April 17, 2024
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YU’s Fish Center to Present Lecture Series On Jewish Responses to the Holocaust

To mark Yom HaShoah, the Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Yeshiva University is presenting a 10-part lecture series over two Sundays, featuring leading Holocaust scholars from Israel and the United States. The lectures will run live and then will be permanently available on the Fish Center website and on its YouTube channel.

The Fish Center launched in the summer of 2019. Its mission is to build a cadre of teachers and professional and lay leaders across the United States who are committed to Holocaust education and remembrance and are ready to meet the challenges that the field of Holocaust education is rapidly confronting with the passing of the last survivors. A primary focus is on the specifically Jewish and anti-Semitic narrative perspective of the Holocaust, rather than the trend of some organizations to consider the Holocaust as an universalist lesson of a genocidal event.

Dr. Shay Pilnik, the Fish Center’s founding director, reflected on the center’s unique focus. “We must know the history about what happened and why and what the implications are for today. The center will educate students and adults about a singular event in history that, regrettably, too few people understand, including what conditions existed before the Nazis ascended to power, how they rose to leadership positions and why they targeted Jews.

“Our greatest challenge through the Fish Center is to insist upon the Holocaust as a Jewish experience anchored in the history of the Shoah. The Holocaust does teach us many universal lessons but the way the Holocaust is being taught in the U.S. and around the world creates the danger that over time the subject will become marginalized and sidelined if we do not assert that the event is significant because the Holocaust was the only genocide in history with the intent of wiping out every member of the Jewish people from the face of the earth—a unique and unprecedented crime.”

Pilnik shared his belief that at this crucial turning point, Holocaust studies must pivot toward the recounting and recording of the Jewish perspective. “I believe that it is most compelling for us to pay tribute to the Jewish victims and what they suffered rather than only look at their stories as lessons to teach the ramifications and applications to universal lessons,” he said.

On Sunday, April 11, beginning at 10 a.m., five 45-minute to one-hour presentations will be offered. Rabbanit Esther Farbstein of Michlalah Jerusalem College will speak on “Diaries and Memoirs of Rabbis Who Survived the Holocaust: A New Perspective.” Dr. David Fishman of the Jewish Theological Seminary will speak about “The Rescue of Jewish Cultural Treasures in the Vilna Ghetto.” Dr. Samuel Kassow of Trinity College will speak on “The Ghetto Reportage of Peretz Opoczynski and Joseph Zelowicz.” Dr. David Roskies from the Jewish Theological Seminary will address “The Jewish Anthological Imagination in the Holocaust.” And Dr. Joshua Zimmerman of Yeshiva University will speak about “The Polish Underground Resistance Movement: Responses to the Holocaust.”

The program will continue on Sunday, April 18, beginning with a 10 a.m. address by Dr. Havi Dreyfuss, professor at the University of Tel Aviv and affiliate of Yad Vashem, who will speak on “Warsaw Ghetto: The End.” Dr. Ori Soltes of Georgetown University will follow with “Witnessing, Martyrdom and Heroism: Visual Art During the Holocaust.” Dr. Gershon Greenberg from American University will address “Jewish Religious Thought During the Holocaust.”

The final two presenters from Yeshiva University have been collaborating with Dr. Shay Pilnik, director of the Fish Center, in the formulation of the program. At 1 p.m., Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, senior scholar, YU Center for the Jewish Future and University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought, will explore “Jewish Religious Responses to the Holocaust.” Dr. Joshua Karlip, Herbert S. and Naomi Denenberg chair of Jewish Studies and associate professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University, will present “Jewish Intellectuals at the Crossroads: The Crisis of 1939.”

The final segment of the program, “Beyond the Lecture,” at 3 p.m., will feature a discussion with the scholars on a Zoom panel led by Dr. Shay Pilnik.

After a decade of involvement in Holocaust education, including five years heading the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Center in Milwaukee,Wisconsin, Dr. Pilnik assumed the directorship of the newly created Fisch Center last February.

During the first year of the center’s existence, and despite the limitations of COVID-19, Pilnik organized a series of interviews with directors of Holocaust programs throughout the U.S. on the topic of Holocaust remembrance and education. In marking Kristallnacht 2020, the center featured testimony by a survivor offered sanctuary in the Dominican Republic with the participation of local Dominican government officials. During this past year as well a monthly series was offered through the center that featured conversations with Holocaust educators from around the world, the first being a survivor and a celebrated artist from Chile. Currently, the center is offering four graduate courses in Holocaust studies at YU through the perspectives of art, film, Jewish religious and intellectual thought and social work.

According to Pilnik, the Fish Center is most likely one of the last to be founded and funded by a Holocaust survivor and located within a university providing numerous interdisciplinary educational opportunities. Emil Fish, Holocaust survivor and generous benefactor of the Fish Center, was born in 1935 in the small town of Bardejov in Slovakia. As a 9-year old in 1944, after many attempts at hiding, the family was arrested by the Gestapo. Emil, his mother and sister were sent to Bergen Belsen from where they were miraculously liberated in 1945 by the British Army. Equally fortuitous, his father survived the Buchenwald concentration camp and the family reunited in Bardejov. In 1948 Emil immigrated to Israel where he attended yeshiva. After emigrating to the U.S. at the age of 20, Fish completed a degree in engineering at the University of Southern California. Residing with his wife, Jenny, and their children and grandchildren in Los Angeles, Fish is the founder of Emil Fish Enterprises and Regency Park Senior Living Inc. He has served as president of Congregation Shaarei Tefila and the Hillel Hebrew Academy.

In 2005, after participating in a Holocaust Heritage Tour, Fish was inspired to restore the heritage of his native town. Thus, in 2006 he founded the Bardejov Jewish Preservation Committee, a non-profit organization with the mission of preserving and documenting the Jewish heritage of his native town and memorializing its victims.
In 2010, Fish was appointed by President Obama to the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, on which he still serves.

Fish believes that the center will provide educators with the resources and programs needed to impart the relevancy of the Holocaust to a new generation of students who know less and less about this catastrophic period in contemporary history. By doing so, the center will play an integral role in the Jewish future by promoting a deeper understanding of the past.

To access “Jewish Responses to the Holocaust 1933-1945” on Sunday, April 11 and April 18, go to the Fish Center website at: https://www.yu.edu/fish-center, or go to:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrjlE8A2yuMh6o5ifAR-HIA during their advertised times. You can subscribe to the channel and click the bell icon for notifications.

To access the Zoom panel discussion on Sunday, April 18, at 3 p.m., go to https://yeshiva-university.zoom.us/j/94636134508.

By Pearl Markovitz

 

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