“Be Strong and of Good Courage” (Deuteronomy 31:7) is the title for the Jewish History Museum’s 10th annual fall benefit, which will be held virtually on Sunday, Nov. 1. This year’s benefit honors Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim.
“I think of Rabbi Aaron as my primary partner in Holocaust memory in this community,” says Sol Davis, executive director of the museum. “I draw so much strength and inspiration from her work in this area. Also, beyond her commitment to Holocaust memory, she does really powerful work translating memory into contemporary action through her commitment to protecting human dignity and confronting human rights violations in the world.”
Aaron has been the spiritual leader of Chaverim for more than 35 years. She has participated in the March of the Living almost every year for the past two decades, leading groups of local teens and adults on these journeys that combine Holocaust remembrance in Poland with a celebration of Jewish resilience in Israel.
Aaron explains that she first became involved in Holocaust education as a volunteer for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, when she was barely out of college. She would present a brief overview of the Holocaust at local junior high schools and then return with a survivor who would speak to the students.
Her first trip to the concentration camps in Poland was in November 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. The next year, she returned on the March of the Living, which became, she says, “a passion of my soul. It’s bearing witness for the people who were murdered. It’s showing up in those places to show the world that there are people who remember.”
Aaron says making the trips, and teaching the teens who accompany her, also is “a way to try to understand what it means to be prejudiced, to stereotype.” She hopes that by studying the history of the Holocaust, people can avoid the traps of hatred and indifference.
Davis notes that as a member of a T’ruah, a coalition of rabbis dedicated to protecting human rights, Aaron took part in a visit to a migrant detention center on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, in November 2019, to document the plight of asylum seekers. She wrote about that trip in the AJP. This too was bearing witness, Aaron says.
“Rabbi Aaron is an inspired teacher of the difficult lessons of genocide, and the immorality of hatred. She is dedicated to her calling that the Holocaust will be learned and documented in the experiences of the young who she leads in the March of the Living, and teaches in our community,” says Barry Kirschner, chair of the museum’s board of directors and a Chaverim congregant.
“Stephanie has been a major force in the building and sustaining of support for our Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center,” adds Kirschner. He emphasizes that through the museum’s work of documenting survivors’ stories, “new generations learn from these remarkable persons, and future generations will be able to see and hear testimonies and documents of how our Southern Arizona families have been touched by the Holocaust.”
The museum’s one-hour Nov. 1 event will be held in two parts, beginning at 2 p.m. with attendees choosing their experience from three options. All participants will come together at 2:30 p.m. to celebrate the work of the Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center, honor the rabbi, and support the museum’s role in a new statewide Holocaust education initiative.
The first of the three options for 2 p.m. is a private piano recital and conversation with jazz musician and composer Emmet Cohen. Attendees also may choose a lecture and discussion, “On Holocaust Memory Now and in the Future,” with writer and educator Michael Berenbaum, who oversaw the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was its first project director. The third selection is a tour of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, which Davis calls “a Daniel Libeskind architectural spectacle” replete with Jewish symbols.
There also is an optional pre-event on Friday, Oct. 30 at 11 a.m., which is a virtual tour of the exhibit “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago, Not Far Away” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
Tickets for the JHM benefit are $125 for an individual and $225 for a household of two or more. More information and tickets are available here.