/BY AL SHAMS/ //AJT CONTRIBUTOR//
I am well aware that there is a number of very good Jewish/Israeli focused charities and we should all lend them some support. Nevertheless, in this week’s article, I wish to draw attention to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR).
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While it may be unfamiliar to many, I believe its activities are of great significance to us all.
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous was established in 1986 by Rabbi Harold Schulweis to fulfill the Jewish commandment of “hakarat hatov” to search out and recognize good deeds.
During the Holocaust there were a very small percent of non-Jews who refused to be passive in the face of enormous Nazi Evil.
All of our readers should know that anyone who sought to help a Jew risked their life and the lives of their entire family. Also, one could earn compensation for reporting a Jew, typically the equivalent of $150 in today’s value.
We know that the overwhelming majority of gentiles were passive during the Holocaust. All the more reason why we should honor, respect and aid those usually ordinary people who performed such extraordinary deeds.
It is estimated that approximately 75,000 were helpful from an occupied population base of 400 million people. Clearly, the percent of righteous was very, very small.
The JFR is committed to first recognize those Righteous gentiles and now provide them with some modest financial assistance.
Most of these “Angels” have passed on and the few remaining are in frail health and have limited financial resources. Simply stated, these “angels” now need our help; since many live in Eastern Europe, small amounts of money, $200-$400 a month, can have a big impact on their quality of life.
The JFR began by providing assistance to eight “angels”; the number quickly grew to approximately 1,750 at its peak.
Now, some 27 years, later the Foundation is helping 656 “angels” in 21 countries. As this number declines over time, the Foundation will direct the majority of its efforts toward education.
The JFR seeks to preserve the memory and the legacy of the “angels” through its national Holocaust Education Program. The program is directed to inform middle and high school teachers of the Holocaust and the events that surrounded this tragedy.
As a result of the program, there are now over 400 master teachers across the U.S. and Europe who have a good understanding of the Holocaust and the subject of rescue.
These teachers are now able to share this knowledge with their peers and their students. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany has offered generous support for this program.
Four key elements comprise this essence of the education program:
- JFR published materials
- The Alfred Learner Fellowship program
- A Holocaust Center of Excellence program
- Seminars, workshops and institutes for teachers and students.
The foundation, on its website, has a vast amount of information to share www.jfr.org
Stories of Great Courage
Under its caption “Rescuer Support,” the website offers numerous stories of great courage.
I personally found it very moving to be able to see the faces of these angels: it helped to create a personal connection. I have selected a few from the website that I thought would be of interest, but urge our readers to conduct their own tour.
Irena Sendler was an attractive young woman in her early 30s who risked her life to save more than 1000 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto.
In October 1943, she was arrested and brutally tortured by the Gestapo but refused to provide any information. Shortly before her execution date, she was rescued by the Polish underground and continued to help Jewish children.
When asked why she risked her life to help strangers, she replied, “My parents did not raise me to treat people that way.”
So Simple, Yet so Profound.
Irena survived the war and passed in 2008 at the age of 98. It is interesting to note that Irena and my mother were both born in 1910.
Oskar Schindler was the subject of the great Steven Spielberg movie, “Schindler’s List,” a must see for those not familiar with this tremendous black and white film.
Irene Opdyke worked as a housekeeper to a German Army major and hid 12 Jews in the basement of his home.
He later uncovered her secret, but she was able to continue to protect her flock, but at great personal cost to herself. You should read the story of Irene’s personal ordeal.
Czelawa Lesinka – along with her mother, father and brother hid a family of four for more than two years while they lived 50 meters from a German Army camp.
They remained in hiding until liberated by the Russian Army. Czelawa is the only person from her family still alive and she now resides in Warsaw.
We have all decried the failure of governments, the church and individuals to do what was morally right for European Jews during the Nazi era, but now we know there were a few human beings, often-ordinary people who performed extraordinary acts of kindness in the face of monstrous evil at great risk to themselves and their families.
We must recognize and assist these angels now in their time of great need. Maybe we can each do without gourmet coffee for two weeks and fund a $36.00 donation.
The Foundation would love to have a modest donation from a large number of individuals. Let us not now be the complacent ones. We now have the chance to do great good.
“Whoever saves a single life is as if one saves the entire world”
It is important to note that much of the Foundation’s success is due to the zeal and dedication of its executive director, Stanlee Shahl.
She has held that position since 1992 and working with two very able assistants have developed a number of programs during the last 20 years.
Stanlee and her staff have enormous passion and commitment for the Foundation’s cause. They feel that their lives have been deeply enriched from their personal meetings and connection with rescuers and survivors.
We strongly encourage our readers to visit the Foundation’s website which offers a vast treasure of information on rescuers, survivors and the Holocaust
Al Shams is a Sandy Spring resident a former CPA and an investment professional with more than 36 years experience.