Faculty Member Pens Commemoration Letter for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Editor’s note: The following is a commemoration letter written by Anat Balint, coordinator of SJSU’s Jewish Studies Program.

Graphic that reads Yom Hashoab: Holocaust Remembrance Day

On this day, January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust—six million Jews, among them 1.5 million children, who were murdered by the Nazis and those who cooperated with them. Millions of others were persecuted, imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis and those who cooperated with them in Europe, 1939-1945. 

The Holocaust was a unique event in the history of mankind: For the first time people had organized for the systematic extermination of other people based on racist beliefs that were nurtured by hatred, incitement and false information. The systematic murder of the Jews during WWII has brought the Jewish people on the verge of extinction.

The Holocaust happened because of the leadership and decision making of a few, the active cooperation of many and the silence and indifference of the majority of people in the countries that were under Nazi occupation.

On this day we stand in memory of those millions who were murdered, we stand by those who survived and are still with us and listen to their stories, we stand by the truth and the facts of history, and think of what can be done so that “never again”—not only for the Jews, but for any group of people—would not be just a wish.  

It is easy to think of how one would never take part in perpetration and how one would stand against its own victimization, but like the majority of non-Jews during WWII, most of us are none.

This is the day to remember the words of the prominent Israeli Holocaust scholar, Yehuda Bauer:

“Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.” 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, 76 years ago. Approximately 1.35 million people were murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

You can follow virtual events to commemorate the International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year here.

Please find here a poem by Abba Kovner: We Shall Remember (Yizkor). Kovner was a poet and one of the leaders of the Jewish underground in Vilna Ghetto. Kovner was the first to claim, in 1942, that Hitler has an organized plan to exterminate the Jews in Europe.   

-The Jewish Faculty and Staff Association and the Jewish Studies Program

SJSU in the News: Speaker Series Focuses on Sustenance, Sustainability Through Jewish Lens

SJSU Jewish series offers a full menu on sustainability

Originally published by j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California on Sept. 15, 2011.

While statewide budget cuts mean public schools around the Bay Area are pruning back, big things are in bloom at San Jose State University’s Jewish Studies department.

“Jews, Food and Sustainability,” a yearlong series that kicks off this month, will focus on sustenance and sustainability through a Jewish lens.

The expansive series will include five lectures/discussions open to the community, seders at Hillel of Silicon Valley and Chai House, and two community service days that highlight the connection between sustainability and Jewish values.

The first session, slated for Sept. 27, “Celebration and Preservation: Our Role in Our Planet’s Health,” is timed to coincide with the High Holy Days. Local beekeeper Harold Goldberg will discuss the role of bees in the ecosystem, while Marina Grossman, executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable Silicon Valley, will speak about sustainable water. Local honey, apples and fresh-pressed cider will be served.The series is presented by the Jewish Studies department in collaboration with faculty from San Jose State’s Nutrition, Food Science and Packaging department.

“Rosh Hashanah is the world’s birthday, when we basically celebrate the Earth,” said Marjorie Freedman, an assistant professor and expert on nutrition education and sustainability.

“If we’re looking at how to have a sustainable planet, we have to look at the cycle of it. We need healthy food, fruits and vegetables … and we need bees to pollinate those flowers.”

Victoria Harrison, the Jewish Studies department head who is leading the program with Freedman, said it’s exciting to get it off the ground after many months of conceptualizing and planning. She turned to the SJSU community for support after being denied a grant by the Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project, a program of the New York–based Association for Jewish Studies.

“When they didn’t end up granting it — and they really liked it, they had just done something similar not too long ago — we realized we had just put so much into it already, why not do it ourselves?” said Harrison. “We started raising gifts in the community, and the community really came through.”

In addition to generous individual gifts, the program was funded in part by the Koret Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley and Temple Emanu-El of San Jose.Following the opening session, the coming months will see lectures on topics at the intersection of sustainability, food justice and Jewish themes, including “Celebrating the Harvest: California Native Edibles” (in October, timed with Sukkot); “Teaching Kids to Love the Earth and Eat Healthy” (in February, timed with Tu B’Shevat and followed by a Tu B’Shevat seder at Chai House); “It Takes a Village to Feed a Family” (in March, timed with Purim) and many more. In keeping with the theme, local, organic foods will be offered at each session.

Though working with a modest budget, Harrison said not getting the national grant actually helped to localize the program. “We wanted to see if we could go it alone,” she said. “We thought, what resources do we have here?”

Many of the program’s themes are inspired by Hazon, the New York–based environmental nonprofit, Harrison said. “We’re trying to be as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible — we’ve made maybe 60 posters, and everything else is online.” The farthest any of the speakers will be traveling to attend is from San Francisco.

Harrison added that she’s pleased at how the program has brought the local Jewish community together, both on campus and off. The Silicon Valley JCRC and the Addison-Penzak JCC’s Center for Life and Learning have been consulted on programming, and students from Hillel and Chai House are helping to spread the word ahead of the first session.

If nothing else, organizers hope attendees will start to think critically about where their food comes from, and what part each individual can play in the sustainable food system.

“I think the idea is not only to increase people’s awareness about the issues, but to inspire them to actually take action, to change their behaviors with respect to eating, with respect to sustainability,” said Freedman. “Whether it’s learning about native bees, planting native in your own yard … Jews are social justice–minded people, and this can be part of the story. All of us can be making strides to better the planet.”

“Jews, Food and Sustainability” kicks off at 5 p.m. Sept. 27 at San Jose State University’s MLK Library, 150 E. San Fernando St., San Jose. Free. RSVP to (408) 924-5547 or Victoria.harrison@sjsu.edu.