Friday, May 30, 2014

Women's Philanthropy Hosts Deborah Szekely

More than one hundred women gathered for the year's final Women’s Philanthropy event  “An Evening with Deborah Szekely”. The program, headed by Women’s Philanthropy Board Education and Engagement co-chairs Silvana Christy, Karen Kogut and Danielle Miller, was attended by three generations of women.

In her cozy address, the 92-year-old founder of Rancho la Puerta and the Golden Door shared her philosophy of “aging by choice”, which comprises healthy eating, exercise, and choosing to be active and aware.

Guided by her statement, “I don’t have time to get old”, Szekely's life vividly portrays the evening’s theme, "Stay Healthy, Be Active, Get Involved”. She recounted her remarkable life’s story, starting from her childhood in Brooklyn as the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, to her decades-long pioneering work as a proponent and activist for wellness.

Attendees also heard from Sarah Nee, a beneficiary of Federation’s partners, who shared her own story and expressed her gratitude to Federation for its commitment to creating a caring community. Women’s Philanthropy board chair Leigh Johnson reiterated the key role that Women’s Philanthropy plays in carrying out Federation’s vision to create and sustain a vibrant, caring, connected and enduring community.

Women’s Philanthropy veterans as well as first-timers enjoyed the opportunity to meet and to learn about wellness, our Jewish community, and the important impact of Federation.

Thank you to our amazing volunteers, and Dona and Charles Sher to hosting us in their beautiful home.
Women’s Philanthropy Board Chair Leigh Johnson

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In Fast-Paced Operation, Jewish Agency Rescues Group of Immigrants from Donetsk

Your Federation dollars in action - JAFI responds to Jewish needs in Ukraine.

Donetsk immi...
Donetsk immi...
The Urina family from Donetsk at their hotel in Dnepropetrovsk, ahead of their arrival in Israel earlier today. 

Chairman Sharansky: "Jewish Agency representatives in Ukraine continue to be active in all areas and are prepared for any eventuality, as shown by this latest event in my own city of birth, Donetsk."

JERUSALEM – A group of six olim (immigrants) from the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine landed in Israel a short time ago (Tuesday, May 27) following a fast-paced operation put into action by The Jewish Agency for Israel due to the battles surrounding the city's airport.

Battles between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in and around the civilian airport of Donetsk broke out yesterday (Monday, May 26), following the country's presidential election. Due to the escalation, the airport was shut down, all outgoing and incoming flights were cancelled, and the access road was blocked.

A group of six immigrants, including a couple with two twin baby girls from Donetsk and another couple from the city of Mariupol, was set to depart for Israel last night. Due to the battles and the airport's closure, The Jewish Agency's Russian-Speaking Jewry Unit decided to evacuate them overland to Dnepropetrovsk and to put them up in a local hotel until their departure for Israel. This morning, they boarded a plane from Dnepropetrovsk to Kiev and then another plane bound for Israel. The group landed at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport a short time ago.

Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said: "Jewish Agency representatives in Ukraine continue to be active in all areas and are prepared for any eventuality, as shown by this latest event in my own city of birth, Donetsk. Due to the current situation in the country, we have significantly expanded our activities, assisting those who wish to immigrate to Israel, bringing young people to experience life in Israel on a variety of Jewish Agency programs, providing Hebrew classes, and so on."

According to The Jewish Agency's Russian-Speaking Jewry Unit, approximately 30,000 Jews live in Donetsk Oblast, of whom some 11,000 live in the city of Donetsk. The Russian-Speaking Jewry Unit is now preparing to bring additional families from the area in a similar manner should the battles not subside and should the airport not reopen. Jewish Agency representatives are in close contact with the Jewish communities in the area and are prepared to offer immediate assistance, should the need arise.

According to Jewish Agency data, the first four months of 2014 saw a 142% increase in Aliyah (immigration to Israel) compared to the comparable period in 2013. 762 immigrants from Ukraine arrived on Jewish Agency Aliyah flights between January and April, compared to 315 between January and April 2013. During the month of March, 222 Ukrainian immigrants came to Israel, a 200% increase from March 2013, when there were 74. April saw a dramatic increase in Ukrainian Aliyah, with 383 immigrants arriving, compared to 97 in April 2013 – a 295% increase. Jewish Agency representatives have also noted a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who have started the Aliyah process, as well as in the number of individuals who have contacted The Jewish Agency in order to receive counseling and information regarding Aliyah.

The Jewish Agency has some 90 staffers on the ground in Ukraine, strengthening Ukrainian Jews' connections to Israel and the Jewish world and assisting those interested in making Aliyah.

Visit our site to read more about The Jewish Agency's ongoing work in Ukraine.

March of the Living Reunion | June 8

Used Book Sale at the JCC | June 11 and June 15

Monday, May 26, 2014

House of Israel Open House | June 8

On Sunday, June 8, 6-8pm, at the House of Israel in Balboa Park, there will be a complimentary open house with light refreshments to display the results of its “Call for Art”. This is a “Call” for artists from around the world to submit work reflecting the artists’ impression of Israel. Via the web, the Call has received a large number of responses from around the world from a full spectrum of people, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and others. Due to the large number of entries, the open house display will be on continuous video running on several monitors.

Under the promotion and supervision of Smadar Samson, our volunteer curator and herself a major artist, this broad-based response is a reflection of the emotional hold of Israel, the Holy Land, on the world imagination. The House of Israel, Balboa Park, believes this is a singular event under this charge to the worldwide art community.

Our planning will be helped by your RSVP. This can be returned via our website,, or by email to me,, or by phone to me, (858) 597 8138.

Friday, May 23, 2014

THANK YOU for joining us at San Diego Celebrates Israel!

If you were anywhere near Nobel Athletic Field last Sunday, you couldn’t have missed the energy and excitement of the San Diego Celebrates Israel - Yom Ha’aztmaut Festival. Nearly 5,000 people and over 110 community synagogues, organizations, merchants, and vendors came together to make this year’s event the best yet! 

This year’s festival featured a 2014 RED Corvette showcasing car parts made in Israel, an Israeli wine and vodka tasting garden and a garlic & chili eating contest sponsored by San Diego’s sister community Sha’ar HaNegev - Kibbutz Dorot of Dorot Garlic and Herb. Maccabi Tel Aviv fans watched as the Israeli team won the 2014 Euroleague championship basketball game as it was live-streamed at the festival. 

Other highlights included the Israel parade, live entertainment from Israel, the Fountainheads and local performers, a petting zoo with a camel, arts and crafts and even big rides. Yasher Koah to the Friendship Circle who kicked off the festival with their annual Friendship Walk which raises money to support an inclusion program for teens and young adults with special needs. 

A big thank you to all of the public officials who came to San Diego Celebrates Israel including: US Congressman Scott Peters, State Senator Marty Block, San Diego Unified School Board President Kevin Beiser and Deputy Counsel General of Israel from Los Angeles Uri Resnick. Mazel Tov to Rabbi Chalom Boudjnah who won the free round trip El Al Ticket to Israel and three nights at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem! Thank you to all who attended and participated, the festival was so successful because of your support for Israel and the Jewish community here in San Diego.

Check out event photos on our Facebook

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Support local nonprofits that took active roles during the crisis

The Jewish Federation of San Diego County and the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego extend their deepest sympathy and support to fellow San Diego residents affected by the recent fires.

We are grateful to the organizations that extended their resources beyond their usual programs to provide emergency and first response services. If you are interested in supporting local nonprofits that took active roles during this crisis, please see the giving opportunities below. We will continue to monitor the effects of the fires and provide updates on further needs in our community as necessary.

2-1-1 San Diego mobilized over 800 volunteers to field tens of thousands of calls, dispelling rumors about the fires with round-the-clock safety, emergency and evacuation information.

San Diego Regional Fire Foundation supplied necessary new equipment and resources to firefighters.

American Red Cross of San Diego / Imperial Counties provided first response services to individuals and assessed community needs.

Jewish Family Service distributes food and personal supplies monthly at Camp Pendleton, an area surrounded by multiple fires.

YMCA of San Diego offered free emergency childcare at several locations during school closures due to evacuations and precautions.

THANK YOU to the students of Beth Am’s Sabra program!

On Monday evening the Jewish Federation of San Diego was thrilled to accept a donation in the amount of $500 from students in Congregation Beth Am’s “Sabra” program. The Sabra program aims to engage post Bnai-Mitzvah students in an atmosphere of continued Jewish learning and social growth. Led by the Jewish Community Foundation’s Darren Schwartz, the Sabra students were given $1,000 and challenged to donate the money to an organization which “speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves”. The students chose to split the money between the Jewish Federation and Jewish Federation innovation grantee Friendship Circle.  

Their donation will be used to enhance the Federation’s chaplaincy program and to support the JDC’s work in Eastern Europe. We would like to extend one more heartfelt “Thank you!” to the students of Beth Am’s Sabra program for choosing the
Jewish Federation!

Women's Philanthropy Installation

A sunny garden was the setting for the installation of the 2014 -15 Women’s Philanthropy board. Board Chair welcomed everyone, noting that the event “was all about community
and continuity”.

The agenda included reports on Women’s Philanthropy’s stellar achievements over the past year, including a wide variety of Social Action projects and Education and Engagement programs. Campaign Chair, Lisa Kornfeld, reported on the outstanding fundraising efforts of Women’s Philanthropy, which provide substantial support for Federation’s Annual Campaign. She also discussed the great success of OPTIONS, Women’s Philanthropy’s signature fundraising and engagement event, which was again the largest gathering of Jewish women in San Diego history.

Highlighting the program was a panel of former board chairs who discussed their terms of office. Jean Gaylis, Beverley Pamensky and Jane Scher talked about the evolution of their involvement in Women’s Philanthropy, and shared insightful comments and observations about the challenges and opportunities that were a part of their leadership. Board members were honored that the women, whose leadership in the community has touched a wide variety of agencies and organizations, made the special effort to make this special connection with them.

The board thanked departing members Belinda Feldman and Ilana Umansky for their years of service, and welcomed new members Carla Berg, Rashel Galicot and
Ingrid Shulman.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Federation Responds to the Fires of San Diego County

Dear Jewish Community,

We here at Federation have been working tirelessly to mobilize the Jewish community in response to the fires that have devastated many parts of San Diego County. Throughout the past week, Federation convened conference calls with a diverse group of synagogue, agency and other community leaders to address the needs of those whose lives have been turned upside down by these horrific fires. Collaborative efforts amongst our community partners are underway to serve those affected. 
  • Federation has created a community text service that will allow us to communicate emergency information to those who sign-up. Text the words “SanDiegoFire” to 51818 and you will receive an automated reply indicating that you have successfully signed-up for this service. As key information becomes available, we will share with you it via this text service.
  • You can install the San Diego County emergency app that provides updates on evacuations, open shelters, where to find help and latest developments.
  • You can contact Jewish Family Service to learn about available temporary housing.
  • Victims with damaged or destroyed homes in the unincorporated areas of the county now have a place to go for help as they rebuild their lives. The County has opened a Recovery Liaison Office at the County Library’s San Marcos branch, located at 2 Civic Center Dr., San Marcos 92069. The Office will be open daily from 7:00am to 5:00pm and offers help to obtain building permits, clear ash from swimming pools, safely handle food after a power outage and provide other recovery and rebuilding information. A behavioral health specialist will also be available. Stop by the Office or visit for more information. 
·         Emergency Shelters are open as of Friday in the following locations:
o    Escondido High School, 1435 N. Broadway, Escondido (accommodating pets)
o    Mission Hills High School, 1 Mission Hills Court, San Marcos (accommodating pets)
o    Calavera Hills Community Center, 2997 Glasgow Drive, Carlsbad
o    Las Costa Canyon High School, 1 Maverick Way, Carlsbad

On behalf of Federation’s Board and President/CEO Michael Sonduck, we extend our deepest appreciation and thanks to everyone in our community for their collaborative and compassionate spirit during this very challenging week. 

To all of San Diego, may you and your loved ones enjoy a safe and pleasant weekend.

Shabbat Shalom,

Don Schlesinger
Senior Director, Community Partnerships

San Diego Jewish Advocacy Fellowship

A group of accomplished young professionals has been selected to participate in the inaugural San Diego Jewish Advocates Fellowship. The cohort of 10 includes attorneys, an engineer, a health care administrator and Jewish communal professionals. They will enhance their leadership capabilities, strengthen knowledge of advocacy and the legislative process, learn how to effectively frame and deploy a message, build relationships with state elected officials from the San Diego delegation and within the Jewish Caucus, become an issue expert on a topic selected by the cohort, and deepen connections to community leaders and like-minded peers.

Created and facilitated by the Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Family Service, Leichtag Foundation and NextGen, the program is five sessions long including a trip to Sacramento to lobby on the selected issue and work in partnership with the Jewish Caucus chaired by Senator Block. Pre-trip training will include topics of advocacy and philanthropy. Post-trip work will include a debrief and opportunities for local engagement.

Read future news updates for reports on each of our sessions including the participation of our community partner ADL and others.

For additional information please contact Linda Feldman, JCRC Director at

Federation Partners Unite for Mitzvah Madness

Over the last two weeks, Federation partners, volunteers and community partners have been convening at the Jewish Community Building to participate in Federation's phoneathon dubbed Mitzvah Madness. Over the course of the phoneathon, more than 60 volunteers united at the Jewish Federation to actively support a caring, connected, and enduring Jewish community in San Diego, representing nearly a dozen different local Jewish organizations. 

Federation is extremely thankful our wonderful volunteers and extraordinary partners at the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Services, Jewish Community Foundation, Hillel of San Diego, Soille Hebrew Day School, Camp Mountain Chai, Federation's YAD and Women's Philanthropy Boards, as well community volunteers for donating their precious time for this important effort.

Together, we raised nearly $40,000 through 104 generous donations! These critical dollars empower Federation to to provide security for Jews in Ukraine, offer camp scholarships to local Jewish kids, provide spiritual care for Jews in San Diego hospitals, and so much more.

JCC's Dan Shapiro being a mensch

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jewish Community Advocates Go to Sacramento

Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council Director, Linda Feldman, went with a group of Jewish advocates to Sacramento to work on public policy. 

This week Assembly Speaker-elect Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), took the oath of office as Assembly speaker at the Capitol in Sacramento, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. released a revised state budget, and ADL, JCRC and JFS participated in the annual advocacy day in Sacramento with 85 members of the organized CA Jewish community, all together visiting the offices of 53 elected officials.

Organized by The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), Jewish community members from across the State come together in Sacramento to network with legislators and administration officials and lobby their representatives on public policy issues of importance to the broader Jewish community. Our 2014 Advocacy Agenda included the social service safety net cuts and the restoration of those cuts, Bullying, and, Human Trafficking.

JPAC Advocacy Day speakers included Asm. Shirley Weber, Sen. Lois Wolk, Sen. Marty Block, Sen. Ted Lieu, Asm. Nancy Skinner, Sen. Carol Liu and more.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sizzling Summer Classes at the CJC

Naomi Shemer: First Lady of Israeli Song and Poetry
June 9 – July 1
Mondays or Tuesdays, 4 weekly sessions

Mondays, 7:00 - 8:30 P.M., Lawrence Family JCC
Tuesdays, 10:00 - 11:30 A.M., Congregation Beth Israel
Tuesdays, 7:00 - 8:30 P.M., Congregation B'nai Tikvah, Carlsbad

Instructor: Elisheva Edelson

Naomi Shemer is widely considered to be the First Lady of Israeli Song. In writing and singing "Jerusalem of Gold," she succeeded in connecting Jews to their roots, and in balancing the tension between past and present. She linked the ordinary with the festive, the countryside with the city and the history of Israel between war and peace. Ten years after her death, let us bring her back to life as we go over her words and melodies, and let's discover the treasure she left for us all.

Elisheva Edelson has been a Jewish Educator in Mexico City and for the last 12 years in San Diego. Elisheva created the program "7 Decades of Israeli music—Connecting with Israel through Song."
Price: $75; JCC Member Price $60

Register by Phone / More Info: Ilene Tatro, 858.362.1154 or

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Marty Block to Rialto School District: Holocaust Absolute Historical Fact

Federation would like to thank and recognize supporter and State Senator Marty Block for standing up for what's right.  It's astounding that this kind of anti-antisemitism exists! You can thank Senator Block yourself at San Diego Celebrates Israel on Sunday, May 18! A statement from his office is below.

Yesterday, Senator Marty Block (SD-39) issued the following statement after learning that the Rialto Unified School District assigned eighth grade students an essay debating the reality of the Holocaust:

Recently eighth grade students in the Rialto Unified School District were asked to assess whether the Holocaust ‘was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.’
As chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, it is abhorrent to me that students would be asked to question whether the Holocaust occurred. The assignment trivializes a painful and despicable episode in human history that is well-documented. There are countless controversial issues open to robust debate that can test students’ critical thinking skills. The reality of the Holocaust is not one of them. It is absolute historical fact. Holocaust denial is the province of white supremacists, virulent anti-Semites and neo-Nazis, not responsible historians. 
I was pleased to learn that the Rialto school district has canceled the assignment, but it is my hope that students, faculty and administrators seize this opportunity to study the Holocaust and ponder its tremendous cost. As important is the lesson that we must all fight the intolerance and hate that led to the depraved crimes that constituted the Holocaust. 
The Legislative Jewish Caucus thanks Senator Norma Torres (SD-32) and Assemblymember Cheryl Brown (AD-47) who represent the Rialto school district for their immediate condemnation of this outrageous assignment.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut!

Happy Birthday, Israel.  Here's to many more.


With its establishment on May 14, 1948 [5 Iyar, 5708] the State of Israel began a new chapter in the history of the Jewish people.  Accompanied by both jubilation and adversity, the birth of Israel 66 years ago opened the doors to Jews worldwide to come and live in a democratic and Jewish nation state, in which all citizens would be protected, as promised within Israel's proclamation of independence, with access to freedoms unparalleled in the Middle East.

Join the San Diego Jewish community in celebrating Israel on May 18th at Nobel Field!

JCF Presents: Jewish Teen Foundation!


The Jewish Community Foundation is excited to announce the pilot year of the Jewish Teen Foundation.

The Jewish Community Foundation has a proud 17-year history of working with teens to develop skills in effective philanthropy. Now, as part of an international initiative with Jewish Teen Funders Network and Laura Lauder, the Foundation is offering 25 San Diego Jewish high school teens the opportunity to participate in an academic year-long program dedicated to philanthropy. Teens will be selected through a competitive application process. This program will begin October 2014 and run through June 2015. Read more

✔ Become "Program Officers" for the Jewish Teen Foundation. 
✔ Learn how philanthropy and nonprofits make a difference in the world.  
✔ Develop leadership skills and hands-on philanthropic experience.  
✔ Raise and allocate significant funds to excellent nonprofits.  
✔ Connect philanthropy with their Jewish values.  
The Foundation will provide a startup fund balance of $5,000.

Teens entering 9th - 12th grades can apply here before May 16 to secure an interview.
Philanthropy Leadership Training Institute: June 16 - 20

Is your teen looking for a meaningful experience this summer? Check out this summer's 

If you have questions about our youth philanthropy programs, please email Darren Schwartz, Philanthropy Officer, or call 858-279-2740.

Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego
p: 858-279-2740   f: 858-279-6105

Monday, May 5, 2014

UPDATE: Community Responds to SDSU University Council Rejecting Anti-Israel Divestment Resolution

A few weeks ago, the SDSU Associated Students University Council voted pro-Israel on the important resolution, as reported below.  When we sent this wonderful news out on behalf of Federation partner Hillel of San Diego, the community response was so enthusiastic - we thought it worth sharing!
"As the California State Senator representing SDSU and as the Chair of California's Legislative Jewish Caucus, I admire and commend the judgement, courage, and fortitude of SDSU's AS Council members who, despite tremendous pressure, voted their conscience in supporting California's ongoing partnership with Israel.  This action is consistent with the recent historic trade agreement signed by California Governor Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  California is open for business with our friends and allies in Israel, the Middle East's only true democracy."  Senator Marty Block 
"Congratulations on your great success. I know you must have worked hard to make this happen."   - Sandy L. 
"Our fellow Aztecs would never let us down. Thanks to the super 16 who wisely voted to do the right thing." - Robert and Janet I. - SDSU Class of 87'
"Kol Hakavod for all your work and tireless efforts to deal with this issue -- and continue to be vigilant to mitigate BDS efforts." - Mark K.
"Congratulations for standing up to all the lies and pressure from the anti Jewish movement. Keep up the good work, we need more young people like you to lead the next generation. All my best." - Yvette L.
 "Great work! Hopefully more campuses will follow." - Grant B.
"Congratulations to all these bright students. I wish they could run for Congress, TODAY!!!" - Evelyn S.
"Congratulations! Thank you on behalf of the Jewish community for all the time and preparation you put into this effort. I am sure your families are so proud of you." - Barbara S.
"Well done Hillel! What a great and important victory." - Dan B.
And on behalf of Federation to our critical partner, Hillel of San Diego - Kol Hakavod and Mazel Tov!

Full Article below:

From Federation partner Hillel San Diego:

Israel on Campus Update from Michael Rabkin | April 23, 2014

After nearly six hours of discussion - the SDSU Associated Students University Council voted down an anti-Israel resolution by a decisive vote of 16 to 3.

The pro-Israel student group at SDSU, Aztecs for Israel (AFI), led the massive effort to combat BDS at SDSU and finally claimed victory tonight. Over the past several weeks, AFI President Nirit Revzin and her fellow members met regularly in the new Melvin Garb Hillel Center to strategize and rehearse their presentations with support from Hillel's Jewish Agency Israel Fellow Hen Caspi, Hillel at SDSU Director Jackie Tolley, AFI Advisor Yiftach Levy and our partners from ADL, JCRC, Judaic Studies and more. This was a wonderful example of a communal team effort to support our students.

You can join us in congratulating the pro-Israel student leaders and expressing gratitude to the 16 student officials who voted against divestment. Send us your personal messages by replying to this email, and we'll pass it along to them.

Israel is at the heart of Hillel's work. Our goal is to inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship with Jewish life, learning and Israel.

Pro-Israel students at SDSU are beaming with pride tonight. They know you are there for them and that you support them in their efforts. On behalf of these wonderful student leaders, I thank you.

With gratitude,

Michael Rabkin
Executive Director

Friday, May 2, 2014

San Diego Jewish Community Reflects on the Holocaust

On Sunday, April 27, Federation and our community partners gathered at the JCC to reflect on the tragedy of the Holocaust.  More than 400 San Diegans came to pay their respects, remember those lost, and express solidarity as a community.  Many thanks to our incredible partners at the New Life Club, ADL, Center for Jewish Culture, Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Family Service, Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, San Diego Rabbinical Association, the Jewish Community Relations Council and our extraordinary volunteers for making this all possible.

Don Harrison of San Diego Jewish World reports below:

Elan Bielski, grandson of one of the partisan Bielski Brothers, addresses Yom HaShoah commemoration on Sunday, April 27 

SAN DIEGO – San Diego’s communal Yom HaShoah observance on Sunday, April 27, focused on the Jews who met the Nazi scourge with “Defiance, Rebellion, Resistance,” including, but not limited to, the Jewish partisans who actively waged guerrilla warfare against the Germans.

The featured speaker at the commemoration in the Garfield Theatre of the Lawrence Family JCC was Elan Bielski, an American Israeli whose grandfather Zus was one of the three Bielski brothers whose exploits as partisans in a forest of Belarus was celebrated in the movie Defiance. Along with his two brothers, Zus Bielski was credited with organizing a hidden forest community in which more than 1,200 Jews successfully evaded capture by the Nazis.

While the Bielskis were successful in their efforts to protect Jews living with them in the forests, armed resistance to the Nazis in other instances could be counter-productive, Roman Kent, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said in a videotaped address. “Many times the consequences of taking a gun and shooting a German would be they would take hundreds of people and kill them,” Kent said.
Andrew Viterbi Addressing Audience

There were other ways to resist, he said, such as workers who slowed down production in Nazi factories, or “the mother who gave a piece of bread to the child so that he could survive” or the ghetto symphony orchestra which played, despite bitter cold, and “gave the people the will to live another day” and the teacher who taught children in the ghetto. “There were many other points of resistance,” said Kent.

Agreeing with this analysis was Andrew Viterbi, honorary chairman of the event as well as a scientist who was a co-founder of Qualcomm. He said that Jews defied their Nazi captors day in and day out.

“Many rebelled by observing Jewish rituals and holidays as fully as possible until they were no longer able to do so,” Viterbi said. “In the ghettos, some resisted by establishing schools for children, and presenting lectures and programs for adults. Others created art, literature, music and poetry…. Some resisted by staying alive, others by dying with the shm’a on their lips.”

As a lead-in to Viterbi’s introduction of young Bielski, Bernardo Bicas led a crowd that included such public officeholders as Congressman Juan Vargas, State Senator Marty Block and San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman in the singing of a Yiddish “Partisan Song” with a title translated as “Never Say.”
Among public officeholders at the Yom HaShoah commemoration were San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, State Senator Marty Block (two seats to the right) and Congressman Juan Vargas, next to aisle. (Photo: Aaron Truax)

Having grown up on Long Island, New York, young Bielski joined the Israel Defense Forces following a visit to Israel on a Taglit/Birthright program. The young man shared that his brother Matt already was serving at the time in an elite unit of the IDF. When Matt paid a visit to the Birthright group, he immediately “picked up” the prettiest girl and, quipped Elan, “I knew I wanted to be in the IDF.”

Actually Elan followed not only his grandfather, but his father,and brother into the business of defending the Jewish people, his father also having served in the IDF after completing a hitch as a U.S. Marine.

One reason the Bielskis brothers were so successful in hiding their fellow Jews during World War II was that they often had made recourse to the forest before the war to elude the anti-Semites of their town, Stankevich, where they were members of the only Jewish family. Starting with 10 people, their numbers grew to 30 and then to 300 and up as they established their “Jerusalem in the woods,” Elan said. The community hidden deep in the forest was nearly self-sufficient and included tailors, shoemakers, synagogues, hospital, and even a jail. Their guerrilla fighters sabotaged 34 trains, 78 bridges and killed 400 enemy fighters before Soviet troops cleared the area of the Nazi enemy.

This year’s Yom HaShoah program paid tribute to other forms of defiance as described by Viterbi. For example the Miryam Quartet of Eileen Wingard, her daughter Myla Wingard; and the sisters Dorothy Zeavin and Marcia Bookstein, performed music composed in Theresienstadt, including Lied Ohne Worte (Song Without Words) and Uv’Tzeil K’Nofecho (In the Shadow of the Wings). Sam Brogadir, accompanied by Andrew Mayer, sang Shtiller, Shtiller, a song composed by an 11-year-old boy who rued the many Jews who were marched by the Nazis to the Ponar Forest, near Vilna, where they were executed.

On video, there was also a poetry reading by survivor Itka Zygmuntowicz, who wrote:

I feel like a bird with clipped wings
tied to this earth by invisible strings
chained to a destiny I did not choose
I feel like a prisoner that cannot break loose
I look to the sky with a heavy sigh
but my wings have been clipped and I can no longer fly.

Other parts of the program followed traditional patterns for community Holocaust commemorations, with second generation members Barbara Ostroff, chair of the Yom HasShoah Committee. welcoming the crowd numbering in the hundreds; and Jack Morgenstern introducing the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Color Guard, which presented the colors. Sierra Lieb sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at the beginning of the program. At the end of the program “Hatikvah” was sung by a choir that included members of the J*Company performance company, Ohr Shalom Religious School, and Shevet Galim –Israeli Scouts of San Diego.

There also was the lighting by Holocaust Survivors and Second Generation members of six candles, each representing one million of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. In a ceremony, narrated by Hanna Marx, president of the New Life Club of Holocaust survivors, Pearl Recht lit the shamash candle, with which the other six candles were lit. Called up for the ceremony were Michael Bart, Max Landau, Morris Liebermensch, Ben and Esther Midler, Max & Rose Schindler and Morris Schwartz.

In another brief address, Steven Klappholz, a former director in San Diego of the Jewish Community Relations Council, told of the work of his current employer, the USC Shoah Foundation, founded by movie producer Steven Spielberg with the proceeds from the Holocaust movie Schindler’s List. Klappholz said that the USC Shoah Foundation has collected 52,000 testimonies from survivors living in more than 30 countries. Over 300 videotaped testimonies were collected in San Diego County alone, thanks in part to Erna Viterbi and Phyllis Epsten, local co-chairs of the Friends of the Shoah Foundation. Klappholz said over 200,000 students in San Diego County have been exposed to the videotaped testimonies, and 1,600 teachers in this area have undergone training in the use of these resources.

As the ceremony neared its conclusion, Rabbi Philip Graubart of Congregation Beth El led the crowd in prayers and responsive readings suited for the occasion as well as in the Kaddish, which originally Survivor Lou Dunst had been scheduled to lead, but was unable to do so. Rabbi Rafi Andrusier of Chabad of East County chanted the traditional song of mourning, “El Moleh Rachamim” and the ceremony was closed by Michael Sonduck, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego.

Mention was made during the program of Holocaust-related books written by San Diego County residents that may be found in the Samuel and Rebecca Astor Judaica Library inside the Lawrence Family JCC on the Jacobs Family campus.

These included Because of Romek: A Holocaust Survivor’s Memoir by David Faber; Dear Cara: Letters from Otto Frank by Cara Weiss Wilson; From Barbed Wire to Picket Fence: A Child Holocaust Survivor’s Dreams and Adaptability by Teresa Fischlowitz; I Am Lubo by Lou Pechi; My Bargain with God: The Story of Holocaust Survivor Lou Dunst by Rabbi Ben Kamin, and Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance by Michael Bart and Laurel Corona.

When the ceremony concluded, departing guests took stones from baskets to place at the Holocaust memorial adjacent to the front entrance of the JCC at 4126 Executive Drive in the eastern portion of the La Jolla neighborhood.