Shorts: bay area

German Jewish leader to speak in North Bay

Hermann Simon, the director of Neue Synagogue Berlin Centrum Judaicum, will be a guest speaker at Santa Rosa’s Congregation Shomrei Torah at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6.

Simon, the son of Holocaust survivors, has worked to preserve the past of the Neue Synagogue, which was founded in 1866 and was the largest temple in prewar Germany, with seating room for 3,200 congregants.

For more information about the speech, which is co-sponsored by Shomrei Torah’s Lifelong Learning program and the German consulate, call (707) 538-5519.

By the book

High school teacher works to create Israeli-Palestinian narratives for students

joe eskenazi | staff writer

Naomi Vered lives in the hottest place in Israel — in more ways than one.

Summer temperatures in Kibbutz Kfar-Ruppin on the Jordanian border regularly hit 110 degrees (the Hebrew equivalent of “Hot ’nuff for ya?” has been uttered here for thousands of years). But it’s in Vered’s professional life that she really has to sweat.

The 57-year-old high school teacher has spent years working with Palestinian colleagues to introduce Israeli narratives into Palestinian curriculum — and vice versa.

She’s been rewarded for her efforts by receiving personal threats to be fired from a former Israeli minister of education (she wasn’t), and threats of a more immediate sort when working in the Palestinian territories with fellow teachers.

Any regrets? None whatsoever.

“I think we should prepare the population for the era of peace,” said Vered, a slight, energetic woman whose pale skin belies the many years she’s spent under the brutal Israeli sun.

Her work took Vered to a conference in Minnesota earlier this month and she detoured to the Bay Area to visit lifelong friend Rachel Biale, the regional director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, who lives in Berkeley. The two grew up together on the kibbutz and in this recent visit they went blackberry picking in the Oakland Hills — a favorite childhood activity.

The five years Vered spent befriending her colleagues across the Green Line (and shaking her head in wonder at Palestinian notions of “freedom fighters” and the unquestioned right of return for refugees) has produced a tangible product: In her visit to the Bay Area last week she carried a photocopy of her history book, with a Palestinian narrative (in Hebrew) on one side, an Israeli narrative on the other and blank lines in the middle for an Israeli student to write his or her thoughts.

Translated copies of the book are already being used in classrooms in France, Spain and Italy. Despite the government’s threats, Vered has used the books in her own classrooms (in Israel, she points out, a student can go from preschool to university and never be taught about how the Jewish state’s military and social triumphs affected the Palestinians).

Unfortunately, however, her Palestinian colleagues have been under even more pressure not to introduce the opposing point of view to their students. While using the book in class was never really possible in the Palestinian territories, a few of the more courageous teachers brought students into their homes for educational sessions. Yet with Hamas flexing its muscles of late, even that has ceased.

Facing that roadblock, Vered is focusing on getting her materials to teachers and university students in both Israel and the territories. That entails some degree of risk, as a number of the Palestinian teachers have not been allowed passage into East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities. Vered and others travel to Ramallah or Beit Jallah instead.

Despite obvious gains, it has not always been a feel-good story for Vered. While the Israeli and Palestinian teachers have grown close, there is still a massive gulf between the teachers’ worldviews. Vered counts herself as a woman of the left, but draws the line at Palestinian right of return.

Israel, she feels, must be both Jewish and democratic. At the same time, her Palestinian colleagues don’t understand how the Holocaust ties in to the necessity of a Jewish state. In fact, the Palestinian teachers — as moderate as one will find across the Green Line — wouldn’t even consent to the use of an Israeli flag on the joint Israeli-Palestinian text.

It’s not fun, but for the teacher, it’s a learning experience.

“You cannot … think all the justice is on your side,” she said.

“If you do, you miss the possibility to make real peace between our peoples and governments.”

Local survivor recalls climactic, horrifying ’45 battle

joe eskenazi | staff writer

“You should never see it. It was hell. I don’t know how close it got, but it was hell, the bombing. And after it was quiet, I went over to the window to find out what happened and I saw … the German artillery in the snow, and it was still smoking. And all the soldiers around the artillery were frozen like mannequins in different positions. And then, the Soviet tanks started to proceed. What they did, they ran over all the dead soldiers with the tank. I witnessed all that. And it was horrible.”

Saul Golan takes a deep breath. The local octogenarian has told his story of surviving the Holocaust countless times to groups of all ages. But the visceral memory of huddling on the ground while bombs ripped the Polish town he was hiding in to shreds and then watching the Soviet tanks run over everything — and everyone — in their path is never an easy recollection to relive.

It’s not a memory many of the Cupertino resident’s contemporaries can relate to. In fact, he had to travel halfway around the globe before he found someone to commiserate with.

Yes, they were there, too, during the opening shots of what is now known as “The Vistula Offensive.” They were driving the tanks.

Golan and his wife, Linda, didn’t expect to visit the Kremlin. But then, not much during their recent vacation to Russia went as planned. They were at the will of the tour guides (and, Golan notes, those guides did not see fit to stop for food all that often — he lost a lot of weight). But a few strings were pulled and the group found itself deep within the heart of Red Square’s minaret-topped nerve center.

A group of elderly Russian veterans was milling about; many were adorned with so many medals and ribbons that their chests resembled the dashboard of the Apollo 11 command module. Golan still remembers a smattering of Russian, and before too long conversations started up between the Bay Area survivor and the elderly military men.

For some reason he was asked what he thought was the most important date in World War II. And for Golan, there was no hesitation: Jan. 12, 1945. The room went silent as the Russians’ eyes widened. And then: Applause. Six decades later, Golan and the Russians’ paths had crossed again. He had been an unwitting participant in history, dodging bullets as the Russians put the finishing touches on the German army. His nightmarish memories are their triumphant recollections.

Golan was born in the town of Radom, about 60 miles south of Warsaw. In the early days of the war, he and his father were chopping wood outside the family home when a bomb dropped between them and expedited the process. The shell demolished much of the family home (and the woodpile) but, amazingly, the Golan men survived.

That lucky streak wouldn’t last forever. Golan’s parents and sister would die in the Holocaust; he was later deported to an artillery plant from which he would subsequently escape and wander the Polish countryside.

In January 1945, Golan (then known as Shoel Golebiowski) stumbled into a small Polish town on the Vistula River — he cannot even recall the name. He was taken in by a single Polish woman who fed him and hid him. But within a few days German soldiers set up artillery units next to the village’s hovels and the residents fled. The woman begged Golan to join them, but he opted to stay: “Whatever will happen will happen,” he told her.

After witnessing the Soviets crush the Germans — literally — Golan emerged from his hiding place. The Red Army decided it had a use for this cunning Jew. He was pressed into service disarming surrendering Nazi troops, hundreds of them.

Golan’s memories were music to the ears of the Russians he and his wife met on their May trip. They regaled him with tales of their own. More than a few of their countless medals likely were earned during the Vistula Offensive, one of the greatest victories in Soviet military history.

For Golan, it was not his last brush with death, mayhem and human cruelty. After the war he was smuggled into pre-state Israel, where he fought in the War of Independence.

There are things he can’t remember and things he can’t forget — and his small part in the Vistula Offensive is definitely in the latter camp.

“I happened to be right there, in the right place at the right time,’ he said. “And I witnessed the destruction of the German army.”

JFCS project pairs teens, survivors

The S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services is set to launch the Next Chapter Project, which helps teens gain insight into the Holocaust by interviewing survivors.

From October 2007 through May 2008 a group of high school juniors and seniors will participate in workshops on Holocaust history in cooperation with Congregation Emanu-El. The students also will take classes on conducting interviews and writing oral histories.

After interviewing a survivor, each teen will work with research partners through the Warsaw-based Jewish Heritage Initiative of the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture. Teens will trace the history of each survivor’s town and family. The project culminates with a documented oral history, published monograph and an art piece.

For information contact Taylor Epstein, JFCS’ YouthFirst Coordinator, at (415) 359-2463 or [email protected]>.