and docent at the Center and would be willing to speak to the class. The class was reading Night by Elie Wiesel and Ms. Dima thought it would be appropriate for the students to hear from someone who could give them additional information about the Holocaust.

    Lila was quite surprised when she discovered that instead of the 30 or so students in Alexandra’s class she thought she would be speaking to, she would instead be speaking to nearly 200 students, two “teams” of the eighth grade. Since she was given free reign of what aspect of the Holocaust to speak about, Lila chose to discuss the Lvov ghetto where her grandmother died and from which her aunt escaped.

    The students were engaged and attentive as Lila described what life in a ghetto was like as well as the particular circumstances in the Lvov Ghetto which led to her grandmother urging her daughter, Lila’s Aunt Gina, to sneak out of the ghetto and make her way to Russia where she joined a partisan group and lived in the woods with them for two years. Lila also described the terrible conditions in the ghetto which caused her grandmother’s death from starvation.

    The audience was respectful and appreciative of the information Lila shared with them, evidenced by the many wonderful questions that were asked by both students and teachers.

    Lila Alexander is a retired teacher and an HMTC docent and volunteer.  She is also one of the recipients of the 2018 Bruce Morrell Education Award.


  • Friedlander Upstander Award Winner: Sage Gladstone

    Sage Gladstone (3rd from right), a student at South Woods Middle School was a winner of the 2018 Friedlander Upstander Award at at HMTC’s 2018 Tolerance Benefit. Her essay below demonstrates that she has acted as an Upstander against bullying and intolerance.

    Taking action, helping others, and making a difference.  Those are my values and my purpose in life.  I love constantly pushing for a better world, not just speaking about it.  I take initiative and make my ideas come to life.  My sense of responsibility to the world outside of mine is what drives me to help people.  I want to live in a world that is caring, promotes peace, and celebrates differences.  However, I know that can’t happen overnight, and maybe can’t ever happen, but I wake up every day to work towards my goal, rise above obstacles, and be an Upstander for all.

    I have been striving to fulfill that goal of mine since I was five years old.  When I was in kindergarten, I saw that there was a girl a few grades above me who didn’t have any hair.  I felt sad, confused, and worried that she may get made fun of or laughed at, so I wanted to help.  I wanted to show her that someone cared and was thinking about her, so I went home that day to ask my mom if I could cut my hair and just give it to her,  My mom said I couldn’t’ do exactly that but I could donate my hair to people just like her.  Even in my five-year-old mind, I was totally on board with the idea that I could make someone’s day or life better from just one small act.  A few months later, I cut my hair to the point where it looked like I should be dancing the Charleston with my flapper friends, and donated it to Locks of Love.  I did that two more times when I was in fourth grade and this past summer, between seventh and eighth grade.  I realized I was slowly making a change… a change that I wanted to see in our world.

    It has always been a priority of mine to acknowledge others and their feelings because it’s important to appreciate the work that everyone does.  I try to spread my appreciation to people who make our world go around but are sometimes forgotten like the bus drivers, security guards, custodians, and lunch servers.   I also think it is important to stand up to unkind behavior wherever I am.  I will not tolerate rude remarks, bullying, or peer pressure.  Even if doing the right thing is the unpopular choice to make in a situation, I will do it for the sake of the people being hurt.

    Last year, I began many new initiatives at my school to help work towards the change I want to see.  For example, I organized a welcoming committee that invited all of our new students to come and play games and talk about their experiences in our school so far.  I wanted to make sure all the students felt noticed and welcomed.

    When I was home sick with the flu last year, I watched a video online about an amazing non-profit organization called Days for Girls.  This organization assembles sustainable feminine hygiene kits to donate to girls in impoverished areas around the world such as Nepal, parts of India, Haiti and so many other places.  Without the proper materials, these girls end up missing up to five days a week each month with most girls ending up having a deprived education.  Without an education it’s hard for these girls to achieve their goals and pursue their dreams.  These kits aren’t only giving them the items every girl needs, it’s giving them a future… a life to look forward to.  These girls are punished for something that is so natural in every girl’s life and are sent to huts to deal with it by themselves.  While they are in these huts, most commonly refereed to as chhaupadis, their biggest fear isn’t trying to make sure they are staying clean and healthy, it’s worrying about being raped.  These huts are in the middle of nowhere with hardly any protection from any of those vicious men.  After I watched the video, I went to their website to find the Days for Girls’ phone number so I could contact them and see what I could do to help.  When I called, they listed a bunch of volunteer opportunities for me to be apart of.  I thought hosting a drive to collect the materials needed for these kits was the best option.  Once I recovered from the flu and was back at school, I attended a meeting with my feminist club and shared what I had learned about the organization, and pitched the idea of holding a drive.  My club advisers and peers loved the idea but we couldn’t start it just yet because it was too late in the year.  So, we saved my idea for this year.  Over the summer I kept in contact with Days for Girls, collecting all the information I needed to launch a successful drive.  In the fall, I went back to school and planned logistics for this drive to work in meetings with my principal and many conversations with Days for Girls representatives.  Soon, I was ready to put boxes out and have donations roll in.  I really wanted this to be a successful drive so I contacted a representative named Kathy from a local team and asked her to come and speak at my school on behalf of Days for Girls.  We set up a date, and asked students to come listen and learn about Days for Girls at their lunch periods; we had a rather well turn our and even a boy showed up.  It was amazing to have my peers have the opportunity to be educated on an organization that its so important and amazing but yet a forgotten world issue.  After Thanksgiving break we put out donation boxes and I created posters to decorate our school with.  I loved Kathy’s presentation, but I still wanted to teach more about this wonderful organization, so I created a presentation and lectured in health classes about why it is important to donate.  After about a month of running the toiletry drive, my mom and I delivered our four overflowing boxes of donations to Dumont, New Jersey, where Kathy lives.  Throughout this whole experience, I kept in touch with Allie, a representative at the Days for Girls headquarters in Washington State.  After multiple calls and emails, Allie reached out to me and asked if she could feature my story in the Days for Girls monthly newsletter.  Of course I said yes, and Allie congratulated me for being the youngest volunteer to be featured.  My responsibility does not end with one successful drive.  I’m still committed to spreading the message of Days for Girls and will continue to raise awareness at my school.  Next month, I will hold a second drive as well as continue to educate my peers with a global awareness exhibit I’ve organized at my school’s awareness fair.

    The problems needed to be addressed in order to achieve my ideal world does not stop with menstruation.  While we have different religions, talents, hobbies, and beliefs, I know we all have the power to be kind.  I am driven to encourage kindness not only through the halls of my school, but also out in our world.  I am currently in the process of spearheading many kindness movements at my school.  The main project is the Blue Box Campaign where students receive a classmate’s name and are encouraged to write an anonymous compliment about them.  I am also setting it up for teachers.  The main purpose of this movement is to encourage people to make others feel good about themselves and to spread the idea that we can all uplift each other with a simple gesture.  I’m also launching a kindness mural project, where all students are asked to write their definition of kindness.  After everyone’s definition is collected, I will create the mural in a hallway at my school.  The process of each student writing their unique definition of kindness will make them have to consider what being kind actually means to them.  I will also kick off a Token of Kindness Project where Peer Mediators will carry around stickers that have quotes abut kindness on them.  When we see acts of kindness during the school day we will give them out.  This project is designed to let everyone know that all acts of kindness, big or small, never go unnoticed.  To tie all of the kindness projects together, I will be organizing another kindness moment called Kind Hands of South Woods for students and teachers to paint their hands and leave their hand prints on a piece of paper.  This resembles their pledge to be kind and contribute positivity to our school.  I hope I will be able to cement the value of Kindness into the minds of my peers as I launch these initiatives.

    My sense of responsibility to change our world for the better and promote kindness doesn’t just end with humans, I believe I should show the same respect to animals.  I became a vegetarian in kindergarten because I felt really bad at the thought that I was eating another living thing.  However, sticking with those eating habits got difficult especially at such a young age and I was only a vegetarian sporadically, until this past summer when I watched a few documentaries about the vegan diet.  Last month marked 6 month of being vegan, this experience proved to me that helping other human or not is something that I care strongly about and I am willing to do it and not give up.

    “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a powerful quote that I think best sums up my vision for being an Upstander.  I will always push for a better world and challenge myself on how I can make an even larger impact than the day before.  Through high school, college, adulthood, and when I’m old, I will continue to be an Upstander, someone who will never forget the importance of advocating for others and love for helping them.  I hope to spread this message of helping the people around you and thinking about lives beyond your own to all the beautiful humans on this planet we share.

    Are you an Upstander?

    If you have a story that sounds like Sage’s and you are a Middle or High School student from Nassau or Suffolk Counties, share it with us! You might be one of our 2019 Friedlander Upstander Winners.

    Apply via the link below:

    Friedlander Upstander Awards

    Or mail to:

    Helen Turner | Friedlander Upstander Award, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY 11542

    For more information please call: (516) 571-8040 or email helenturner@hmtcli.org.



  • Friedlander Upstander Award Essay by Edgar Lizama

    Edgar Lizama (3rd from right), was a student at Huntington High School at the time of receiving Honorable Mention for the Friedlander Upstander Award at HMTC’s 2018 Tolerance Benefit. His essay below demonstrates that he has acted as an Upstander against bullying and intolerance.

    Becoming an Upstander in my community is moving from silence to action.  I have decided to speak up against the negative stereotypes imposed upon the immigrant community and immigrants like myself attend school with the hope to learn the English language and achieve a higher education.  This task is complicated to achieve in a political atmosphere where the intolerance against the undocumented community on many occasions is cherished and encouraged.  The environment in what we the immigrants live is truly sad.  When I immigrated three years ago to the U.S., I only knew the poverty and violence I was going through in my country El Salvador.  The fairy tales that people from my country used to tell me about the U.S. are totally different from what I see now.  People being discriminated and called “aliens” is something that hurts me because this term is referred to extraterrestrial life or something that is not from the planet Earth.  There are some of many reasons why I have decided to become an Upstander and fight for the freedom of opportunity like the founding fathers of this country believed it.

    There are so many things that I see in my community and school that encourage me to help and advocate immigrants and student like myself.  One of the examples that made me cry is when I was in that room surrounded by those students who were born here and speak perfect English.  When I was in that room I felt isolated because the majority did not accept me or did not want to help me because I did not know how to speak English and also did not look like them.  I was different.  I was a foreign student with poor communication skills.  When I see immigrant students like me who have come from foreign countries of Latin-America I always try to welcome them with a smile.  Or sometimes helping them with their homework and translating phrases they do not know yet.  I do not want these students to feel like I used to, I am holding the door open for them because it was never opened to me.  I do not want them to be rejected because of their lack of English.  Instead, I want them to see me as one of them, as a brother they can always count on.  This is why I look forward to empowering the immigrants’ community and giving them a message that no one has the right to take away their dreams and hope because we are a family and we won’t let each other to be hurt by anyone.

    The stereotypes and political ideologies that I see here in America are sad and destroy immigrants families. For example, two years ago my mother worked in a fast food restaurant, she was an exceptional worker, she had a potential with a stamina that allowed her to do three tasks at the same time, she worked really hard to get those $400 at the end of the week.  However, her boss was a man that didn’t care what she did or how she felt, he just wanted to exploit her to get his profit.  There was one time that at the end of the week my mother’s boss did not pay her what she had really earned; he paid her $200 instead of $400.  And her boss thought it was okay because she was an undocumented immigrant that did not have a voice or rights because she was an alien, someone who did not belong to this country.  When I saw her come crying into our bedroom where my sister, she and I live, I was shocked and upset because this individual had hurt my mother, the one who brought me into this world.  I did not think twice what I was about to do.  I put my jacket on and went straight up to this restaurant.  I was a kid who knew some words in English.  When I got to this restaurant I looked straight up to his face and told him that my mother had the right to get paid what she had really earned.  I discussed with him the labor rights that I had read in U.S. history books in my school.  At the end of the debate between my mother’s boss and me we came up  with an agreement that he would give her the rest of the money that she had earned and that he would never do any of the type of this action upon any worker in his restaurant.  When I was walking home I felt the alleviation in my body and mind.  Since that time I understood that if we never try to make a change in our society our world is never going to change.

    Another way how I practice in my school being an Upstander is helping the ESL students (student with English as a second language).  In my school there’s a nickname for foreign Latinos students,  It is the “mamis and papis”.  Students who were born here in the U.S. used these nicknames to describe a Latino student that does not speak any English at all and those who only speak the Spanish language. I’ve been called by that name as well because I’m a foreigner.  However, since I have learned so much in this country in the academic and environmental field I have acquired different skills to protect myself and those who are being discriminated against from this stereotype.  Once I was walking into the library of my school and there was Alberto being called papi, the word that I’ve been described as.  I felt the anger but dint show it.  Instead, I used education which is a system that let me expressed my feeling in a passive way and I don’t offend anyone using it.  I remember telling everyone in that room of the library that is not a way to treat someone who has come to this country looking for a better way of life or telling them “we are not here because we want to be.  We are here because our parents have decided to bring us here to succeed and not leaving us in a country where violence, corruption, and poverty are the major obstacles that influence people to immigrate to the U.S.”  I was shielding my Latino brother, and I was proud to be at his side.  I’ll always have his back because this is why we are a family.

    To finish my story of how I’ve become an Upstander in my community and school, I want to let you know that I do not regret what I’ve done.  In these critical times where humanity do not understand the fundamental principals of life, freedom, and happiness is when we can make a change. I have decided to move from silence to action and speak up to make a change in our political atmosphere where immigrants like myself are being discriminated and hated.  These are the reasons why I have become an Upstander and I want to let all my immigrant community and family know that I am always going to be there for them.

    Are you an Upstander?

    If you have a story that sounds like Edgar’s and you are a Middle or High School student from Nassau or Suffolk Counties, share it with us! You might be our 2019 Friedlander Upstander Winner.

    Apply via the link below:

    Friedlander Upstander Awards

    Or mail to:

    Helen Turner | Friedlander Upstander Award, 100 Crescent Beach Road, Glen Cove, NY 11542

    For more information please call: (516) 571-8040 or email helenturner@hmtcli.org.

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

    The Story of Yiddish

    Why Was Yiddish Created?

    There are about as many theories about how and why Yiddish got started as there are Jews, or maybe even one more.  A popular theory is that the Jews developed a secret language that could only be understood by other Jews so that they could communicate with each other with no one else knowing what they were saying.

    Another is that this was a way they could transact business outside of the earshot of their persecutors — and outside the gentiles’ hearing about the deals they were making behind their backs.  Still another is that the Jews needed a language in which to laugh at their seemingly unending troubles and, perhaps most important, poke fun at and disrespect the gentiles who were creating their troubles.

    Whatever the reason, or reasons, there is no doubt Yiddish helped the Jews survive the relentless historical persecutions in Europe and Russia, providing them with a common way of expressing themselves that bound them into a community and gave them the ability to talk privately among themselves.

    Chagall’s “Liebende”

    This famous painting by Marc Chagall, entitled “Liebende” or “Beloved,” depicts common shtetl themes.

    A Well-Respected Language

    But what began as a language to be used in secret among a tribe of people has become a major European language, a recognized and respected language in countries all over the world, a true language which provides the means for outstanding theatrical, musical and literary expression and the enrichment of people everywhere.

    Yet the origins of Yiddish were very humble.  As far as scholars can agree, it began in about the year 850, during the ninth century, in the early Middle Ages.  Just to put that in perspective, that was the same time as the Arabs developed the astrolabe, the instrument that helped determine the location of the sun and the stars and first made exploration of the seas possible.  It was also the time when the crossbow was first invented.

    And it was also the year that groups of Jews who had settled in Germany first began to develop a special language of their own, building on the German of the time and adding their own unique verbal spices to the stew.  At the time, these German lands were called Ashkenaz by the Jews.  Ashkenaz was the medieval Hebrew name for Germany, named after a descendant of Noah in the Bible.  This is why the descendants of these Jews are called Ashkenazi Jews.

    Cat In The Hat

    Literature and scholarship written in Yiddish abound, with many books composed in other languages translated for a Yiddish audience.

    Yiddish in Today’s World

    Today three-quarters of modern Yiddish words are based on German, though mostly with the vowels pronounced differently.  It is written using the Hebrew alphabet, but much of the syntax is Slavic.  This is because Yiddish contains elements from the many other languages that were absorbed through the migrations of the Ashkenazi Jews.  Hebrew, known as loshen-koydesh, the holy tongue, was regarded as a sacred language reserved for ritual and spiritual purposes and thus not in common use outside synagogue activities.

    This is how Yiddish became the day-to-day language of the Jews.  And in a manner that is quintessentially Yiddish, the cultural and linguistic evolution of the language was — and is — in a constant state of fusion with other components, continuing to grow and change in the fluid mix of culture, emotion, tradition, geographic movement and personal experience that still today defines Jewish life.

    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.

  • Bryn Schlussler: 2018 Friedlander Upstander Award Essay

    Bryn Schlussler (3rd from right), was a student at Bay Shore High School at the time of receiving Honorable Mention for the Friedlander Upstander Award at HMTC’s 2018 Tolerance Benefit.  Her essay bellow demonstrates that he has acted as an Upstander against bullying and intolerance.

    School is supposed to be a place to learn.  School is supposed to be a place to make friends.  We are told to raise our hands to ask a question.  We are told to raise them isf we have an answer.  We are told that there is no shame in answering a question incorrectly, and that our classmates will not make fun of us if we are wrong.

    Somewhere, somehow we went wrong.  Rumors and insults linger in the halls.  The price tag on our clothes means more than the person wearing them.  We exclude others who are different from us, creating our own social hierarchy in four walls that are supposed to prevent them.  At the very top, the people who everyone wants to be friends with- the “cool” people.  On the bottom, the “rejects”.  People stray away from them because they’re “different” and “weird.”

    Prior to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Adam Lanza was described as, “deeply troubled,” by his peers.  Dylan Klebold before the Columbine High School massacre grew a deep hatred for school.  No one questioned it.  No other students tried to help the cause.  People found them weird, and different far before they were labeled as felons, much like most school shooters.  According to CNN, on average there has been a school shooting a week so far in 2018.  We bicker back and forth about gun control, thinking that is the issue.  We think we are making the problem better by talking about it, but in reality, we are not doing anything.  We treat the problem like it is unresolvable.

    But it is not.  While we do not have authority over the issue of gun control, we do have the authority of our own actions.  It is time to start treating others the way we wish to be treated.

    Growing up in a large district, I was exposed to a wide array of people in terms of ethnicity, intelligence, and personality.  There have always been a few students that stray away from the others.  As I progressed to high school I have become more aware of the special education students and how secluded they were from the rest of the students their age.  The general education student population would make fun of these students, whether it was by mimicking them to their face, or by using the work “retarded” behind their back.  This gave me the ammunition to break down the wall between students with and without special needs.

    For two years, I assisted in an adaptive physical education class.  Being the only student in the room without intellectual or developmental disabilities at first was daunting because now I was different from anyone else- but that quickly changed.  Within the gym class, I grew incredibly close to all the students in it.  Forty minutes a day I was able to do more than just be a peer of theirs- I ended up being a vital ingredient in helping them increase their social skills.  They ended up becoming acquainted with my friends and as they passed by friends in the hallway, everyone would be excited to simply say, “hi.”  As opposed to people turning heads and ignoring these special education students, people began acknowledging them, setting off a chain reaction.

    Simultaneously, I helped establish the inaugural Bay Shore chapter of Best Buddies International , which  is a program dedicated for forming authentic friendships between students with and without intellectual and development disabilities.  In the beginning, we were expecting about five general education students, but were incredibly enthusiastic when we were able to recruit over 60 members through publicizing Best Buddies in several different fashions.

    Best Buddies has brought the feeling of friendship and companionship on behalf of both general education students and special education students, while being in their gym class allowed me to break down preexisting walls for these students.  With a little more acceptance from everyone, we can slowly start to see change.

  • 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.”