Author is Guest Speaker at Eliezer: the Jewish Society at Yale

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Having a great conversation with Professor Eugene Fidell, Senior Research Scholar in Law & Florence Rogatz Visisiting Lecuturer in Law at Yale University and Rabbi Shmully Hecht, one of the founders of Eliezer: the Jewish Society at YaleDSCN1000

One of the highlights of 2014 was  the privilege and honor to be a guest speaker at a dinner hosted by Eliezer: the Jewish Society of Yale in New Haven, Ct. The society, formed in 1966, started out as a social club for would-be and current leaders of the Yale community but has blossomed into an nonsectarian  intellectual organization recognized the world over, hosting speakers such as Senator Joe Lieberman.  Speakers for the intimate dinners are provided housing in their lovely brownstone, which was fully equipped with food and drink of all kinds. The kosher dinner was wonderful, enhanced by the conversation of Rabbi Hecht, as well as several Yale students and professors. When it snowed, I stayed another day, enjoying their hospitality even more. Eliezer has recently changed its name to Shabtai: the Jewish Society of Yale, and has moved to a new location, but they will remain in New Haven.

 

 

Photos of book club presentations

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Special thanks to Carol Piersol, especially for the lovely gifts she brought me from Lithuania this year and also for having me speak to her book club in Richmond.

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Hilda Meth, in white sweater, had me as a guest in her home in Warrenton for dinner and a presentation of “Izzy’s Fire” to her book club members. Hilda, who formerly lived in Richmond, and I became dear friends after she read “Izzy’s Fire.” She has always been one of my staunchest supporters.

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Pat Rollison, in blue sweater, kindly arranged a book presentation for me at her Circle 1 group at the Trinity United Methodist Church, where I enjoyed cookies and coffee, too.

 

“Izzy’s Fire” goes to Brazil

DSCN0366Camila Shiffl, a history teacher in Brazil, was so interested in studying Holocaust history that she paid her own way to Richmond to participate in the Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Education Institute held each year at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond. Since I was also taking the class, I met Camila, who was staying in Williamsburg housing where other international students were living. Following the seminar, she offered her translation services to the VHM and she also spent two nights with me, as she wanted to see additional places in Richmond. Camila and I had lunch at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts with Inge Horowitz, president of Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery, and Inge shared information about that project with Camila. I also visited with her in Williamsburg and met her two best friends, who happened to be Lithuanians.

“Only in America could you come to a city like Richmond, sit next to an author who wrote about the Holocaust in Lithuania and then meet two students who lived in that country,” Camila said with a laugh.

 

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(L-R) Paulina Kazlauskaite and Julia Balkunaite, study medicine and pharmacy respectively in Lithuania. Camilla visited them in Lithuania after she attended the TEI. Camila is currently pursuing studying in Slovakia about how the Roma, or Gypsies, were treated during the Holocaust. Camila attributes her interest in that subject to attending the TEI. She says, “I was inspired to follow this course of study after hearing Tim Hensley, director of collections at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, give a presentation on Roma (gypsies) and decided that I wanted to learn more on the subject.”

Izzys Fire - 24-07-2014 (1)While in Richmond, I  gave Camila a copy of “Izzy’s Fire” to take to the newly-opened Holocaust Museum where she lives. I recently received a very nice thank you letter, as well as a photo of Camila presenting the book to Carols Reiss, general coordinator of the te Museu do Holocausto de Curitiba, the only Holocaust museum in Brazil, which opened in November 2011.

Bryan Parkway Book Club

DSCN1680My dear friend, Carla Davis, invited me recently to speak to the Bryan Parkway Book Club. Look what a lovely bouquet and card they sent as a special thanks for the program. Did I tell you that I love flowers?

Abigail “Abby” Reasor earns her GSA Silver Award – Starts Holocaust Education Program in Virginia

DSCN1743Abigail “Abby” Reasor (pictured on the right) recently earned her Girl Scouts of America Silver Award by developing the first-of-its-kind Holocaust education patch in Virginia. Abby is a member of Troop 793, which is led by her mother, Erin. Abby was assisted by her best friend, Kaitlyn Sorensen (pictured on the left), member of Troop #280 whose mother, Anne, is troop leader for that group.  Both troops meet in Mechanicsville. Abby diligently researched and implemented the first Holocaust Education Patch for Girl Scouts in Virginia and worked in conjunction with Megan Ferenczy, director of education at the Virginia Holocaust Museum (VHM) in Richmond, VA, who helped formulate the program.  Abby recently introduced her new program to several scouts at the museum. Part of the requirements for the patch, which include choosing between numerous tasks to complete the patch and also includes reading from a variety of books, like “Izzy’s Fire.” Another part of the patch involves a scavenger hunt at the VHM, as well as attending a Kristallnacht service, such as the one held each November in Richmond at the Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Museum to memorialize victims of the Holocaust.

Abigail “Abby” Reasor speaks to the first group of Girl Scouts who have begun work on the Holocaust Education Patch in Virginia.

Megan interacted with the scouts, answering questions and guiding them in their quest for information throughout the museum. They also heard from Inge Horowitz, president of Emek Sholom, about the history of Kristallnacht and the  memorial service that’s held each November at the site in Richmond located at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

As a former Girl Scout, I am so proud of these young women and thrilled that Girl Scouts are still building good will in their community and around the world. The new program can be accessed by other  Girl Scouts in other states via www.comgirlscouts.org. To date, only two states offer patches for Girl Scouts in Holocaust education: Texas and now Virginia. Hearty congratulations to Abby and a big thanks to Kaitlyn for supporting and helping her friend, Kaitlyn has previously earned her Silver Award as well.

 

(L-R) Erin and Abby Reasor, Kaitylyn and Anne Sorenson go over some plans for the new Holocaust education patch with Megan Ferenczy, director of education at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA.

Inge Horowitz (in striped shirt),, president of Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery, described some of the Kristallnacht services that are held in November each year at the cemetery in Richmond to honor the victims of the Holocaust. Attending a Kristallnacht ceremony is one of the several options available to Girl Scouts to attain their Holocaust education patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Education Institute

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(L-R) Nancy Wright Beasley, Christine Beresniova,Dr. Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, Ingrida Vilkiene.

 

The Virginia Holocaust Museum (VHM) in Richmond, VA, holds two week-long seminars each summer that are generally attended by about 30, or more, teachers and individuals interested in enlarging their knowledge of Holocaust education.

Three graduate credits can be earned. The tuition is free, including room and board at the University of Richmond, which partners with the museum to make the program possible. The classes, which are generously sponsored by Marcus Weinstein, offer a plethora of information, including a copy of “Izzy’s Fire,” which is given to each participant. I had the privilege of attending the 2013 seminar led by Dr. Simon Sibelman, who was the president and executive director of the VHM at that time.

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(L-R) Christine Beresniova and Ingrida Vilkiene

Two very special women attended that seminar: Ingrida Vilkiene,  deputy director of The International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania and Christine Beresniova, a Ph.D. candidate, Indiana University, and a Fulbright Grantee to Lithuania, studying educational policy. They came early and spent the night with me. I invited Patty O’Connor and Becky Quesenberry, both retired from the Chesterfield County Public Schools, to meet with us to share their lesson plans on how they utilized “Izzy’s Fire” in the language arts programs. Each of them had taught “Izzy” since its publication in 2005 and offered valuable information from their experiences teaching the book. We later had dinner with Inge Horowitz, president of Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery (in Richmond) and she shared some history of that project as well.

(L-R) Patty O'Connor, Christine Beresniova, Nancy Wright Beasley, Ingrida Vilkiene and Becky Quesenberry

(L-R) Patty O’Connor, Christine Beresniova, Nancy Wright Beasley, Ingrida Vilkiene and Becky Quesenberry

Christine, an American married to a Lithuanian, was then studying and living in Vilnius, Lithuania, when Jonathan Berger, an official of the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania gave her a copy of “Izzy’s Fire.” Prior to attending the TEI, she had come to Richmond to visit with me and talk about the book, and meet with the previously-mentioned teachers. She was also given a private tour of the VHM by John Hagadorn, a volunteer docent there. Following the tour, she met with several staff members to discuss ways of using the book in Lithuanian schools. Since then, she has completed her doctoral program.

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(L-R)Dr David E. Kitchen, Associate Dean, School of Professional and Continuing Studies, University of Richmond and Cheryl Genovese,Program Manager, Summer School of Professional & Continuing Studies at UR; Tim Hensley, Director of Collections at the VHM; Rena Berlin (now retired) Director of Education and Dr. Simon Sibelman, who was then the president and CEO of the VHM, take a break to share time with me after lunch. Dr. Sibelman is now the Director of Judaic, Holocaust, and Peace Studies at Appalachian Sate University in Boone, North Carolina.

 

 

 

St. James Episcopal Church

I visited with the Reverend Ann Dieterle, former associate rector of St. James, as well as John Hagadorn, a member there following a presentation and book signing at St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond

I recently visited with the Reverend Ann Dieterle,associate rector of St. James Episcopal Church, as well as member John Hagadorn, following a presentation and book signing at the church in Richmond. Reverend Dieterle recently took a position as rector of St. Paul’s Church in Wilkesboro, NC. John Hagadorn is a volunteer docent at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, VA.

 

 

 

 

Girl Scouts Making a Difference

 

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(L-R) Abigail “Abby” Reasor and Kaitlyn Sorenson and I share a moment after the presentation.

When Kaitlyn Sorensen and Abigail “Abby” Reasor  became friends at the age of 3, they couldn’t have imagined their friendship might eventually have national significance.  Their Sunday School class at Fairfield Presbyterian Church in Mechanicsville, VA, became a touchstone for their early lives, along with their decision to join a Daisy troop, the beginning level of Girl Scouts.

In 2013, during the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of  the Commonwealth of  Virginia (GSCV), Kaitlyn and Abby, who were then 13, set out to try and make history by developing a program that will result in a Girl Scout patch in Holocaust education. The idea was born after they and their mothers visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum and read  Izzy’s Fire.

Anne Sorensen, Kaitlyn’s mother, asked me to do a presentation on Izzy’s Fire in conjunction with Kaityln’s Troop 280 whose members were working on their “Once Upon a Story” badge.  The members of Troop 793, the troop which Mrs. Reasor leads and Abby belongs to, also attended the presentation.

After more than 50 years, I couldn’t believe I still remembered the Girl Scout Promise I recited as a Girl Scout affiliated with Providence Methodist Church in Chesterfield County. It was so impressive to see young women still involved in an organization that expects them to complete projects which take great effort and have lasting significance.

Now an 9th grader who attends Atlee High School, Abby said she learned about the Holocaust in 7th grade at Chickahominy Middle School, which sponsors a field trip every year to the Virginia Holocaust Museum. I have spoken about my book at Chickahominy several times.

“After reading Izzy’s Fire, I found it interesting that somebody would want to get rid of a group of people just because he didn’t like them,” Abby states. “Even if they’re different, they should have been treated like human beings.”

Kaitlyn, a former student at Oak Knoll Middle School  and now in the 9th grade at Hanover High School, will assist her best friend in developing the model for the patch, which Abby will use to earn her Silver Award, the highest level a cadet Girl Scout can earn.

“Oak Knoll had a field trip every year where we spent half a day at the Virginia War Memorial and the other half at the Virginia Holocaust Museum.  After the field trip, I went for a sleepover with Abby. When I  got into her car and Izzy’s Fire was on the seat, I learned that Mrs. Reasor and I were both reading it. I was really interested in it because my mother’s grandparents came from Lithuania [where the book is set].

“I’ve heard some people believe the Holocaust was a hoax,” Kaitlyn continues. “The patch will help prove that it wasn’t. All my life I’ve heard how I should treat others like I want to be treated. I would like to think that I would have been one of the rescuers.”Girl Scouts

“We learned there was only one Girl Scout Holocaust patch,  in Texas,” Abby adds.

“We wanted one that could be earned in Virginia, so we contacted our council and met with Aaron-Paula Thompson, who organizes the programs for different ages of Scouts.”

Megen Ferenczy, director of education at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, is excited about the joint venture as well. “Even though the Holocaust occurred over 70 years ago its lessons of tolerance, morality and civic engagement are still relevant today.”

Requirements for earning the patch will be such that any Girl Scout, regardless of where she lives, could attain it by completing the requirements through the Internet. The girls will follow the model of  “Discover, Connect, and Take Action” and concentrate on what girls can learn about the Holocaust, how it relates to their lives today (i.e. tolerance, bullying), and what they can do to further the message.

“We’ll make a list of objectives that must be done to earn the patch, like visiting the Virginia Holocaust Museum, reading Izzy’s Fire or a compilation of different things” Kaitlyn explains. “Abby will be doing the work, and I’m there to assist her.”

The Girl Scout Council must approve the plan for the patch, while partnering with the  museum. One of the requirements for the Silver Award is that whatever project the Scout does must be sustainable and have longevity. Kaitlyn has already earned her Silver Award.

Viola Baskerville, executive officer of the GSCV is not surprised at Kaitlyn and Abby’s determination.

“This was the dream of Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of the Girl Scouts, to have an organization that is inclusive,  helps the girls find their voice and take courageous actions to make the world a better place. We have 12,000 girls in our council. That’s 12,000 future women who can change the world.”

Kaitlyn and Abby plan to become literature teachers. Stay tuned. I believe I’ll write about them again. After all, they are the type of young ladies that Baskerville was referring to — ones that change the world.

(Photos for this article were provided courtesy of Anne Sorensen.)

 

Recent Happenings

 

Students at St. Michael's Episcopal School showed keen interest about the editing process of "Izzy's Fire." Our discussion followed a PowerPoint presentation where I shared multiple photos I had taken while in Lithuania.

Several events have taken place since I last posted on this site. I’ve been traveling a great deal, which makes it difficult to post consistently. However, I want to thank three different groups who have been kind enough to invite me to speak. The first one is St Michael’s Episcopal School, which is near Richmond. The students were so respectful and many asked insightful questions. The appreciation they showed, along with wonderful enthusiasm from their teachers and librarians, made me glad that I’m still interacting with school groups. It also gives me hope that these children (our future) will go forward with more knowledge of how to be more tolerant of those who are different.

(LtoR) Inge Horowitz, President of Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery joined me and Simon Sibelman, as well as Jan Shaughnessy, program chair for the author’s event that took place recently in Richmond.

The Catholic Woman’s Club (Richmond) asked me to  be the speaker for their bi-annual author’s luncheon where they raise  money for scholarships.  My presentation had special meaning for the group, since it was a Catholic farm family who risked their lives to save the 13 Jews I write about in “Izzy’s Fire. I asked Simon Sibelman, the executive director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, to share the time I was allowed. A noted scholar on the Holocaust and wonderful speaker, Simon offered special insight into the subject.

A third, and very special event, took place April 7. As a Christian, I was humbled to be the keynote speaker at the Yom HaShoah program for the Jewish Educational Alliance (JEA) in Savannah, Georgia. The service to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day  is observed as Israel’s day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period.

Drawing on my life as a farmer’s daughter, I chose to speak on my memories of farm life and how my father taught me to sow seeds and carefully tend the tender plants. It is my hope that “Izzy’s Fire” can be used to sow the seeds of tolerance. My presentation followed a very moving candlelight service held to honor memories of loved ones lost during the Holocaust. Prior to the service, the names of victims had been read aloud for many hours. The hallways in the building were graced by numerous pieces of art supplied by children from Ramdam Day School and St. Vincent’s Academy, their powerful work giving special significance to the event. In the photo below, Jennifer Rich, director of programming for the JEA and the Savannah Jewish Federation, paused for a moment to appreciate the art with me and Rabbi Robert Haas, rabbi of Mickve Israel, the third oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. Rabbi Haas had just closed the Yom HaShoah service, attended by about 300 people, with the Mourner’s Kaddish Prayer.

Looking Back on 2012

Several notable events took place in 2012 that I need to update. A book trailer for “Izzy’s Fire” was finalized and added to the banner of this website. Please have a look and be sure to share with your friends.

The Summer Language Institute at the University of Pittsburg provided a scholarship so I could take a second course in Lithuanian, while a friend supported my living expenses while I stayed in Pittsburgh. I can scarely believe my good fortune.

Dr. Simon Sibelman became the new director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum (VHM) here in Richmond on July 1 . He continues to impress as he moves the museum forward in a variety of new directions. I wrote about him in my monthly column (Reflections, July 2012 – Richmond magazine) You can read the column online by going to http://richmondmagazine.com/?articleID=9f4d.

I was pleasantly surprised in September when “Nemunas,” the noted arts publication in Kaunas, Lithuania, requested photos and an excerpt from my young adult historical novel, which hasn’t been published yet. Titled “The Little Lion,” the book is set in Kovno Ghetto and details the bravery of Labaile Gillman, a Jewish teenager who saved several family members from certain death. My agent hopes to have a publisher soon. Translation and organizational work of the excerpt was orchestrated by Nomeda Repsyte, a dear Lithuanian friend (from Kaunas) who has supported me wholeheartedly since we first met several years ago. One of Nomeda’s photos also appeared in the article. It proves to me that Lithuanians are very much interested in their past history.

That was proven to me in spades during November of last year when Skaiste Aniuliene, Consul General of Lithuania in Chicago, invited me to speak in Chicago and also in Michigan at several commemorative events marking 2011 as the Year of Holocaust Remembrance, so designated by the Lithuanian Parliament.

At the same time, the Consul General also premiered a film by Rimas Markunas, a native Lithuanian, who orchestrated a documentary of a Lithuanian man saving several Jews, ultimately resulting in him being named as Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Rimas and I became friends during my first visit to Lithuania, when he had just begun making the documentary. I was privileged to share the film with the Consul General and thrilled that she made it available for the first time to U.S. audiences prior to my presentations.

Carl Wilkens, Co-Founder of World Outside My Shoes, signs his book, "I'm Not Leaving," during a break at the LaFrak Conference.

Educational conferences continue to hold special appeal. In October I attended the Ethel LaFrak Holocaust Education Conference in Greensburg, PA. The kind folks at Seton Hill University, who coordinate the conference every three years, offered “Izzy’s Fire” for sale through their bookstore as well. A special highlight was a attending an exhibit of paintings by Sam Bak, an internationally known artist and Holocaust survivor of Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania. I had the joy of meeting Sam while I was in Lithuania a few years back.

Another highlight was meeting Carl Wilkens, the only American to stay in Rwanda  during the genocide of 1994. His book, “I’m Not Leaving,” makes for riveting reading. He will return to the Virginia Holocaust Museum this summer to offer a presentation from his ongoing work.

Alan and Halina Zimm, Holocaust survivors, at the 2012 Kristallnacht ceremony held at Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemtery in Richmond,VA.

I continue to speak publicly about “Izzy’s Fire” and am always inspired by students who tell me that they continue to learn from it. I’m delighted to report that the book is still being taught in many classrooms, especially the eighth grade. The Virginia Holocaust Museum also uses it as a text for the Holocaust education classes offered through the Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Institute at the musuem. The graduate-level course is taught each summer in conjunction with the University of Richmond and offers CEUs to teahers who attend.

In early November 2012, my heart was touched anew as I attended the annual Kristallnacht ceremony at the Emek Sholom Holocaust Memorial Cemetery here in Richmond, VA, organized every year by Inge Horowitz, a dear friend and someone I consider as a gift from God. During that ceremony, in November 1997, I first heard Alan Zimm recite the names of his lost loved ones who had perished. I left the cemetery that day knowing that my life, as well as my work, had been changed forever by that gentleman’s soft voice. It has now been 15 years, and my work remains unfinished. It was wonderful to see Mr.Zimm and his wife, Halina (also a survivor), at the ceremony this year. It gave me a chance to remind him, again, of how his experiences continue to act as inspiration for me.

Another notable appearance happened in November 2012, when the Jewish Educational Alliance in Savannah, GA, asked me to speak during a luncheon. The event was memorable because of the individuals I met but was made even more memorable because I was also able to tour Mickve Israel, one of the oldest synagogues in America.

Mikve Israel, one of the oldest synagoges in the United States, is located in Savannah.

Jennifer Rich, Director of Community Programs and Adam Solender, Exectuvie Director of the Jewish Educational Alliance in Savannah, GA, agree to a photograph on a picture-perfect day in November.