This week presents meaningful opportunities to reflect on the significance of JewishGen’s purpose, work, and values.
Today marks 50 years since the funeral of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the tireless champion for human rights. On December 11, 1966, Dr. King delivered a powerful speech in support of the oppressed Jews of the Soviet Union. His message bears remembering:
” … [Jews in the Soviet Union] may not be physically murdered as they were in Nazi Germany, [but] they are facing every day a kind of spiritual and cultural genocide. Individual Jews may be in the main physically and economically secure in Russia, but the absence of opportunity to associate as Jews in the enjoyment of Jewish culture and religious experience becomes a severe limitation upon the individual.
“These deprivations are a part of a person’s emotional and intellectual life. They determine whether he is fulfilled as a human being … When you are written out of history as a people, when you are given no choice but to accept the majority culture, you are denied an aspect of your own identity … Ultimately, you suffer a corrosion of your self-understanding and your self respect.”
Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) begins at nightfall on Wednesday evening, April 11. In the State of Israel (which will soon celebrate its 70th birthday), a siren will be blown at nightfall and then again the next morning — uniting men, women and children in silent reflection of the catastrophe which ended less than 75 years ago.
Here in NYC, the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust hosts a series of commemorations, and provides multiple opportunities for people of all ages, from all walks of life, to internalize the loss, and to take meaningful steps to preserve our collective Jewish history and legacy for the future.
Yesterday, nearly 3,000 people attended the Museum’s Annual Gathering of Remembrance. Speaking to a diverse audience, which included a large number of Holocaust Survivors, Museum President & CEO Michael Glickman articulated not only the reason for establishing the Museum, but also what motivates its continued purpose. He stated, in part: “Commemorations like the Annual Gathering of Remembrance are powerful because they demand our presence, our attention, and most of all, our togetherness. They challenge us to think of how we carry not only our personal, individual histories, but also the history of our people. The weight of this history can feel like a burden, but when the burden is shared, it becomes an important lesson in what we mean to each other … When a survivor tells her story, she reasserts the very humanity and dignity that the Nazis attempted to destroy.”
These thoughts and sentiments motivate the staff and volunteers at JewishGen on a daily basis. We take heed of Dr. King’s words so many decades ago, and of Mr. Glickman’s just yesterday. We are not content merely connecting researchers with ancestral information — our sacred work revolves around our ability to transmit the legacy of the Jewish people in a way that will ensure its preservation for future generations.