Several recipients called for the need to confront the rise of anti-Semitism during the Jewish Journal’s 2020 Virtual “Honorable Menschions” Gala, which recognized the best among us in a virtual gathering on Oct. 18.
At the end of his speech, honoree Eric Kahn, a Swampscott resident and Holocaust survivor, held up a black-and-white picture to his webcam of the students with whom he had gone to school in Wiesbaden, Germany.
“This was my school class in 1941, and within six months after that picture was taken – it was 78 years ago – all these kids and the two teachers that are shown in the picture were sent and gassed in Sobibor in Poland, the extermination camp,” he said. “We should never forget.”
Along with his father and brother, Kahn in 1945 was forced onto a train to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Of the approximately 144,000 Jews sent there, about 33,000 died, and about 88,000 were shipped to Auschwitz and other death camps. After the Red Army liberated the camp at the end of the war, Kahn’s family eventually emigrated to New York.
“I want to talk a little bit about anti-Semitism. It is an urgent topic again, and my problem and our resolve is how to fight it effectively,” said Kahn during the gala, which was emceed by David Gershaw, a member of the Jewish Journal’s Board of Overseers.
Jewish Journal editor and publisher Steven Rosenberg and incoming Jewish Journal Board of Overseers president Johanna Matloff also gave introductory remarks. Matthew Swartz, chairman of the Journal’s Fundraising Committee, and Matloff introduced the 13 honorable menschion the Journal highlighted this year.
“Bringing the menschion to the pages of our community newspaper is consistent with a central belief in journalism: these remarkable stories help connect and bind our community,” said Rosenberg.
“Your work and leadership in our community is truly inspiring,” Matloff said of the honorees: Michele Cohen and Gayle Rubin; Virginia “Ginny” Dodge; Mark Gelfand; Jody Kipnis; Wendy Dubow Polins; Ina Resnikoff; Morris “Moe” Sack; Steve Saling; Bonnie Shelkrot; Bryna “Bunny” Tabasky; Miriam Weinstein, and Kahn.
Dodge, of Swampscott, said a prior Journal interview had tracked her “long Jewish journey” and while she did not want to recap that for virtual gala attendees, she expanded on it.
“In the course of that journey, I have not until fairly recently experienced what it is to be a frightened Jew,” Dodge said.
She said she has been inspired by a 2004 book, “I Am Jewish,” a compilation of essays gathered by the parents of the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. The essays are from people of all walks of life on what it means to be Jewish.
Today, two excerpts stand out for Dodge for their hope, pride, and innocence. An essay by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke about how Jews face few closed doors, while one from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman read, in part, that if you tried to live fairly and honestly “no one will want to do you harm … because of who you are.”
“I wonder if Justice Ginsburg or Mr. Friedman would have been quite as affirming or comfortable at all times saying these words today. I’m not quite sure I am,” Dodge said.
At the time of her conversion to Judaism in 2006, Dodge said she “never bargained for this constant sense of unease in the country of my birth,” which she tries to shake off by telling herself: “We are better than this.”
After a trip to Poland, Kipnis helped create the Holocaust Legacy Foundation and the Holocaust Legacy Fellows Program with Todd Ruderman. Last year, they took 16 teens to visit concentration camps in Germany and Poland. They also met with Holocaust survivors.
Kipnis, who grew up in Malden and lives in Middleton, said she was honored to be chosen to be alongside the other honorees, especially Kahn, who spoke to the young students in the Legacy Fellows program.
She said visiting Poland with Holocaust survivors was a life-changing experience that prompted her and Ruderman to educate high school students about the Holocaust.
She said it’s important to understand the undercurrents that led to the Holocaust amid today’s polarized world.
“We need to understand the meaning of ‘Never Again,’ and no longer hear these words as a call to prayer, but a call to action,” Kipnis said.
Polins, who lives in Swampscott, said she asks herself in her daily life what she can do to live up to the dreams of those who came before her, including honoring the soul of her great-grandmother who was murdered in the Holocaust, and for whom she is named. She said it was “a random act of fate” that her grandparents, upon leaving Eastern Europe, went left instead of right, choosing to take a ship to North America instead of to Palestine, “and that I am here in this beautiful community with all of you instead of on the front lines guarding the borders of Israel or now living in a place where I might be persecuted just for being Jewish,” said
Polins, who has had leadership roles with the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, Our Generation Speaks, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and the Anti-Defamation League.
To view the Zoom recording of the Jewish Journal 2020 Virtual “Honorable Menschions” Gala, click here.