The Blitstein Institute of Hebrew Theological College, at the behest of the Tessler family, initiated and planned a day-long Holocaust Symposium on Tuesday June, 26th 2012 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, under the leadership of Rabbi Binyamin Olstein, Menahel Ruchani, and Dr. Esther Shkop, Dean. Working in cooperation with the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago, the Symposium reached a crowd of teachers, intellectuals, parents and college students from all segments of the community. The overflow audience at the ground-breaking symposium on the theme of “Faith after Fury” (including Rabbinical leaders, educators and laypeople) were overwhelmed with emotion and inspiration, evoked by the dynamic keynote speakers, Rabbi Nosson Sherman and Rabbi Mordechai Neugroschel.
Rabbi Nosson Sherman, General Editor of ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, was among the first religious educators to teach Holocaust Studies in high schools in New York. He has been overseeing the new publication of a textbook that introduces the Holocaust from a religious perspective. Rabbi Mordechai Neugroschel, a child of survivors, a Holocaust educator, is renowned for his collection of first-hand testimonies from concentration camp survivors. Rabbi Neugroschel is the founder of an outreach organization that addresses secular intelligentsia in Israel and Europe, and is well-known lecturer and author on contemporary religious issues, including the apparent conflicts between science and Torah.
The day-long experience opened a profound discussion of the theological and philosophic problems that arise from the suffering of the innocent. The problem of צדיק ורע לו, רשע וטוב לו – the unexplained agony of the innocent and the complacent joy of the wicked – are as old as humankind, and were raised by all of Our Sages as well as the great Prophets (from Moshe to Zechariah). Nonetheless, this problem has taken on a renewed urgency in light of the enormity of the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the proliferation of Holocaust denial and rising anti-Judaism and anti-Zionism.
Teachers from all of the area’s Jewish schools were encouraged to engage in soulful learning of Holocaust Studies, and to learn how and when to introduce a study of Jewish History that is developmentally appropriate and theologically sound. The Pedagogical Workshop, moderated by Rabbi Avrohom Shimon Moller, Superintendent of Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago and History Instructor at the Blitstein Institute, featured a variety of viewpoints, as well as practical advice by a panel. The panel, comprised of the two keynote speakers, as well as Rabbi Dr. Jerry Lob, an educator and clinical psychologist and Rabbi Reuven Brand, Rosh Kollel of the Yeshiva University Torah M’Tzion Kollel of Chicago, addressed questions presented by the audience on issues such as appropriate teaching materials, how to respond to questions of faith presented by teenagers, the proper age to introduce the subject of the Holocaust and how.
The Symposium sessions were opened by the Rabbinical leaders of the Chicago community, Harav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Av Beis Din, Chicago Rabbinical Council, and Harav Shmuel Fuerst, Dayan of Agudath Israel of Illinois. The evening program was preceded by dedications by Mr. Rudolph Tessler and Mr. Robert Hartman, who sponsored the Holocaust Symposium, along with the assistance of Dr. and Mrs. Yosef Walder.
Hebrew Theological College and the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago are partners in serving our community, supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation.