Events

Holocaust survivors at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences participate in World Jewish Congress’s 2019 #WeRemember campaign.
Survivors take to social media to ensure the world never forgets

COMMACK: Seven decades have passed since the end of the Holocaust, yet for the survivors, the horrors they witnessed remain vividly clear.  On the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, Holocaust survivors now living at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences assisted living community participated in the third annual WeRemember campaign to ensure the world never forgets the atrocities committed against humanity. 

Tina Kamin fled the Nazis in Poland and lived in the woods for a year.

Organized by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the #WeRemember social media movement was created three years ago to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, genocide and xenophobia. The initiative is considered to be the largest global event ever organized to commemorate the Holocaust.   

Survivors, family and friends, celebrities and world leaders representing a wide range of faiths were among the thousands of people from around the world who posted photos of themselves displaying “#WeRemember” signs on Facebook and Twitter. Photos were shared by WJC and then live-streamed on a jumbotron at the gates of Auschwitz, where more than one million people were murdered by the Nazis.

Sally Birnbaum survived four concentration camps.

Eight Holocaust survivors from Gurwin’s assisted living community as well as members of Gurwin’s administrative staff participated in this year’s social media movement.   Among them were survivors of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Hidden Children and Kindertransport refugees, each with a unique, horrific story to tell.  

Recognizing the campaign’s powerful impact and its global reach through social media outlets, the survivors were eager to participate, holding signs and giving testimony to their own personal experience during the Holocaust, because, according to Kindertransport child Ruth Meador, “the whole world needs to know… and care.”

Photos from Gurwin Jewish

From left, Rabbi Aaron Benson and Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky address the audience at the Jan. 27 screening. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

The Suffolk County Jewish community experienced a unique event on Jan. 27, co-sponsored by North Shore Jewish Center of Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook.

The documentary film “Who Will Write Our History” about life in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II had its global premiere in hundreds of venues in more that 41 countries around the world – and the Jewish Center was the only venue in Suffolk.

The film offers a detailed account of the conditions and atrocities faced by Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto from November 1940 to mid-May 1943, at which time the Nazis destroyed the ghetto following an uprising by its inhabitants.

Thanks to the members of a secret society – code named Oyneg Shabes (joy of the Sabbath) – led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum, an extensive archive was created to chronicle the day-to-day horror of life in the ghetto. One cache was unearthed in 1946; another in 1950. A third is believed buried on the grounds of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw.  

One hundred fifty people gathered to view the film, according to event coordinator Marsha Belford.

Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky welcomed the crowd. “Over 70 years have passed since [the Holocaust], yet we remember,” he said. “We remember because, during that time, brave people planted seeds to ensure that we would have a tree of knowledge recalling those historical events … At great personal risk and with little hope of survival they hid valuable items that could later be used as proof of Nazi atrocities, serving as evidence to counter false claims of what did and did not occur.”

There was total silence in the screening room, as a combination of archival footage and photographs interspersed with actors reenacting what is described in the diaries and documents. The film brought reality to a history that, barring the evidence of the Ringelblum Archive, would be unfathomable.

After the film, North Shore Jewish Center’s Rabbi Aaron Benson led a Q&A. He offered four observations about the Oyneg Shabes group.

First, the simple human story of resilience and courage in their heroic efforts to record and preserve what was happening to them. Second, a commitment to the Jewish vision of Yizkor (remembrance) that infused their actions. Third, the immense insight of Ringelblum to utilize a very modern, Western idea: a scientific study of history, which was only a few generations old in the 1940s. Fourth, rather than focusing on the leaders (the rabbis) as history traditionally had, his plan was to record history written by ordinary people; assembling a ground-level image of ghetto life.

One film viewer, Dr. Wilfred Lieberthal aptly identified a basis for this wisdom. He said, “Jews have an understanding and an appreciation for the power of the written word.”

The film is available for viewing online.

On Feb. 2, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization kicked off its 80th anniversary year with a Chinese New Year Celebration. The event was just the start of the many culturally-diverse activities the organization has planned for its milestone year, including a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration scheduled for March 3.

The day included Authentic Shaolin Kung Fu school performing a lion dance in traditional costumes, and after, demonstrating martial arts moves. The Long Island Chinese Dance Group performed dances symbolizing different regions of China, and Vivian Ye from Seiskaya Ballet Academy presented a solo dance called “Flying Apsaras.”

Singers JoJo Feng and Alice Huang were also on hand, and Manhattan Taiko shared the tradition of Taiko drumming, which includes the beats of drums ranging in size from 1 foot to 6 feet in diameter.

Video by David Ackerman

 

 

Bobby Brooks Wilson will be performing ‘Higher and Higher,’ ‘Lonely Teardrops’ and more next Friday night at Theatre Three.

By Kevin Redding

Bobby Brooks Wilson spent most of his life not knowing that his father was the famous Detroit singer Jackie Wilson — despite paying tribute to him and performing his songs live on stage for more than a decade. 

A Westbury native who was given up for adoption as a baby and raised in a foster home in Columbia, South Carolina, Brooks Wilson always had show business in his blood, although he never took notice of his father’s music growing up. It was the Jackson 5, specifically when they first appeared on “American Bandstand” in 1970, that lit a fire in him. 

“I knew in my gut that I could do what Michael Jackson was doing,” he later said. “One of the first things I did was I ran outside and I put up four chairs with brooms and I became the Jackson 5. I made my neighbors pay 5 cents to see me, too.”

Sadly, although he had the drive and the talent, Brooks Wilson was extremely debilitated by medical problems when he was young. With a bad case of asthma, rickets and intestinal problems, he spent a majority of his childhood in hospitals and in and out of surgeries. By the time he was in his teens, though, his health bounced back.

After enlisting in the U.S. Navy in the early 1980s, he served for a total of 10 years, a planned military career cut short by medical  discharge. It was around this time, while stationed in Hawaii, that he began singing at karaoke bars and ultimately joined a successful vocal group. 

By 1995, the singer began transforming himself into his father. Or, as far as he knew until around 2007, the iconic R&B and soul artist nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” he just so happened to look and sound a lot like “Legends in Concert,” a Las Vegas-based celebrity tribute show produced by Paul Revere of Paul Revere and the Raiders. 

The show featured live impersonators, from Elvis to Michael Jackson to Madonna to Barbara Streisand, and Brooks Wilson, now a talented singer performing steady gigs as a member of the doo-wop group The Love Notes ― fronted by Peter Hernandez Jr., and featuring his son, a pint-sized Elvis impersonator who grew up to be Bruno Mars ―was drafted into the production by Revere himself after catching a set of theirs, which featured a few Jackie Wilson staples. 

Blown away by Brooks Wilson’s likeness to the “Higher and Higher” singer, Revere urged him to embody Jackie Wilson in the shows. The performer initially balked at the offer, saying he “was an artist, not an impersonator,” but after three attempts, Revere got his wish. 

The problem was that Brooks Wilson didn’t know where to begin when it came to paying tribute to a man he didn’t know all that well beyond some hit songs. He didn’t know what he looked like, and there was no easy access to videos at the time to properly emulate his stage persona and style. And so, he didn’t try to mimic him at all. With his natural pompadour grown out, he merely “did Bobby,” which, as pointed out by those around him at the time, was “doing Jackie.” 

The reality of the situation came into focus down the line when Brooks Wilson met members of Motown act the Four Tops backstage after a performance in Atlantic City. Two of them were Jackie Wilson’s cousins, and they couldn’t get over the uncanny likeness. 

“They asked me, ‘How did you learn to move like him? How did you learn to wink and stand like him? How did you study him?’” Brooks Wilson said with a laugh. “I said, ‘There’s nothing for me to study. Everything I do is me!’ They said, ‘Everything you do is Jackie … the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you laugh.’ I’ve never tried to impersonate my dad, because I just didn’t know how to!”

The singer was soon connected to more members of Jackie Wilson’s family, who quickly embraced and accepted him, including Billy Davis, Jackie’s cousin who, alongside Motown founder Berry Gordy, wrote his major hits, and would serve as Brooks Wilson’s eventual songwriting mentor. 

Upon hearing that Brooks Wilson was in foster care growing up, the family members would ask if he knew who his mother was. He did, having reconnected with her later in life, although a relationship was never formed. But when he mentioned her name, everybody lit up, remembering her well as somebody Jackie Wilson often had around.

“Aretha Franklin told me my parents used to party at her house,” Brooks Wilson said. 

A simple blood test later, and the inevitable truth was solidified. 

“After I really accepted it, it turned my life around,” he said. “I started carrying the torch for my dad, and I feel sort of like an ambassador for his music.” 

Bobby Brooks Wilson, who will be performing live at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson on Friday, Feb. 8, describes his shows as the ultimate display of himself as an artist, featuring several covers of Motown classics, a special tribute to his father, including stories behind the specific songs he performs, as well as original tunes off his own albums, the most recent entitled “Just About Time.” 

He will be accompanied by the five-piece Coda Band and backed by Long Island’s own The Chiclettes, the trio tribute to female vocalists from the 1950s through the ’80s. 

“What you’re going to see is Bobby Brooks Wilson giving you all he’s got on stage,” the singer said. “And my dad’s going to show himself, you’re going to hear him and you’re going to see him … I feel my dad around me a lot,” a presence, he added, that’s felt by his audience during every show. 

“People come up and say, ‘I felt like I was watching Jackie again, I felt like a kid again!’ He is loved to this day by so many people, which is amazing. The joy that they have in their hearts when they come up to me after the show … I just thank God I have the ability, even though I’m just being me, to give these people the joy that they have.”

“I make people happy, I make people forget their troubles,” he continued. “I make people go down memory lane, remember their loved ones. I always hear, ‘When you were singing that song, my husband was sitting next to me’ or ‘my wife was sitting next to me. That was our song.’” 

Peter Mastropaolo, musical director at Theatre Three and leader of the Coda Band, worked alongside Brooks Wilson on a cruise ship gig last November, and, as he’s predominantly been a West Coast act, Mastropaolo hopes to make those on the East Coast more aware of him. He doesn’t think it would take long for a crowd here to fall in love with Brooks Wilson.

“He’s an amazing entertainer; nobody ever stays seated when he performs,” Mastropaolo said. “You’ll be on your feet. The excitement is just there and every time he does his thing, people just always want him back.”

Susan Marten, one of the three Chiclettes, a soprano who joined the vocal group two years ago, has been backing Brooks Wilson for about a year and a half. She called the shows “challenging and fun.”

“We were really thrilled when we first found out we’d have the opportunity to be Bobby’s backing singers,” Marten said. “It’s been a really good partnership. He’s just so good at what he does. People should expect a high-energy show that takes them back to a certain time … Bobby is keeping this music alive, and breathing new life into it! Seeing Bobby is a must.” 

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present Bobby “Brooks” Wilson in concert with a special performance by The Chiclettes on Friday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. All seats are $49. For further information or to order tickets, please call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com. 

Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

Looking for a romantic way to enjoy Valentine’s Day? Come to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport and spend an evening with your Valentine at Eagle’s Nest, the Spanish Revival mansion of Rosamond and William Vanderbilt on a hilltop above Northport Bay.

Your evening begins with music, passed hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer in the Memorial Wing, amid Vanderbilt’s exotic collections. Embark on a guided tour of the mansion through the family’s private living quarters decorated for Valentine’s Day. See rooms celebrating the romances of Rosamond and William Vanderbilt, Romeo and Juliet, Napoleon and Josephine and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and hear about the legend of St. Valentine. 

Tours, which will be held on Feb. 14 and 15, begin at regular intervals from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 per person, $35 members. To order, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

In honor of its 80th anniversary, “The Wizard of Oz” returns to over 700 select theaters nationwide on Jan. 27, 29 and 30, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies. The beloved classic will include an exclusive commentary by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

The 1939 musical fantasy film, based on the 1900 children’s book by L. Frank Baum, starred Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, a young girl who dreams of more than her life on a small Kansas farm and suddenly finds herself whisked away by a tornado to the magical world of Oz.

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film was nominated for several Academy Awards upon its release, including Best Picture, which it lost to “Gone with the Wind” but won for Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score.

Considered to be one of the greatest films in cinema history, “The Wizard of Oz” was one of the earliest films to be deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Participating movie theaters in our neck of the woods include  AMC Loews Stony Brook 17, 2196 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook on Jan. 27 at 2 and 5 p.m., Jan. 29 and 30 at 7 p.m.; and Island 16 Cinema de Lux, 185 Morris Ave., Holtsville on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. To purchase your ticket in advance, visit www.fathomevents.com.

A STORY OF RESISTANCE: From left, actors Julia Lewenfisz-Gorka, Wojciech Zielinski and Marta Ormaniec portray Ora, Abraham and Luba Lewin in a ghetto street scene from the film. Photo by Anna Wloch/Katahdin Productions

By Donna Newman

“History is written by the victors” is a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill. Some allege that history is written by the survivors. In at least one unique case, however, history was written by people who were neither victors nor survivors. During the Holocaust of World War II, a historical record was assembled by a group of doomed Polish Jews with only one goal: to let the truth be known.

Actor Wojciech Zielinski as Oyneg Shabes member Abraham Lewin. Photo by Anna Wloch

As designated by the United Nations in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been observed each year since on Jan. 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. On that date this year, the world can see the global premiere of a new documentary, “Who Will Write Our History,” detailing the trove of evidence regarding life, atrocities and death within the Warsaw Ghetto, as compiled and buried before the ghetto’s destruction by Jewish inmates who were imprisoned there.

As part of an international event, the film will screen simultaneously at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. These are just three of the more than 250 venues in 41 countries around the world taking part in this unprecedented event, with more joining daily. 

Here in Suffolk County, the film may only be viewed at North Shore Jewish Center, 385 Old Town Road, Port Jefferson Station, at 3:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $10 per person. Call 631-928-3737 to RSVP.  

“Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary film based on a book by the same name written by Trinity College Professor Samuel Kassow who was born in 1946 in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany. The film was written, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Roberta Grossman; the executive producer is Nancy Spielberg. 

Men praying in Warsaw Ghetto in a scene from the film.

Both book and documentary tell the story of the secret society — code named Oyneg Shabes, or joy of the Sabbath — composed of journalists, scholars and community leaders who were among the 450,000 Jews confined to the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest in Nazi-occupied Europe, beginning in November 1940. 

The website for the documentary introduces the film: “‘Who Will Write Our History’ is a story of resistance. It is a story about who gets to tell the story. It is about a group of spiritual resistors who risked their lives so that the truth would survive, even if they did not.”

Leading this band of resistance fighters was historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who masterminded  “one of the most astonishing research projects in human history” according to Culture.pl, a government-sponsored website funded by Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

The archive that Ringelblum’s team of about 50 to 60 individuals assembled contains approximately 6,000 documents, written in Yiddish and Polish. Artifacts also collected include newspapers, ration and tram tickets, letters, postcards, leaflets, German orders, theater posters and candy wrappers. Original literary pieces and works of art — drawings, watercolors and cartoons — were also deposited in the archive.

Shortly after the war, the first hidden cache to be unearthed was discovered on Sept. 18, 1946. A second trove was found in 1950. A third stash, which has yet to be located despite a 2003 excavation attempt, is thought to be buried on the grounds of the Chinese embassy in Warsaw.

A Warsaw Ghetto market scene from the film.

North Shore Jewish Center congregants Marsha Belford and her husband, Wlodek Guryn, learned about the documentary last spring at the 2018 Hillel and Jewish Theological Seminary-sponsored Jewish University for a Day held at Stony Brook University.

In a plenary session, not only did Grossman talk about and show a clip of the film, which was then in production, but Dr. Eleonora Bergman of  the Ringelblum Archive also spoke.

“Bringing this documentary to our synagogue started with my husband’s friendship with Eleonora Bergman, who is also a Polish Jew and who grew up on the same street in Warsaw as he did,” said Belford in a recent interview. “Dr. Bergman served as director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw [2007-2011] and is still very much involved with the Ringelblum Archive.”

For her extensive work, Bergman received the French Légion d’Honneur in 2012. She and Prof. Tadeusz Epsztein shared the 2017 Jan Karski and Pola Nireneka Prize, awarded by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research for their work coordinating the publication of the Ringelblum Archive.

Belford patiently awaited the film’s release because she appreciates Holocaust testimonies for very personal reasons. “My husband’s parents escaped Pinsk and survived the war as Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union,” she said. “Originally from Hungary, my mother — whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis — was a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.”

Members of the cast

When Belford learned that the documentary would be shown at the U.N. as part of its International Holocaust Remembrance Week observances and also at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove — but nowhere in Suffolk County — she contacted the organizer of NSJC’s annual Jewish film festival, Robin Appel.

Belford is grateful to Appel for her expertise and assistance in obtaining the film. “It was Robin who handled all the negotiations that made the NSJC screening possible,” she said.

North Shore Jewish Center Rabbi Aaron Bensen is delighted to offer the community a chance to see this important film. 

“I am tremendously proud to be hosting this screening,” said Benson. “We’ve held an annual Jewish film festival for a decade now, thanks to a team that researches and selects excellent Jewish, Israeli and Holocaust-themed films. Bringing ‘Who Will Write Our History’ to the area is a major accomplishment for the group.”

“We’re also happy to be partnering with Temple Isaiah [in Stony Brook] as sponsors,” he added, “since it is a wonderful opportunity to engage a broader audience on this important topic.”

After the war, Rachel Auerbach — one of only three members of Oyneg Shabes to survive — noted the importance of informing the wider world: “We wrote, collected, guarded and hid while in the circumstances of our own destruction. We prepared the register of our own suffering and death, not for ourselves, but for other Jews. For the Jewish community of the wide world.”

Thanks to Auerbach and her courageous cohorts, that perspective will reach the eyes and ears of Suffolk County and beyond Jan. 27 via the film “Who Will Write Our History.”

All photos by Anna Wloch/Katahdin Productions

By Heidi Sutton

The Port Jefferson Conservancy hosted a reception for the Port Jefferson Village Center’s latest exhibit, GRUMMAN ON LONG ISLAND, A Photographic Tribute, on Jan. 10, an event that attracted over 250 visitors. Former Grumman employees, family, friends and the community came out to celebrate a reunion of sorts and to reminisce about the aerospace company that employed over 20,000 people on Long Island over the decades. 

A highlight of the reception was a six-member guest panel that included Grummanites Vinny DeStefano, vice president of manufacturing; Hank Janiesch, vice president (F-14 Program); Rodger Schafer, technical adviser; Joe “Ruggs” Ruggerio, director of electronic warfare; Harold Sheprow, a flight test manager and former mayor of Port Jefferson; Jim Reynolds Sr., an ILS engineer; and Cmdr. Jim Roth, a combat pilot and aviation test pilot who was an instructor for the first Grumman A-6 Intruder squadron.

They took turns speaking about their experience at Grumman and then fielded questions from a standing room only audience. Each guest speaker echoed the same sentiment; that they had loved working for Grumman, were very proud of their career and would do it all over again.

The exhibit, which was curated by Port Jefferson historian Chris Ryon and the Village of Belle Terre historian John Hiz, boasts over 100 photos, several scale models of planes and a special test pilot section.

Mayor Margot Garant kicked off the reception, saying, “I want to recognize the outstanding work, the collaborate effort, of Chris Ryon and John Hiz. They have collectively put in at least 300 man-hours putting this exhibit together.” 

“We had no idea what we were getting into a year ago when we decided to do a Grumman exhibit,’” said Ryon. “People have been coming into our office every day [to drop off photographs] and then we ended up going to the Grumman History Center and filling a 26-foot box truck [with more memorabilia]. It’s been great.”

“This [exhibit] is basically an idea of a  photo tribute to the Grumman Aerospace and Engineering Corporation between 1929 and 1994. That was the year they were acquired by Northrop,” said Hiz. “This evening we would like to reconnect through photographs, artifacts and mainly stories with individuals, families and friends who have contributed in making Grumman a household name on Long Island, a leader in aviation and space exploration and a very important part of our Long Island heritage.”

Visitors were treated to hors d’ouevres, wine and a special cake in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. 

The exhibit runs through February at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A East Main St., Port Jefferson. Admission is free. For further information, call 631-802-2160.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Beverly C. Tyler

Voices needed

Informal tryouts for the multigenerational chorus, The Silver Chords, will take place at the Eugene Cannataro Senior Center, 420 Middle Country Road, Smithtown on Saturdays, Jan. 19 and 26. Join them to warm up during rehearsal at 9:30 a.m. An informal audition with the director will be held at noon. For more information, call Caroline at 631-235-3593 or Carl at 631-379-7066.

Image from Theatre Three

An afternoon of ‘Art’

Discover your inner Picasso! Grab some friends and join Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson for a painting class at Griswold’s Cafe on Sunday,  Jan. 20 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. The class will be led by local artist Rita Rooney who will help you create an 11×14-inch acrylic painting (see featured painting on right). Then head up to the Mainstage to enjoy a performance of Yasmina Reza’s one-act play, “Art.” Tickets for the paint party and show are $70. To reserve, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

*Update: Due to the weather, this event has been postponed until the Spring.

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