Point from page 36
Steven M. Cohen is research professor of Jewish social policy at
Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Rabbi Kerry M.
Olitzky is executive director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach
Survivors Help Akiva
Frame The Holocaust
eshivat Akiva teenager Jordan Well
writes: "My grandfather faced the doors
of death and with courageousness, beat
back death on its home turf. I am proud that he is
my grandfather and realize I'm lucky to be his
The third-generation survivor writes
that powerful expression of respect,
admiration and awe in a chapter of
Voices: The Past Is Always Present,
a book that tells the haunting
and uplifting stories of 18 local
Holocaust survivors through the
voices of their eighth-grade
buddies at Akiva, a Southfield-
based Jewish day school. A
survivor's story certainly is
stirring in itself. This latest
compilation of stories of sur-
vivors born in the 1920s or
A) r Su Pded 6.,
1930s resonates even more
profoundly given how it
binds two far-apart generations.
Like the Passover seder, where the young-
est learn from their elders about our persecution
as a people long ago, Voices similarly offers a
generation-to-generation retelling of Hitler's sys-
tematic plan to annihilate European Jewry. Both
the Haggadah and Voices illuminate the capacity
of Jews to survive the most-extreme conditions.
The responses of converts with whom I shared Cohen and
Olitzky's proposal ranged from befuddled to offended. Most
of all, they just didn't get why something like this is needed.
Neither do I.
A "Jewish Cultural Affirmation" track would undermine
the hard work of sincere converts who have chosen to trans-
form their lives and souls in joining the Jewish people. To
offer Jewish Cultural Affirmation as an equally viable alter-
native to traditional conversion is to cheapen the process
of conversion itself. And if cultural affirmation is offered
merely as a second-class track, then it will do nothing except
Given the current tenuous state of American Jewry, so-
called Jewish leaders and funders no doubt will gravitate
toward new schemes dressed up as "solutions" to the chal-
lenges of Jewish demography. But as the recent Pew Research
Center's survey of U.S. Jews shows, the race to water down
Jewish life has only weakened it. Rather than throwing more
good money after bad, we should focus instead on what
makes a Jewish life worth living.
Harold Berman, the co-author of Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths
and a Journey of Hope, is the former executive director of the
Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. He and his wife,
Gayle, are the founders of J-Journey.org, a support system for
intermarried families who seek to become observant Jews.
Counterpoint from page 36
In the paperback, published last May, Jordan
Well tells the story of his grandfather Morris
Prostack. He was born in Romania and taken
prisoner in 1942 along with his parents by
German soldiers. In 1944, he was freed from a
German hard-labor camp near Moscow thanks to
the headiness of his father, who sprang
five family members from the
camp after bribing a Ukranian
guard, and the bravery of a
local farmer, who harbored the
family until the Russian army
liberated them in 1944.
Dr. Susan Salomon-Kresch, a
mother and volunteer at Akiva,
conceived the idea of students
meeting and interviewing survivors.
With English teacher Judy Kessler's
support and encouragement, the idea
grew into a book. The class and the
survivors also spent Jewish holiday
Joining Jordan Weil as interview-
ers were Danielle Silverman, David
Zwick, David Kresch, Josh Kornblum,
Pnina Schloss, Yoni Katz, Jason Jubas, Shlomo
Benezra, Rafi Lerman, Tal Ershler, Mikey
Stebbins, Chava Levi, Jonah Peterson, Jonah
Grand, Alex Fischer, Nathan Klausner, Moshe
Barash and Tzvi Skinner.
Salomon-Kresch compiled the interviews
for publication. In the book's Introduction,
she shares this sobering message: "This
generation of children are the last that will
ever have the opportunity to empathize
personally with the pains, injustice, les-
sons and triumphs of these intense times;
to hear first-person what it is to starve, to
lose everything, including family, friends,
dignity, hope and faith, and ultimately to
regain some of that back through strength
The eighth-graders learned up close and
personal to appreciate history and his-
torical preservation. They heard firsthand
about the wickedness of Hitler, the resolve
of enslaved or endangered Jews, the meek
loyalty of some Nazi collaborators and the
utter heroics of righteous gentiles.
The students plunged into the darkest
time in the Jewish experience and were
nobly taught how strong and enduring our
heritage truly is.
The students and their buddies, as the
survivors came to be known, command a per-
sonal connection for the ages – one bound
by a shared understanding of just how impor-
tant it is for Jews the world over to remem-
ber why "Never Forget" should be etched in
our minds and recounted in our voices.
sionals and others. The curriculum would consist not only of
reading, but also of experiences of lived Jewishness.
Candidates would be encouraged to sample a variety of
areas of Jewish civilization — such as politics, literature,
music, comedy, social action, learning, organized community,
Israel, chesed, and sacred and secular texts — and to achieve
a level of familiarity with and competence in participating in
American Jewish life.
Candidates would meet with mentors (in person and virtu-
ally), and gather from time to time in small group sessions,
perhaps at private homes, restaurants, cafes or other conve-
nient venues that are not explicitly Jewish in association.
For those who may come to desire official recognition, we
propose a public ceremony that would need to be designed,
and also a certificate of membership in the Jewish people,
whose specific substance and formulation would need to be
Accomplished Jewish cultural experts — professors,
writers, artists, educators, communal leaders and others —
would constitute boards that would oversee the program and
would attest to the validity of the affirmation.
Jewish Cultural Affirmation would not preclude eventual
conversion by rabbis, should they seek more traditional reli-
gious recognition of their Jewish status by religious authori-
ties. Indeed, acquiring an identification with the Jewish
people is a crucial segment in all approaches to religious
conversion, implying that Jewish Cultural Affirmation can
be seen by religious authorities as comprising a significant
step on the path to religious conversion.
We welcome those who would like to support this endeav-
or to join us in the conversation so that this proposition
might be brought to reality.
December 12 • 2013