Whats old is new: Holocaust Center now part of JFCS

The Holocaust Center of Northern California started exploring the idea of a partnership with Jewish Family and Children’s Services in 2009 as a way to help close its budget gap. Now that vision has become a reality.

The venerable institution has given its extensive archive of correspondence, periodicals, artifacts and rare books to the existing JFCS Holocaust Center, allowing the agency to expand its services and continue the HCNC’s mission of education, documentation and remembrance.

“There is no community that has a more imperative reason to teach future generations about moral courage and standing up for what’s right than the Jewish community,” said JFCS Executive Director Anita Friedman. “This is a perfect opportunity to take our responsibility to the next level and make it relevant in the 21st century.”

The centerpiece of the JFCS Holocaust Center, the Tauber Holocaust Library and Education Program, will now house more than 12,000 volumes, with an emphasis on the collection of rare, out-of-print memorial Yizkor books. Its archives, which include Nazi-era documents and extensive oral histories, will be located in the library, too.

The collection will support JFCS’ Holocaust education programs, including its popular speakers bureau, which brings local Holocaust survivors into classrooms and other settings.

An official private dedication of the Tauber Holocaust Library, located in the renovated Goldsmith Building on the JFCS campus on Post Street in San Francisco, will take place Monday, Jan. 31. The library will open to the public in February.

The Goldsmith Building also will house a Youth First teen drop-in center (Youth First programs aim to prevent substance abuse and promote student success) and an office of Lehrhaus Judaica, a leading center of Jewish adult education in the Bay Area, based in Berkeley.

In addition, JFCS is fundraising for a multimillion-dollar endowment to provide permanent funding for the center.

“I’ve never seen more enthusiastic support from throughout the community for the establishment of the center,” Friedman said. “People deeply understand its value and importance, and the response has been gratifying.”

Even before the library opens to the public, Friedman is already hearing positive feedback from those who have had a sneak peek.

“One survivor who has seen the center told me she visited her husband’s grave and told him everything that’s happening,” Friedman said. “She felt at peace.”

The Holocaust Center of Northern California, which opened its doors in 1979, announced in November that it would relocate its library, offices and staff to JFCS.

Like many nonprofits, the center was hit hard by the recession, resulting in a round of layoffs and budget cuts in 2009.

Longtime HCNC executive director Leslie Kane, who is now interim executive director at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, talked of teaming up with other local Jewish agencies to make up the shortfall.

The HCNC also was seeking a permanent home for its 12,000-volume library, archives and other materials. At the time, a local university was considered an ideal location, but no negotiations happened.

Friedman acknowledged that in the current financial climate, many small, freestanding organizations have opted to merge with larger agencies in an effort to provide stronger services.

“I have been involved in lots of consolidations and changes,” Friedman said. “This was perfect. There was no drama, no backstory, no bad blood. It was exactly what you hope for when deciding what’s in the best interest of the larger community.”

The Holocaust Center of Northern California maintains its website, but it directs visitors to the JFCS Holocaust Center site.

The JFCS Holocaust Center now employs 10 people, four of whom previously worked at the HCNC. Morgan Blum worked at the Holocaust Center of Northern California from 2005 to 2010; she joined JFCS a month after leaving. Her role as director of education has stayed essentially the same. With expanded resources and more staff and volunteers, Blum said she is able to do much more.

“The move brings the level of Holocaust education to where it should be,” Blum said. “We are looking at the needs of the community and creating educational opportunities inside what I call ‘the four walls’ of the classroom or JFCS building, and providing supplementary programs on the weekends.”

Blum noted that the eight Manovill Holocaust History fellows — high school students who research patterns of genocide and learn how to advocate for tolerance in the Bay Area — will travel to Los Angeles this year to expand their education. In the past, the program only had five participants.