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‘Emotional and intense’: Douglas Emhoff’s trip to Poland and Germany brings him back to his Jewish ancestral roots



BERLIN (JTA) — For second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, the final hours of a five-day working trip to Poland and Germany brought everything into focus.

It was here in the underground information center in Germany’s central Holocaust memorial that Emhoff sat down with several survivors, including two who had recently fled war-torn Ukraine.

Sitting in a small circle, they shared their stories. One of them “was saved in the Holocaust as a young baby, settled in Ukraine and then just had to flee again. And she was taken in by Germany,” Emhoff said in remarks immediately following the meeting. “It was a real emotional and intense way to finish the trip.”

The journey, which he undertook with Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, included visits to Krakow, Poland; to the nearby memorial and museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau; and to the Polish village of Emhoff’s ancestors, Gorlice.

It was all intended to feed into the design of a “national action plan against antisemitism” that Emhoff is working on with Lipstadt and others. The second gentleman has made combating Jew hatred his main focus since entering the White House, touring college campuses to talk on the subject and leading events with Jewish organizations.

But this trip, which began on Friday, aligning with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, took Emhoff’s efforts onto the international stage — and brought him back to his ancestral Jewish roots.

Emhoff’s two days in Berlin were a whirlwind. On Monday, he met with U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann, Germany’s commissioner of Jewish life Felix Klein and other leaders. On Tuesday, he and Lipstadt took part in an interfaith roundtable hosted by the Central Council of Jews in Germany, before visiting a historic synagogue in former East Berlin and meeting with members of the community. He also visited three Holocaust memorials in the city center: one dedicated to Sinti and Roma victims of the Nazis, another to homosexual victims, and finally Germany’s massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

From left, shown at a meeting in Berlin, Jan. 30, 2023: U.S. antisemitism monitor Deborah Lipstadt, Emhoff, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann, Germany’s commissioner on Jewish life Felix Klein and Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life. (U.S. Embassy Berlin)

Speaking this morning to the small gathering of Muslims, Christians and Jews hosted at the Central Council headquarters, Emhoff said he could not help thinking of his grandparents, who had escaped persecution in Poland and settled in the United States.

“They found opportunity and freedom,” he said, “and now, 120 years later, their great-grandchild is the first Jewish spouse of a United States president or vice president, who is working to combat hate and antisemitism. That’s something isn’t it?” he said, as if pinching himself. “It’s a remarkable full circle.”

Abraham Lehrer, Central Council vice president, told the guests that interfaith relations between Jews and Christians are generally good, and that the groups have developed channels of communication “in case of heavy disputes.”

Relations with Muslims function well on the grassroots level, he said, “but it is quite difficult with heads of some organizations, because a lot of them still have connections to antisemitic or antidemocratic organizations.” Participants in the round table commented afterward on the “positive atmosphere.”

“I was very impressed by the young Muslim man [Burak Yilmaz], who is organizing trips for young Muslims to visit Auschwitz,” said Rabbi Szolt Balla, who serves a congregation in Leipzig and is rabbi for the German Armed Forces. “It was a very good and productive thing to meet in this circle,” he added

Emhoff told reporters the purpose of the trip was to share best practices and feed ideas into the “national action plan” that he is working on with Lipstadt, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain and White House Liaison to the American Jewish community Shelley Greenspan.

“We are going to put our heads together and talk about what we learned and then put it into the pipeline so we can come out with the most effective national plan,” Emhoff told reporters after the day’s meetings. He added that he would be addressing the United Nations in early February.

Emhoff’s last official act here was his meeting with survivors. He changed his schedule “just in order to meet with them and listen to their stories,” said Rudiger Mahlo, Germany representative of the Conference for Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Sonja Tartakovska, who had survived a Nazi mass shooting operation in her village during World War II, told Emhoff how she had to flee Ukraine last year without a change of clothing. She is one of the Ukrainian Jews whom the Claims Conference brought to Germany last spring, said Mahlo, who took part in the meeting.

The fact that former Holocaust victims were now seeking refuge in Germany was not missed.

Emhoff speaks with 101-year-old Margot Friedländer during a meeting with Holocaust survivors in Berlin, Jan. 31, 2023. (U.S. Embassy Berlin)

“We have been talking about the Holocaust, talking about antisemitism, about violence and oppression and here in Europe all these years later these things are still happening through this unjust, unprovoked war,” Emhoff told reporters after the final meeting of the day. 

From people like Tartakovska “you hear these stories of survival. A lot of it was a twist of fate, just some luck. A non-Jewish stranger deciding on a whim to do something, that then led to a life long-lived.”

“I was also struck: One woman” — German Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlaender — “was 101 years old. Imagine living with those memories for 80 years. Those are the kinds of things I take back with me,” Emhoff said. 

The post ‘Emotional and intense’: Douglas Emhoff’s trip to Poland and Germany brings him back to his Jewish ancestral roots 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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Local News

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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