THE HISTORY OF OUR CENTER
- To remember, zachor, those who have perished.
- To honor those who have survived.
- To give voice to their descendants so they may continue to tell the story from generation to generation, l’dor va dor.
- To bring together the survivor and descendant communities of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties.
To that end, the Center will design, encourage and promote Holocaust remembrance, education and programming for our diverse and multi-age community through the creation and maintenance of a Survivor Registry and Voices of the Descendants’ Registry.
The Education Center will work in concert with Israeli, national, state, and local Holocaust leaders and organizations to further ongoing educational and programs.
In 2014, as a member of the SSBJCC Board, Nancy Gorrell began a needs assessment to answer the question: What could our JCC do to further Holocaust remembrance that was not already being done by other organizations or institutions in our local region or state? She spent one year interviewing local survivors and Holocaust speakers, educators and leaders in the field as well as representatives from Jewish Family Service, Jewish Federation, Raritan Valley Community College Institute of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the State Commission on Holocaust Education. The results of her research confirmed the following:
- The Need to Continue Holocaust Education for a New Generation
- The Need to Continue Telling Survivor Stories as the first generation aged
But the research raised more questions than it initially answered.
- Who were the survivors in our community?
- Was there a list or registry for our counties?
Each of our local agencies and organizations had their own survivor lists, but there was no coordinated list or database for each of the three counties.
As a result, in early 2014, a Holocaust Sub-Committee of the JCC Board was formed to address the above needs. Each member was selected for specific expertise as well as to represent agencies and organizations invested in Holocaust remembrance and education.
Founding Holocaust Committee
- Nancy Gorrell, Chair
- Mark Chazin
- Laura Friedman
- Sandra Krawitz
- Eric Lavitsky
- Evelyn Rauch
- Richard Skydell
- Walter Yosafat
This working committee met monthly for three years to accomplish the establishment of an original, mosaic Holocaust Memorial and a virtual Holocaust Education Center as well as a Survivor Registry and Voices of the Descendants’ Registry for Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties. All members contributed ideas for the Holocaust Memorial plans and locations within the JCC building. Ultimately, after much discussion, a design plan by Evelyn Rauch, a second-generation local artist was selected and agreed upon. The JCC designated space for the Center in its proposed lounge off the main entrance of the lobby.
Establishment of a Local Survivor Registry
At the same time, Nancy Gorrell began investigating the creation of a database and Survivor Registry for Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties specifically. She worked with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. where survivors voluntarily register themselves. Following the museum’s protocols and registry procedures, she established a Survivor Registry and Database for Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties. The USHMM located by zip codes, 111 survivors in our tri-county area, but only ten survivor families responded to her letter inquiry to register their survivor loved ones. The lack of response and the aging of the local survivor population underscored the urgent need to establish a grassroots registry for our counties to bring our remaining survivor community together and to give voice to the descendant community.
As a result, an additional section to the Survivor Registry was established—Voices of the Descendants—to give voice to the 2nd and 3rd generations. Shortly thereafter, based on interest and demand, the Survivor registry was expanded to surrounding regions and counties within New Jersey.
2015-2017 Founding Holocaust Advisory Board was established to represent the wider community of local survivors, descendants, Jewish agencies, Federations, Institutes, and state commissions.
2015-2017 Founding Holocaust Advisory Board
- George Blank, Survivor
- Brian Cige, 2nd Generation
- Margit Feldman, Survivor, N.J Commission on Holocaust Education
- Tova Friedman, Survivor
- Peppy Margolis, Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (RVCC)
- Elise Prezant, Jewish Family Service (Café Europa)
- Jerry Starr, Jewish Family Service Executive Director
- Robin Wishnie, Federation Executive Director
- Elyse Wolff, 3rd Generation, NJ Commission on Holocaust Education
2015-2016 Establishment of Holocaust Education Center
As we moved forward in the process of establishing the Center, each member of the Holocaust Committee took on leadership roles:
- Nancy Gorrell: Establishment of Survivor Registry
- Mark Chazin: Campaign and Donations Leader
- Laura Friedman: SSBJCC location and staff support
- Sandra Krawitz: Researched Educational Content Materials for Center kiosks.
- Eric Lavitsky: Technical advisor, secured bids for our virtual Education Center website and bids for the necessary kiosk and computer hardware.
- Evelyn Rauch: Designed the mosaic Memorial and the Education Center room floor plan selecting the mosaic materials, room furniture, benches, window treatments, flooring and wall colors.
- Richard Skydell (JCC President) served as our general contractor in charge of all construction and sub-contracting along with the JCC Facilities Director Robert Wojciechowski.
- Walter Yosafat: Recording Secretary. He also led the smaller donation campaign.
Special thanks to SSBJCC staff members Ken Kaus for technical assistance with the website and survivor registry, and Cindy Elgrably for the graphic designs, posters and publicity.
2015-2016 Funding and Establishment of Donor Wall
As chair, Nancy reported back to the JCC Board regularly and secured their approval for the projected plan. Early on, Temple Sholom Cemetery Association helped launch the project with a generous programming endowment (note: The Association is not affiliated with the synagogue, Temple Sholom). By the end of 2016, the large donation campaign had secured the initial funding needed to achieve the project plan. An Educational Endowment Fund was secured to establish the Education Center. In 2017, an additional Fund was established for March of the Living scholarships to support student trips to Poland and Israel to experience and study the Holocaust.
Donor Wall in the Center acknowledges with gratitude those who established the endowment funds. All donors to the Center, regardless of size of the donation, are acknowledged with gratitude in our virtual Education Center kiosks.
May 2017 Holocaust Memorial Erected
In mid-May of 2017, Sandra Bryant, the mosaic artist, flew in from the west coast to install the mosaic memorial that Evelyn Rauch had designed. Designer and mosaic artist had been working together for over a year, coast to coast, to perfect the selected materials based on Rauch’s design. Sandra Bryant shipped the floor-to-ceiling mosaic Memorial on small planks weeks before, and the Center floor, fully illuminated, thanks to Richard Skydell, was ready for installation. Miraculously, Sandra Bryant and her husband installed the Memorial on site in in a mere five days.
(To view a “time lapse video” of the Memorial, go to Evelyn Rauch in the Welcome to our Center video)
Dec 2017 Opening Event and Memorial Dedication
Refer to the “Welcome to our Center” video
Holocaust Memorial and Education Center
On December 10, 2017 over 300 survivors and their descendants and community members gathered for a dedication of our Holocaust Memorial and a celebration of our survivor community and founding of our Center. The event began with the Memorial dedication followed by a viewing of our Welcome to our Center video. The event concluded with a dessert reception where survivors, their descendants and families, donors and member of the community could gather, view the registries and form new relationships. Our Holocaust Memorial and Education Center became a reality right before Chanukah, Kislev 5778.
2018 Survivor Registry Expands to All of New Jersey
Interest in the local Survivor Registry began to expand in the ensuing years as Holocaust survivors, in their aging years, returned to our counties to be near their children. Although the total number of Holocaust survivors declined statewide, Jewish Family Service of Somerset, Warren and Hunterdon counties reported an increase in their client population. The decision to include survivors from all of New Jersey became a logical one as descendants throughout New Jersey desired to register their loved ones. By 2018 our Survivor Registry reached over 100 registered survivors. As of 2021, the Registry has a total of 130. The number continues to grow.
2018 Founding 3rd Generation Focus Group and 3GNJ
In response to the interest of grandchildren registering their Holocaust survivor grandparents, Nancy Gorrell invited Michelle Edgar, Elyse Wallach Wolf and Jessica Wang to the Holocaust Center to discuss forming a focus group of grandchildren (3Gs) for the community. In preparing for the meeting, she had discovered on the internet the existence of a similar group, 3GNY. Coincidentally, its president was none other than David Wachs, a former resident of Bridgewater whose 2G parents were still residing in the community. This was a eureka moment. Michelle, a former assistant to Nancy establishing the registry, Elyse a member of the Holocaust Commission of the State of NJ, and Jessica, a technological expert in the field became passionate leaders. They reached out to all the 3Gs in the registry database and others that they knew in the surrounding community and held their first meeting in October 2018 at the SSBJCC. Moving forward rapidly, the group established a Facebook group to reach more potential members and to post events. They planned and held a number of events including dinner with a local survivor, Tova Friedman, who told her story to the group present. 3GNJ also fostered its relationship with 3GNY since many New Jersey grandchildren were spread over the New York metropolitan region and many 3GNY members had moved to the NJ suburbs.
3GNJ and 3GNY Speaker Training (WEDU) 2019
In May 2019 3GNY held its first speaker training in NJ. 3GNY’s speaker training program, WEDU (We Educate) was developed under the guidance of Facing History and Ourselves, and is an educational initiative that empowers grandchildren of survivors to learn and compellingly share their family’s Holocaust experiences with students and community groups. Peter Nelson of Facing History and Ourselves conducted the training at the SSBJCC. The training was transformational for the 3Gs and helped them to turn their knowledge of their grandparents’ stories into meaningful presentations. Many of the 3GNJ members who participated have presented at schools and other organizations around N.J. Their passion in the training was palpable. What was then will always be. What better way to continue to tell the story from generation to generation, l dor va dor. What better way to fulfill our Center’s founding mission of honoring the survivors by bearing witness?
Refer to 2019 Center Update Video
2018-2019 Education Center Outreach Programming
In 2018 our Education Center began offering on site workshops at the SSBJCC to parents and students. An intergenerational workshop entitled “To the Little Polish Boy: Developing Empathy through Ecphrastic Poetry” taught by Nancy Gorrell was offered along with “Light from the Yellow Star: An Introduction to the Holocaust through Testimony and Art” co-taught by Nancy Gorrell and Evelyn Rauch. In addition, Nancy Gorrell presented at the JCC, the Somerset County Library and the synagogue, Kehilat Shalom a presentation entitled, “Hidden Treasures: Our Local Holocaust Survivor Community.”
In 2019 the Center developed outreach programming to take our workshops directly to students and teachers statewide. In 2019 we began with “Light from the Yellow Star: An Introduction to the Holocaust in Testimony and Art” at Temple Sholom in Bridgewater and Temple Beth El in Hillsborough. The success of the outreach programing – meeting the student where they were – was a success, paving the way for further expansion of the outreach programming for 2020.
2019 Creative Arts Festival Open House: Voices of Our Descendants through Story, Art and Film
In the spring of 2019, our Holocaust Education Center decided to highlight the descendants in our community by having an open house featuring story, art and film. Thus, the idea for a creative arts festival was born. Our open house included the first Light from the Yellow Star Student Art Exhibition. The exhibition graced the JCC entrance hallway as community members entered the building. The open house festival program featured a film and talk by Evan Kleinman We are Still Here about his Holocaust survivor grandparents. Kleinman’s talk about how he wrote, created and filmed his grandparent’s story was followed by a 2nd generation Writer’s Symposium moderated by Nancy Gorrell and attended by writers with published memoirs as well as writers with memoirs in progress. One of those writers, Barbara Gilford subsequently published the memoir of her grandmother, entitled Heart Songs (2020).
Refer to Center 2019 Update Video
2019 First March of the Living Scholarship Student
On April 28, 2019 our Center sent its first March of the Living scholarship recipient, Ari Goodman on the March of the Living. Under the leadership of Sandra Krawitz, the March of the Living program will select every year several student applicants to attend the international program. Ari Goodman returned to talk to students and the community about what he felt, experienced and learned from the international march from Auschwitz to Birkenau II with nearly 30,000 students, adults and survivors. The two-week march includes visits to multiple camps and sites in Poland and concludes in Israel.
Refer to March of the Living Scholarship Information
Spring 2020 Virtual Student Art Exhibition and Poetry Reading
Due to the onset of Covid-19, our 2020 student art exhibitions and poetry readings became virtual. Available for viewing on the SSBJCC website at: