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April 27, 2000

A Flame of Remembrance

This Sunday, as the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument's outspoken creator Jona Goldrich says, 'We must never forget!'

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/a_flame_of_remembrance_20000428

This Sunday marks the eighth year that the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument in Pan Pacific Park will serve as the local centerpiece of the annual Worldwide Holocaust Memorial Day, in memory of the 6 million Jews who were murdered in Europe at the hands of the Nazi regime. Hosted this year by the Los Angeles Holocaust Memorial Monument Fund, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Second Generation, the Yom HaShoah gathering is expected to attract more than 2,500 people.

Sunday's program will feature two hours of prayer, lecture and singing. Among those scheduled to appear will be keynote speaker Gov. Gray Davis and former Secretary of State Jeane Kirkpatrick. On Tuesday, May 2, students from Los Angeles middle and high schools will visit the monument; actor Elliott Gould is set to appear at that event.

But Jona Goldrich, the monument fund's director and campaign chairman, insists that "any time is a good time to bring your children. It's in the park, it's pleasant. You always learn something new when you walk through the monument."

After all, if it weren't for Goldrich, the Fairfax area's $3 million Holocaust monument never would have happened. And for the prominent real estate developer, a tribute to the murdered 6 million had to happen.

"I wanted to have a monument in a public place where, in 15 minutes, if you read what happens from 1933 to 1945, you get an idea of the Holocaust," Goldrich told The Journal. "Someday there'll be no more survivors like me for people to be interested in or to learn of what happened in the Holocaust."

Local artist Joseph Young was already on board when the monument fund turned to Goldrich for his assistance. Drawing inspiration from the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., Young designed six 18-foot columns of solid black granite, each symbolizing 1 million of the victims. Key events of Holocaust history -- such as Kristallnacht -- are inscribed on the sides of granite panels.

"Some people tend to forget what happened to 6 million innocent Jews," Goldrich said eight years ago, just days before the memorial's April 6, 1992, unveiling, which was attended by local politicians, including keynote speaker and Holocaust survivor Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).

Eight years later, Goldrich, 72, is still tinkering with the monument.

He is not satisfied with keeping the monument a static tribute, and he promises that more information about that dark chapter of our people's history will soon be added. In fact, Goldrich is so passionate in his belief of how vital the monument is to the community that he is creating a $100,000 endowment to ensure that the observance at the park occurs every year.

The monument fund spends a lot of money each year to maintain the site, and since the monument is vandalized every so often with anti-Semitic graffiti, security guards protect it all year long.

Goldrich is very proud of the monument and the millions it represents, but he does not feel that it's a large enough tribute to those who perished in the machinery of institutionalized evil that was Nazi Germany.

"If you built a monument on every street corner in Los Angeles, you couldn't tell the true story," says Goldrich.

Goldrich himself is a Holocaust survivor. At 14, he fled Poland with his brother before the Nazis bulldozed through his village and murdered his family, his schoolmates, his community, his whole way of life. The Goldrich brothers wound up in Hungary where, on the strength of Hungarian passports, they arrived with 50 other orphans in Palestine, where "the people in Israel absorbed us and made us feel at home."

After majoring in engineering at Technion, Goldrich arrived in Boston, where he was denied admission to M.I.T. because of his weak command of the English language. He went West instead.

"I didn't intend to stay here. I was 24. My dream was to make enough money that I could go back to Israel and sit on the beach all day and watch girls," says Goldrich. Unfortunately -- or fortunately -- for Goldrich, he became too successful and wound up carving a permanent niche in L.A.'s business arena. His brother, almost three years his junior, remained in Israel, where he served as a pilot in the Air Force, then worked for El Al Airlines before retiring.

Goldrich is frustrated by the fact that schools automatically teach children about Caesar and Napoleon in their history books, but as for the Holocaust, "something that happened 50 years ago, we don't do anything. It's a crime."

That's why, while Goldrich is satisfied with what the monument has to offer his grandchildren and future generations of Jews, he hopes the structure also serves as a historical reminder and a source of enlightenment and conversation for other cultures as well. To that end, the monument fund and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles bus Los Angeles school children into Pan Pacific Park throughout the year to learn about the monument and the history that it represents.

Goldrich is very active in forwarding Jewish education. He serves as president of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, West Coast region, and sits on the University of Judaism board of directors. In respect to Jewish learning, he thinks that Los Angeles-area outreach organizations are still not doing enough to involve future generations in Judaism.

"There should be more scholarships to go to Jewish [day] schools, for people who can't afford it," says Goldrich, who also thinks that there should be more missions sending children to Israel. The developer believes that if more young Jews were exposed to Judaism, they would be more invested in their roots.

"You don't have to be religious; you can be secular to enjoy Jewish traditions," says Goldrich, who speaks from a place of concern for the future of world Jewry.

"My biggest fear is to lose the Jewish tradition of 5,000 years. My biggest fear is assimilation," says the successful entrepreneur. "I see it coming back, getting better a little bit. Israel made Jews proud. If it wasn't for Israel, all American Jews would be goyim."

Says Goldrich, "All the anti-Semites, like David Irving, would like us to forget about the Holocaust, including some Jews who are unfortunately so ignorant, they ask why do we have to talk about the past."

But Goldrich already has a ready answer: "The past dictates the future!"

The Worldwide Holocaust Memorial Day will take place on the north end of Pan Pacific Park, near Fairfax Ave. between Beverly Blvd. and Third St., Los Angeles, at 1:45 p.m., Sun., April 30. For more information, call (310) 821-9919. To get involved on the Holocaust Memorial committee, contact Chris Wheelis at (310) 280-5066.

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