From the Director
As the air gets colder and we move to a new decade, it’s time to take stock.
Talks and projects have continued. Partnerships with other organizations have proved very beneficial, and new audiences have added new dimensions to the project.
Recently I spoke to a group of young Soviet Jews, being trained for leadership in the Russian Jewish community. They came here from Russia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Moldavia, Tashkent and other parts of the Soviet Union some twenty years ago, when they were children of 7-13. Though westernized, they retain a deep connection to their native culture, and still speak Russian with ease. They switch languages easily as they speak to each other in a melange of both English and Russian. Their group, EZRA TAGLIT, a division of BIRTHRIGHT, sponsors cultural trips to Israel for young adults, also helps to foster a sense of what it means to be Jewish with a series of classes. I was a speaker for this leadership series.
This group was inspiring. Coupling their past – they were the very people that our Soviet Jewry Movement tried to help so many years ago – with the people they have become today, their insights moved me deeply. A sampling of their comments:
Sergey from Kiev said he had to step back when he saw the photos. “They really look like the photos from my own family – they look so much like photos I know, and I feel a strong connection to them. Then, at the same time, I have to keep remembering their fate. And I hold in me the tension between the life of the photos themselves and the terrible fate of these people with what followed.”
Dmitry from Tashkent pointed to the disparity between previous times in the Soviet Union when Jews suffered under extreme anti-Semitism, and what he is experienced in the U.S.: “I came here when I was seven, and I’ve grown up for 20 years in freedom. Oppression is not part of my experience. I think the Jews in the United States, with their freedom and choices, are a lot like the Jews in pre-war Germany, under the Weimar Republic. Both had a lot of freedom and choices. We, and they, are mostly assimilated. Freedom makes that an easy choice.”
I felt a need to respond to Dmitry, and said, “Even if you have freedom, for which I’m glad, and even if you have not suffered under anti-Semitism, I challenge you not to take this freedom for granted. And especially because your family, these two generations before you, did not have such freedom, I ask you not to use freedom as an excuse for doing nothing. Regardless of whatever choice seems right to you,” I asked Dmitry, and all the other young Russian Jews, “to think within yourself what being Jewish means to you, and to find that locus of identity that feels right to you.”
And Yelizaveta (called Lisa in the U.S.) who works at Lincoln Center has a dream of starting a photo gallery featuring photos of freedom and of oppression, showing through her lens both what it means to be free as well as what it means to be un-free.
Recently, I also went to University of Minnesota, and screened my film at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, which was founded by my friend and colleague Steve Feinstein (By the way, Steve took my bio photo on this site, when Steve, his wife Sue and I went to Dubrovnik, after our presentations in Sarajevo). In Minnesota, I spoke at a day-long seminar for educators on creating a world without genocide together with a judge from the International War Crimes Tribunal, an historian, a Bosnian survivor and Randi Markuson, who together with her late husband Eric, has researched and helped victims in Bosnia, Rwanda and numerous troubled spots around the world.
Coming up in 2010, I am very excited about two programs, both of which take place in Denver. The first (February 2010) will be a day-long seminar for educators that focuses on photos from Auschwitz – both the photos that the Nazis took (from the infamous Auschwitz Album) and the innocent pre-war photos of Jews (from my Last Album). These images are seen in contrast to each other – photos of inhumanity as distinct from the photos of humanity. For this seminar, I will be partnering with the University of Denver and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
And in early March 2010, I will return to Denver to deliver the Fred Marcus Memorial Lecture, organized by Audrey Friedman Marcus, in honor of and in memory of her impressive late husband, a survivor known for his goodness and kindness, as well as his commitment to memory, and creating a better world. It is indeed a privilege to deliver a talk in his honor, and this annual event is eagerly anticipated each year in the Denver area. This year they expect double the attendance because of the interest in this topic.
Wishing you all the best, both as you meet your personal challenges and as you celebrate with those you love,