April 12, 2024
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Dedication Ceremony at THS’s Historic Holocaust Resource Center

Teaneck—As Vice President of the Israel Club at Teaneck High School (THS), Arianna Cannonier has heard inspiring stories about the Holocaust from survivors and their families. Now completing her junior year at THS, she has remained dedicated to the club’s ongoing Holocaust remembrance project since she was a freshman. Activities range from encouraging nursing home residents to share their recollection of the Holocaust for students to document, to updating the media center’s impressive collection of Holocaust books, a resource not only available to THS students, but to the entire Teaneck community. What might surprise an outsider is that Cannonier is not Jewish. Yet, the outgoing African American student is passionate about Holocaust remembrance and works alongside Gaby Kraus, a Jewish student whose paternal grandparents survived death camps. When it was her turn, Cannonier watched attentively as fellow student Kraus was among the speakers and officially added her grandfather’s memoir, The Painted Wall, to the collection.

On the evening of Thursday, May 30th, Kraus and Cannonier represented the diversity that embodies the Israel Club at a dedication ceremony for the school’s Holocaust Resource Center. Teaneck Public School representatives, including Superintendent Barbara Pinsak and THS Principal Dennis Heck were in attendance, as well as Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen and town council members Elie Y. Katz and Yitz Stern and Henry Pruitt. Also present were Blanche Hampel Silver and Yetta Marchuk-Selengut, co-chairs of the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee and P’nina Seplowitz (who chronicles her grandmother’s Holocaust journey in White Angel). Seplowitz is a member of the Bergen County Holocaust Memorial Committee and a contributor to JLBC.

Goldie Minkowitz, the THS math teacher is director of the project and Pearl Markovitz, the volunteer director of the THS Holocaust Center, were the evening’s hosts.

THS principal Dennis Heck welcomed the small crowd of about 30 people and spoke of the hundreds of Holocaust-related books the school had received from the Ores and Sieradski families. Goldie Minkowitz spoke of the proud history of remembrance at the school, and the creation of the Holocaust Center, the first of its kind in the state. It was a project begun by Social Studies teacher Ed Reynolds in 1975, after he and another teacher from Vineland, NJ, Harry Furman, wrote a curriculum that is still in use around the country. Today, the Media Center is filled with special books, first editions, and art work, with a mural created by student Michal Krauthamer in 2008. Minkowitz expressed gratitude to Pinsak and to Gerri Stack, “the librarian who has worked tirelessly to make all of this come to fruition.”

Pearl Markowitz, a Teaneck resident who taught Holocaust studies in Queens for 18 years brought her expertise to THS, greeted everyone, as did Councilman Elie Y. Katz, who praised Superintendent Barbara Pinsak and Principal Hecht for encouraging the project. Manny Landau of the Jewish Community Council, parent organization of the Teaneck Holocaust Commemoration Committee, thanked the community leaders and the educators for their dedication and generosity.  The honorees were presented with certificates of appreciation by the town council.

The people honored for their contributions to the library were Jeanette Friedman and her husband, Dr. Philip Sieradski, who donated hundreds of books in 2009, the Ores family, which donated 500 books and Nina Ores, daughter of the late Dr. Richard Ores, gifted the center with her father’s documentary, The Man Who Was Not on Schindler’s List, a film about her parents’ lives. Also honored was Dr. Milton Ohring, who donated two of his sculptures to the center.

Minkowitz then introduced Friedman, who founded the first Second Generation group in New Jersey in 1979 as a reaction to antisemitic slogans scrawled on the wall of Congregation B’nai Yeshurun. Among the many hats she wears, she is the editor of JLBC and communications director of the International Study of Organized Persecution of Children, a project of Child Development Research. Her husband Philip, who is also an editor, is a Viet Nam veteran. Until he retired last summer, he was Commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 498 for 20 years and also served as Commander of the Department of NJ and on the National Executive Committee. In 2009, she and her husband published the acclaimed, Why Should I Care? Lessons from the Holocaust, which she co-authored with David Gold.

After describing the backgrounds and war experiences of her parents and in-laws, Friedman said that she had spoken earlier that day to Rabbi Jack Bemporad who had just come back from leading a trip of Muslim leaders to Dachau and Auschwitz. He told her the strongest impressions on those with him were made by the rescuers of Jews—those who refused to be bystanders, and risked their lives to save others. They were the exceptions who gave hope to the world. She insisted that the goal of Holocaust education, in addition to promoting tolerance, is to teach children to think critically in a world where perception management rules, where facts are buried or left out completely, and everything is buried in opinion and spin. It is how big lies are created, and she said, “we need to teach our children to sniff out the truth, to stand up like the righteous, and do the right thing because it is the right thing to do…but we also have to warn them that doing that can be dangerous to them, and that it needs to be done any-way.”

The Ores family presented a clip from their father’s film to the assembled group, then Dr. Ohring, explained his work, “The Mathematics of Hate,” a steel cube modeled after Robert Indiana’s LOVE cube, with the word Hate cut into the steel on one side and mathematical equations expressing 6,000 in three other various ways carved into it.

Students like Cannonier and Kraus echo that assertion. After presenting her grandfather’s memoir to the media center, Kraus, a freshman, said, “I feel that not enough people know about the Holocaust, and many of those who do, do not know enough. That’s hard for me to deal with because my dad feels really connected to the Holocaust through his parents. He made sure that knowing about what happened became a big part of my life.  I think it’s wonderful that the high school has made this collection, because it will give more people the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust and respect the subject like I do.”

Cannonier told JLBC that she has learned from instructor Goldie Minkowitz about the importance of defying anti-Semitism, keeping Holocaust memories alive and of knowing the facts in order to counteract those who deny them.

Teaneck residents of all backgrounds and religions are now afforded the same resources that have helped shape the perspectives of students like Cannonier and Kraus. Minkowitz concluded the ceremony by announcing that the collection is open to the community at large. For information on how to access resources, call (201) 833-5400 and ask for librarian Gerri Stack.

Shira Hirschman Weiss is a writer living in Bergen County.

By Shira Hirschman Weiss

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