Opening during the Nine Days and the week leading up to Tisha B’Av, the newly expanded Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education, located on the campus of Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, will be hosting a new exhibit entitled “The Sacred Scrolls of the Holocaust.”
The focus of the new exhibit was described as follows: “The Holocaust destroyed millions of lives along with centuries of Jewish wisdom and culture. As the Nazis invaded Europe, they plundered, burned and desecrated thousands of Torah scrolls and ancient texts. ‘Sacred Scrolls of the Holocaust’ explores this tragic history and invites you to learn about the astonishing rescue of one beloved family’s Megillat Esther from the ashes.”
On display alongside eight panels of history is a showcase displaying the magnificent Scroll of Esther, which was the inspiration for this new exhibit. The back story of the salvaged megillah is that it belonged to the small Ukrainian town of Brod before the Holocaust. Populated by only 400 Jews, the whole Brod community heard the Purim chanting from this one Megillah, which had been passed down from generation to generation and was the only extant Scroll of Esther.
Tragically, the entire Jewish community of Brod was sent to their deaths at Auschwitz. The only survivors were two Jacubowicz brothers. Herman Jacubowicz returned to his home after the war and fortuitously climbed up to the attic where he found a few items that had apparently been overlooked by their Ukrainian neighbors. Among the treasures were this Megillat Esther, a complete siddur and a few valuables. Herman took these treasures with him upon relocating to the United States. Eventually, he passed these holy items on to his son Len Jacobs, who recently brought the items to the attention of the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education.
This donation from residents of the local Rockland County community is testimony to the museum having been built by the community and for the community. Holocaust survivors from the Lower Hudson Region were instrumental in founding the original Museum in 1979.
Originating as the Rockland County Holocaust Commission, which was appointed by the County Legislature on May 15, 1979, the Museum was invited to establish a home in the Finkelstein Memorial Library in 1981. Known as the Holocaust Memorial and Study Center, since opening its doors to the community, it has served as an important cultural and educational center for the region.
As the community continued to grow and educational needs increased, the organization adopted a new name, The Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education. Museum stakeholders identified the need for a larger center so that in 2015, the museum closed its doors in Spring Valley and moved to the Suffern campus of Rockland Community College.
The permanent exhibits at HMCTE were created by Dr. Michael Birnbaum, world-renowned Holocaust historian, together with the Layman Museum Designers. Since its opening on the Rockland Community Campus, the museum has been visited by over 100 school groups including over 8,000 students. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum hosts traveling exhibits, a video Survivors’ Project and supplemental workshops on such topics as Moral Courage, Symbols of Hate/Propaganda, Kindness Is the Cure, and coming soon, Science Hidden Histories of the Holocaust.
Executive Director Andrea Winograd defines the mission of the museum. “Our mission is to educate, through the lens of the Holocaust, about the dangers of intolerance, to invoke critical thinking, and to inspire moral courage in the face of injustice. We offer an inclusive environment where people can learn the lessons and legacies of genocide, reflect personally, and make positive changes for themselves and ultimately for our global community. Our mission is to engage minds and souls.”
Winograd earned a degree in marketing from Northwestern University and subsequently served in several marketing positions. Eleven years ago, after moving back to Rockland County, she joined the Holocaust museum, where she found her true niche in the community. Winograd relishes the honor of leading an organization dedicated to creating a positive impact through memory and education.
Julie Golding has served as the museum’s curator for the past five years, and has created three traveling exhibits that have gone out to schools in the community as a valuable teaching tool. The first two were focused on “Resilience” and “Keepers of the Past.” The third is the current “Sacred Scrolls of the Holocaust,” which will be part of a traveling exhibit after its stint at the museum.
Golding is a Holocaust historian and associate professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University as well as a PhD candidate at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University. She expressed her belief that the discovery and display of the surviving Megillat Esther conveys a crucial message in Holcaust study. Read aloud each year on the festival of Purim, the story of Esther tells of an attempted genocide of the Jewish people. Although God’s name never appears in the text of the scroll, it hints at divine providence orchestrating the sequence of events from behind a curtain. Similarly, in the Holocaust, God was present during another attempted genocide of the Jewish people, albeit not always seen. The irony of finding a Megillat Esther in the ashes of the Holocaust has not been lost.
The museum will be open to the public on Tisha B’av, Sunday, August 7, from 1-5 p.m. At 2 p.m, there will be a live event featuring Golding and Dr. Jacob Ari Labendz, who is a scholar of Jewish history and culture. Labendz is the newly appointed director of the Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Ramapo College, where he hopes to increase cooperation with other campus departments and to continue the center’s work with the surrounding community.
“There is a real challenge to Holocaust education as the Holocaust is moving from memory into history,” Labendz said. “It is the duty of those of us who do this professionally to acknowledge the anxieties around this shift. So many of us came to know about the Holocaust through speaking to survivors. That is no longer going to be viable.”
To learn more about the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance at Rockland Community College, contact [email protected] or call 845-574-4099. The Museum is located at 145 College Road, Library Room 4110, Suffern, NY 10901. The summer museum hours are Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tours are self-guided. A $10 donation per person is suggested. Tisha B’Av hours are 1-5 p.m., with a live event at 2 p.m.
By Pearl Markovitz