UCLA historian Saul Friedlander, a child Holocaust survivor, has been awarded a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for his definitive account of "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945."
The $10,000 award in the general nonfiction book category honors the 75-year-old scholar and Israeli citizen for his remarkable ability to evoke the entire Nazi era through a combination of meticulous research and a novelist's eye for personal, human detail.
Born in Prague, Friedlander's parents found a hiding place for their 10-year-old son in 1942 in a French monastery, where he was raised as a Catholic and at one point planned to enter the priesthood. He did not learn of his Jewish identity until after the war.
Meanwhile, his parents attempted to cross the French border, were turned back by Swiss guards and subsequently delivered by French police into German hands. Both parents perished in Auschwitz.
In an ironic twist of history, Friedlander was appointed in 1997 by the Swiss government to an international commission of nine eminent historians to evaluate and judge Switzerland's conduct during World War II.
In 1948, Friedlander immigrated to Israel, studied and later taught in Tel Aviv, Paris and Geneva, and in 1987 joined the UCLA faculty as holder of the 1939 Club Chair in Holocaust Studies.
On being notified of the Pulitzer Prize award, Friedlander described it as "a great honor ... an American prize that has great meaning in this country."
In a 1997 interview with The Journal, following publication of his initial volume, "Nazi Germany and the Jews: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939," Friedlander noted that the Holocaust retained its grip on the world's consciousness, but not because it marked a turning point in history, such as the French or Bolshevik revolutions.
Rather, he said, in its most profound sense the Holocaust forces mankind to face the ultimate question: What is the nature of human nature? What are the limits of human behavior?
As the Nazi era recedes in time, attention to the Holocaust is not slackening, but increasing, Friedlander noted.
"With the passage of time," he said, "we are slowly grasping the vastness of the amplitude and ramifications of the Hitler period."
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
L.A. Rabbi to Lead the Orthodox Union
Rabbi Steven Weil, Senior Rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, has been offered the post of executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, which serves as the education, outreach and social service organization for Orthodox synagogues, according to a reliable source. Weil would neither confirm nor deny the report.
The O.U. has been engaged in a year-long search to replace Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, the current executive vice president, who will finish his term in June 2009. (He will stay on at the O.U. for three more years). Weinreb is 68 years old.
The O.U. executive committee considered 150 condidates and on Wednesday evening, April 9, approved Weil, 42, whose Orthodox synagogue is the largest outside the New York region. According to an O.U. official, who asked to remain anonymous, Weil is expected to come to the O.U. as early as January 2009; the official said Weil insisted on having enough time to help his synagogue search for a new senior rabbi.
Weil is expected to send out an announcement on the move this weekend to his congregation, which numbers 750 families. The O.U. is expected to officially announce the post on Monday.
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
Iran, Israel and U.S.
In Sunday's inaugural Southern California Symposium of the Washington Institute titled, "Iran, Israel, and the U.S.: Confrontation or Engagement in 2008?" a panel moderated by Executive Director Robert Satloff focused mainly on the looming possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. Although the National Intelligence Estimate judged in December that Iran would not have nuclear capabilities until 2010, the speakers at the symposium all believe that the actual date could be much sooner and discussed possible causes and courses of action with that timeline in mind.
Several dignitaries were in the audience, including Jacob Dayan and Elin Suleymanov, the consul generals of Israel and Azerbaijan, respectively.
Patrick Clawson, the institute's deputy director for research, introduced the idea that the main threat from Iran was not nuclear armament itself, but the fact that Iran obtaining nuclear arms would break the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, encouraging other countries in the area, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt to follow suit. All panelists were disinclined to think that Iran would simply bomb any neighboring countries; Michael Eisenstadt, a fellow at the institute, pointed out that the Iranian government usually acts rationally and any bombing on its part would ensure the end of the current regime, as well as most of the people living in Iran.
Much of the symposium was dedicated to discussing Israel's possible reactions to a newly nuclear Iran. Chuck Freilich, this year's Ira Weiner fellow, introduced the topic, saying that once diplomacy runs its course -- everyone was confident that it would quite soon -- Israel has two options: military action, or doing nothing and learning to live with a nuclear Iran. He also expressed skepticism that Iran is an existential threat to Israel, but described the situation as dire, saying, "Dire threats are important enough that they don't always need to be existential."
Though Israel officially has a policy of opacity concerning its own nuclear status, most panelists seemed to feel that Israel either has nuclear arms or is well on its way, and suggested that confirming this might be a useful strategy.
Regime change in Iran was brought up as an unlikely, though intriguing option. Mehdi Khalaji, a visiting fellow at the institute, said that the regime is more afraid of a cultural invasion than of anything else. "We need to invest in the women's movement in Iran," he said at one point.
The keynote speaker of the evening, retired Maj. Gen. Eitan Ben-Eliyahu of the Israeli air force, also favors limited military responses to Iran. His main point, during his speech, was that the best tactic to deal with the threat of Iran would be a combination of diplomatic and military coercion. Rather than relying solely on diplomacy -- which is not working -- or relying solely on a military strike -- which he was not sure Israel has the capacity to accomplish at the moment -- he said that the best course of action might be to strike a limited number of targets in Iran, choosing carefully to hurt the regime. Afterward, Iran might be more inclined to deal diplomatically with Israel.Eliyahu also repeatedly made the point that Israel would be best off in this strategy if it had the backing of some allies -- specifically, the United States. Afterward, the rest of the world, including Europe, might also be more inclined to impose diplomatic sanctions. For the moment, however, the region is in a precarious balance. "Israel is scared stiff of Iranians; Iranians are scared stiff of Israel," Freilich said.
-- Alex Collins-Shotwell, Contributing Writer
Holocaust Memoirs Unite Survivors and Students
In a statewide effort to connect and commemorate Holocaust survivors, California high school and college students have been recording survivors' harrowing stories as written essays that will be compiled into a book and displayed at the State Capitol building. Zahava Sweet, a 78-year-old Holocaust survivor, will be recognized by the California Assembly and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge) on April 28 in Sacramento. Jewish agencies and synagogues, along with Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), are teaming up to insure that survivors' stories are preserved.
Portantino's Assembly intern, Hillary Low, 17, interviewed Sweet and captured the story of how the then-9-year-old survivor lost her mother and many family members to the Nazis in Poland. As a child, Sweet was sent to a ghetto in Brzeziny and then transferred to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. After being liberated by the Russians in 1945, she immigrated to Israel, then the United States, where she attended Cal State L.A. and graduated with a bachelor's degree in child development.
For the past five years, the Assembly has supported the Holocaust Memorial Project, which has brought together more than 15,000 Holocaust survivors and students in California to preserve and record Holocaust memoirs and testimonials.
-- Celia Soudry, Contributing Writer
Heschel West Hires New Head of School
Educator Tami Weiser was recently named new head of school of Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West.
The position is new not only for Weiser, a 22-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District, but also for Heschel West, which has grown from 14 kindergartners in 1994 to almost 200 students in grades pre-kindergarten through five on its temporary campus off Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura. Its middle school, currently merged with Kadima Hebrew Academy, is housed on Kadima's West Hills campus.
As head of school, a model adopted by many private schools, the 44-year-old Oak Park resident will be responsible for fundraising, reaching out to the greater community, implementing the school's vision and leading it into the future.
Weiser's first day was Feb. 11. She will work alongside principal Jan Saltsman until July 1, when Saltsman retires, and will help set budgets, contracts and calendar items for the 2008-09 school year, during which Weiser will serve as both principal and head of school. In due course, a new principal will be hired.
Weiser's first order of business is to become familiar with the school's culture and community. Her longer-term goal is to increase enrollment and oversee the building of a permanent facility on a 72-acre site just east of Agoura Hills and north of the Ventura Freeway, which will eventually house up to 750 elementary and middle school students.
The school recently received approval for its conditional-use permit from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors after a 10-year battle with the city of Agoura Hills and the Old Agoura Homeowners Association. A final consent hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Weiser was selected to serve as Heschel West's new head of school after an 18-month nationwide search; she comes from Palisades Elementary Charter School, in Pacific Palisades, where she served as principal since November 2004. She was responsible for making that school a California Distinguished School in 2006 and also helping to significantly raise student test scores.
Prior to that, she served as assistant principal of Hamlin Street Elementary School in West Hills and in a variety of other administrative and elementary teaching positions. In 1989 she was nominated for California's Outstanding Teacher of the Year.
"I am handing the baton to a wonderful educator," said outgoing principal Saltsman. "I love her energy and her dedication to education."
-- Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor