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Can a Tree of Life memorial ‘end antisemitism in our lifetime’? Its new CEO hopes so.



(JTA) – The foundation overseeing the planned memorial for the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh has selected its first director, and her aims are nothing less than the total end of antisemitism.

Carole Zawatsky, a longtime veteran in Jewish nonprofit leadership, was announced as the first new Tree of Life CEO Tuesday. Her appointment came as the nonprofit overseeing the planned memorial revealed its grand plans for what its leadership hopes the space will become in the aftermath of the 2018 shooting that left 11 people dead.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in our lifetime, we could eradicate antisemitism?” Zawatsky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I think if we don’t work toward ending antisemitism in our lifetime, and we turn away from the rise of antisemitism, we stand no chance of achieving that goal.”

There are dozens of Holocaust museums and other American institutions that already work toward eradicating antisemitism; Zawatsky herself worked at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., when it first opened, creating public education programs that toured the country. But, she says, “for the most part, we were talking about things that were in the past and, most significantly, that didn’t happen on American soil.”

To that end, Zawatsky said, the reinvisioned Tree of Life can play a central role: as a place-based museum and memorial of the shooting, that situates the horrific events of that day in a larger continuum of American antisemitism, gun violence, extremism and hate speech. The emotional pull of the location itself, she hopes, will go a long way toward educating visitors: “There is no other institution in American Jewish life built on the site where history actually happened. In and of itself, that’s incredibly powerful.”

Zawatsky’s other roles with Jewish institutions have included nine years as CEO of the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C., as well as stints with the JCC of San Francisco; the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland; the Jewish Museum in New York; and, for much of the past year, the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

She is new to Pittsburgh, but notes that antisemitic attacks have a way of bringing geographically disparate Jewish communities together: “When I was the CEO of the Edlavitch DC JCC and JCCs were getting bomb threats, I never thought, ‘That’s not me, that was Delaware, that was New Jersey.’ That’s all of us. I think as a Jew in America, this is our history because it’s everyone’s history.”

Ending antisemitism is a central aim of the pitch behind Remember Rebuild Renew, the fundraising campaign for the synagogue redesign and antisemitism museum. Tree of Life has secured more than $6 million from the state of Pennsylvania for the project, and recently hired a team of lobbyists to seek out federal funding opportunities as well. Zawatsky declined to share further budget details but said many private funders had expressed interest; she said she would soon be hiring staff.

The synagogue hired world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind to design the new complex, which will function as a combined memorial, museum and house of worship. In previous statements the organization had pushed to begin construction in 2023, with the facility opening the following year, but Zawatsky said solid dates for the project are “premature.”

The new organization will also continue to serve as an active congregation for Tree of Life synagogue members, including survivors of the attack, meaning that the congregation’s spiritual and lay leaders are also part of the conversation as it reinvents itself as a memorial. This excites Zawatsky, who believes the combined space “does truly what the notion of a space of learning, a beit midrash, does.” The building has not reopened since the shooting.

Asked whether she was concerned the new project would attract unwanted attention from “dark tourists” or extremists, Zawatsky said the Tree of Life team is “working with security experts.”

Even beyond its lofty educational goals, there are other challenges ahead for Tree of Life. The shooter is scheduled to go on trial in April, a period that Zawatsky acknowledges will be “very painful, very difficult, and the role of the Tree of Life and all of us involved in it is to help to, in any way we can, ease the pain of that experience.”

Whether ending antisemitism is an achievable goal, the potency of Tree of Life as a symbol of its dangers will continue, and its new leadership hopes to make the landmark an educational opportunity.

“One of the most powerful ways to deliver a message to tell a story is through an object,” Zawatsky said. “There is no more powerful object in the United States of America than the Tree of Life.”

The post Can a Tree of Life memorial ‘end antisemitism in our lifetime’? Its new CEO hopes so. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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