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A Passover Message from President Zev Eleff

A Passover Lesson in Jewish Memory 

In 1989, Schocken Books rereleased its Passover Haggadah. It was the fourth edition of the popular Passover guidebook edited by the then-aged Jewish philosopher, Nahum Glatzer. The previous three iterations were very similar to each other; this latest version, however, added “Readings on the Holocaust.” 

Among the new texts, Glatzer included several paragraphs from Anne Frank’s diary and a small section from Elie Wiesel’s Night. Both texts selected by Glatzer wrestle with the burden of survival and God. “If God lets me live,” hoped Frank, then in hiding, "I shall not remain insignificant, I shall work in the world and for mankind!” Writing more than a dozen years after the Holocaust, Wiesel’s position could not be so sanguine. “Never shall I forget these things,” reflected Wiesel, “even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”  

Glatzer’s decision to emboss his Haggadah with the legacy of Holocaust remembrance ought to be understood in historical context. Months earlier, President Ronald Reagan laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The Haggadah appeared as Steven Spielberg was finalizing a budget for Schindler’s List, animated by a spike in Holocaust denial by influential individuals such as the controversial French politician, Jean-Marie Le Pen. 

There was a need to reinforce the Holocaust as part of our story. Glatzer hoped that attaching the Holocaust to his Haggadah would forever link it to Jewish consciousness, embedding its lessons into the themes of the Passover Seder that center on Jewish memory and storytelling.

Glatzer likely hoped that the same sense of accountability and important questions about God’s role in history would resonate. The ancient Exodus and the modern Holocaust, though very different, loom large in our collective identity. 

I think about these themes often, especially owing to the grave situation in Israel and the role of Gratz College in preparing leaders tasked with combatting antisemitism. We require creative solutions, as Glatzer had found, to raise up Jewish memory. Just last week, my 11-year-old daughter watched my Grandpa Jack’s survivor testimonial video of his experiences in the Łódź Ghetto. She was looking to deepen her connection to her great grandfather's story.

We need more of this.  

I am therefore eager to share three impactful ways that Gratz is supporting Holocaust remembrance and Jewish memory: 

  • The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity has selected Gratz to host and curate the world’s first digital archive dedicated to the life’s work of Elie Wiesel. The Wiesel collection will be the crown jewel of a pathbreaking new project led by Director of Digital Scholarship, Dr. Alison Joseph. 
  • Gratz has partnered with USC Shoah Foundation and several philanthropic foundations to bring to Gratz the Dimensions in Testimony technology, a collection of 3D interactive Holocaust survivor testimonies capable of responding to more than 30,000 questions. 
  • The Anne Frank Center USA recently awarded Gratz a sapling grown from the horse chestnut tree that towered behind the Secret Annex in Amsterdam. 

The impact will be immediate.

Gratz will debut the Dimensions in Testimony exhibit at the Arnold and Esther Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In in November and anchor it as the centerpiece of its Holocaust Youth Symposium for PA public school students and Jewish groups. 

The College will plant the sapling on its campus as a moving gesture in recognition of its continued commitment to carrying on Anne Frank’s legacy. With the support of multimillion dollar philanthropic investment, Gratz communities will leverage the very best technologies to “never forget,” as Elie Wiesel taught us. We’ll raise Wiesel’s legacy as our own. 

Most of all, Gratz will redouble its efforts—online and in person—in the spirit of Passover, to restore and reshape Jewish memory, to borrow from Anne Frank, so that we can “work in the world and for mankind.” 

Wishing you and yours a meaningful Passover, one filled with storytelling,

Zev Eleff's signature