Holocaust museum: What were they thinking

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It pains me to say it, but we have a winner.

Every year before the High Holy Days I peruse the plethora of tzedakah solicitations for various and sundry good Jewish causes. Often I give, more often I must decline, but I always open every envelope. The free return-address stickers, Post-It notes and tchotchkes, in addition to being occasionally useful, are all, unbeknownst to their senders, entrants in my personal contest: most inappropriate shnorrer.

One year I was interested to receive a Passover matzah cover from an organization, which shall remain nameless, that featured a printed rendering of two challahs. I have yet to find kosher for Passover challah, even in L.A., where as everyone knows, they have everything. We frequently get Jewish calendars which neglect to mention major holidays but include Good Friday. Once I received, from a home for elderly Chassidic Jews in New York, a box of pipe cleaners.

Last year, my Chicago-dwelling mother got a fundraising packet of “calendar stickers.” Included with pages containing obvious dates like “Anniversary” and “Vacation” was one sheet of labels that read, mysteriously, “Job Interview.”

That was the prizewinner, since it was nominated in three categories: chutzpah, optimism and creepiness. If they know you haven’t got a job, it’s pretty nervy to ask for cash. Would they like your food stamp card, too? On the other hand, it expresses a certain faith in the potential giver: “We know right now you’re an unemployed, miserable schlub, but once you go to that job interview, your world’s gonna change. When it does, remember, we believed in you.” Or a third, and even more upsetting, scenario: Maybe they had foreknowledge that you were going to need to go to job interviews.

This year, the prize will be awarded early, because I am confident that no organization, no matter how muddled or benighted, will be able to top it. The distinction of worst-conceived fundraising concept belongs to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, arguably one of the more high-profile and well-funded charities we have in America. I can’t believe I’m the only person who opened her envelope and stood gaping in disbelief at the sight before her.

There were four cards, each one with a full color photograph of a lovingly worn or slightly damaged children’s toy or memento, and each bearing below it, on a black background, the phrase “United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” The back of each card dutifully detailed the provenances of the toys with phrases like “Made by an unknown prisoner in the Theresenstadt ghetto.” Inside, the cards were blank — waiting, no doubt, for the festive inscriptions of their senders.

In an effort to believe the best about a worthwhile institution, I immediately tried moving into my “What were they thinking?” mode. But the real question seemed to be, “What did they think we’d be thinking?” What did the individual — or, I hoped, committee — that came up with the idea of Holiday Holocaust Cards envision for the “lucky charm” pin made of (I’m not making this up) leather scraps by inmates of Bergen-Belsen?

I tried to imagine what message I would send on the card featuring the small teddy bear named Refugee by the “Jewish child [who survived] by hiding as a Polish Catholic.”

“Happy birthday!”

“Mazel tov on the brit of your post-World War II American-born son!”

“Get well soon, it could be worse!”

“Now that you’ve graduated from MIT, what’s the square root of 6 million?”

I was aghast at myself. How could I make jokes on such a subject? I felt so ashamed, I’m sending a check to the museum. So, maybe it wasn’t such a bad fundraising idea after all. A gambit designed to play on two rock solid features of Jewish life — dark humor and guilt. Who cares whether the cards ever see the light of day?

But I haven’t mailed my check yet. I’ve asked my mom to send me her job interview calendar stickers. I want to include them with my donation, which will be addressed to the head of PR at the Holocaust Museum.

Turi Ryder is a talk radio personality and writer who owns and runs Shebops Productions, based in San Francisco. She can be heard on 106.9 FreeFM in the Bay Area.