“We will never forget.” These words have become a staple for Jewish people around the globe.
On the surface, they remind us of the millions of innocent lives lost in a world of blind hatred, blatant egotism and unimaginable fear, in the hope that such horrendous acts never happen again. In a deeper context, they conjure up feelings of pride in our Jewish faith, culture and history as a result of that persecution and allow us to stand strong against oppression. It was in this spirit that the Message of Hope Fund was created 18 years ago and recently turned into an endowment that will continue to fund programs teaching tolerance in our community for generations to come.
Unfortunately, while the Message of Hope Fund has helped support successful programs and efforts to reach thousands of people, there is still blind hatred, blatant egotism and unimaginable fear in our own back yards today. Teens are bullied based on their looks, feelings, socio-economic standing, academic and athletic abilities and countless other personal attributes. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community constantly faces violence, hate crimes and violations of human rights. Jews still face anti-Semitism based on stereotypes that have plagued us for centuries. Recently, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, aka The Hebrew Hammer, was suspended for the rest of the 2013 baseball season for using performance-enhancing drugs. Twitter went ablaze with comments like, “Ryan Braun really pulled a Jew move. [His] ancestors taught him well,” and “Great, another famous Jew who lied to get ahead.”
So, are we forgetting the lessons from the Holocaust? As the number of survivors dwindles and their stories are told only through third party sources, are all people, not just Jews, doomed to fall victim to constant intolerance from others?
I hope the answer is no and thanks to several members of our Tucson Jewish community, the Message of Hope will live on to teach tolerance throughout the Southwest from generation to generation.
Back in 1995, Ken Light, then CEO of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, approached a wonderful group of women — Essie Nadler, Ruthann Pozez, Sally Duchin, Elaine Lisberg and Louise Atlas (of blessed memory) — about putting together an Anne Frank exhibit. The community response to support and volunteer was great and included people of many religions, nationalities and ages. Hundreds of people helped with translations into various languages, went through tolerance training and were recognized for their contributions.
The exhibit itself drew approximately 65,000 visitors from all over the state of Arizona, thanks in part to support from the Tucson Unified School District to provide transportation to thousands of students. Visitors toured a replica of Anne Frank’s house, heard stories from Holocaust survivors and learned about Anne Frank’s life, World War II and the Holocaust. People were able to make donations and enough money was raised to repay the agencies that supported the exhibit, pay for the exhibit itself and also start a Message of Hope Fund to support future projects that teach tolerance.
Since its inception, the Message of Hope Fund has supported many worthwhile programs including:
• The Commitment to Remember program, in which Holocaust survivors were paired with students from Hebrew High to write the survivors’ memoirs. Students also signed contracts promising to tell the survivors’ stories for the rest of their lives;
• Holocaust training for teachers in the Tucson Unified School District; and
• An exchange with Polish youth to experience Jewish life in America.
To celebrate the 18th anniversary of the fund, on July 16, four members of the original advisory group, along with Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, Tracy Salkowitz, CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona and JCF staff member Melissa Hall signed an endowment agreement that will provide funding for tolerance programs in perpetuity.
The Message of Hope Fund will be a part of JCF’s Community Impact Grants program. Organizations will be able to apply for funding to support programs that promote tolerance and address intercultural unity and understanding throughout the Southwest. The Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council will consult with the Foundation on seeking requests for proposals this winter.
To contribute to the Message of Hope Fund, contact JCF at 577-0388 or [email protected]
Steven Baker is grants manager of the Jewish Community Foundtion of Southern Arizona.