Monday, November 23, 2009

Just back from: NY/DC

We spent the last two weeks meeting with people at the Jewish Federations of North America conference in DC and then we spent some time in NYC. We were able to attend a lecture at the 92Y in NY on "American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust."  This discussion included a panel of experts (Hasia Diner, Deborah Lipstadt and James E. Young with Stephen Whitfield, as moderator) who basically agreed that it was a myth: there were many grassroots efforts nationally to speak out. In addition, memorials and Survivor groups were formed, and ultimately the US Holocaust Museum was founded as well as many other similiar museums around the country. There's even been talk of a Holocaust musuem finally coming to Arizona!

We also talked with a few different people and foundations (Rockerfeller Philanthropy, the Whelan Group, Joshua Group, and the Gesher Foundation) to talk about our film project and fundraising, among these were Slava Rubin of Indiegogo is a great resource for filmmakers and film enthusiasts to come together to create platforms for different projects, including fundraising and getting distribution.

In addition to meeting with prospective investors, we are now looking to hire a line producer to scrutinize our script and budget to see if we can make some adjustments. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our supporters! Thanks for being a link in our Unbroken Chain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly

Well, I’m finally catching my breath from attending the whirlwind event formally known as the UJC (United Jewish Communities) GA (General Assembly) now the Jewish Federations of North America.

I decided not to lug my laptop around for three days, since each day for over a twelve hour day. Unfortunately that just makes for a huge pile up of content. Here then are highlights along with a few outstanding videos. The first, is president Jerry Silverman’s inclusion to commemorate Kristallnacht by asking for a moment of silence at the end of a plenary where a mass exodus had already begun. People stopped in their tracks and it actually seemed much more meaningful then if they had already been sitting. (And yes, I take some responsibility for this after having asked the PR team as well as Jerry what, if anything, they were doing to honor the occasion. And I give Jerry a lot of credit for inserting it into his program after getting feedback from me and presumably others with the same concern. If the Jews can't recall Kristallnacht while the survivors and eye witnesses like my partner Survivor Henry Oertelt are still here to remind us, then who the heck else is going to?)

The other video is the winner of the Jewish Community Heroes, which I didn’t know until yesterday was a program of the Jewish Federations. Actually its one of the smartest campaigns they have run in while and probably the best online campaign they have ever done. The winner of the $25,000.00 for his non profit efforts is a guy named Ari Teman from JCorps, a group that pulls together young volunteers for a myriad of different community activities.

There were so many other things that caught my attention, I might just have to keep sharing them over the coming weeks. They include:  visiting with Julian, a Mexican American Jew who shared some of his experiences in growing up Jewish in Mexico, Torahs for our Troops, the Jewlicious festival, The Jewish Channel (TJC), Steve Roberts new book, “From Every End of the Earth”, and The Capital Steps, a hilarious political spoof acoustic music & performance troop.

It was a good use of my time and I appreciated getting a chance to learn a little more about the Federations and what they are currently doing and the challenges they are facing. I was also lucky enough to talk with some real experts on national Jewish philanthropy like Joel Fleishman and even visit with a few kind philanthropists, including a few of the donors of the US Holocaust Museum, who might be able to eventually help connect us with some capital. Thanks to Joe, Jeremy and the others on their team for a good experience. Maybe I'll see you at DisneyWorld (where the conference will be next year!)

Monday, November 9, 2009

An 88 Year Old Eye Witness to KristallNacht Hopes His Film will Keep Story Alive As He Continues to Promote Acceptance and Hope

Henry Oertelt pictured, Oct. 2009, with his third honorary doctorate from St. Olaf

You may know that I’ve been closely working with 88 year old Henry Oertelt, a Holocaust Survivor and author of An Unbroken Chain: My Journey Through the Nazi Holocaust. But did you know that Henry lived in Berlin in 1938 and can tell you first hand about what he and his family witnessed that night, called KristallNacht (the night of broken glass) and the following day?  More importantly, do you realize that in a few years, when Henry and other eye witnesses aren’t here, why we need to keep telling this story for the generations to come?

In his book, Henry, a teenager at the time, described the evening of November 9, 1938. 

“Around midnight my mother proceeded to prepare our apartment for bedtime.  She began to draw the curtains but suddenly beckoned my brother and I to take a look through the window. 

‘Just look at that red sky! There must be a fire nearby,” she uttered with a hint of amazement in her voice.  We waited to hear sirens of fire engines, but there were none. When all remained quiet, we said goodnight and went to bed.  Wondering why the sky was so red, we fell asleep.”

Of course, as we know now, there were no sirens because the fires were deliberately set by Nazis and black uniformed SS, Hitler’s personal guard buddies, By dawn the Nazis had rounded up and transported the first  Jewish 30,000 men to concentration camps. who vandalized and burned every Jewish business and temple that they could.  This event is thought by many to be the prelude of the Holocaust.

The next day, Henry tried to ride his bike to work but eventually had to get off and carry it over the shards of shattered glass that were strewn everywhere.  A few blocks away his family’s synagogue had been completely demolished.  The Jewish owned stores in the neighborhood had all been completely ransacked and destroyed as well. He also remembers the guards forcing Jews to clean up the glass while their neighbors stood by and in some cases, laughed and made fun of them.

We are raising money slowly but surely to adapt Henry’s story into a feature film.  Henry experienced 18 events, or 18 links, in his chain of survival – his “unbroken chain.” We plan to aim for younger audiences who haven’t yet heard about Kristallnacht or the Holocaust. Witnessing Kristallnacht is only one thing that makes Henry’s story different – there are many others, as readers of his book can attest, or you can watch our short film to find out more. We plan for the film to have a theatrical release and then be used by middle and high schools as an educational supplement when World War II is taught.  Most importantly, we hope to reach as many people as we can with this story of acceptance, and hope. Henry is a witness to Kristallnacht and the horrors of the Shoah, but we can all help keep his and others testimony alive for generations to come. We must.

Thank you, Henry, for sharing your story for the past 40 years.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

UJC GA kicked off Sunday with a new Film Festival in the Mix

I have been excitedly planning my schedule for the UJC (United Jewish Communities General Assembly from November 8-10 at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C. It’s hard – there are a lot of amazing sounding sessions happening that we are very interested in. Unfortunately President Obama just cancelled his keynote so he can attend the Fort Hood memorial service. We are fortunate that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will address the GA on behalf of the Obama Administration. In addition, a small group of top leaders from The Jewish Federations will meet with President Obama at the White House.

The Foundation for Jewish Culture Film Fest presented two simultaneous programs of new Jewish film. The film I saw was called Four Seasons Lodge, the moving account of a group of Holocaust survivors who come together each summer to relive their tragedy and celebrate their lives. It was such a great film, and the director, New York Times writer Andrew Jacobs really captured the essence of a very special slice of what a second generation survivor at the screening called "Catskills Americana." It opens Wed. in New York! It seems to be the only event at the GA for commemorating the anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9. They really should have billed it as a much bigger event with a better time and venue. Earlier today I chatted with the new National President Jerry Silverman that the GA should really do something. My idea was that he could announce my film project tomorrow, to make some kind of statement about the date - if he likes, since Henry was an eye witness to Kristallnacht but I don't know if he'll take me up on it. He should at least mention Andrew's film though.

Other sessions and events I went to or going to

The Endowment and Foundation Roundtable
The Social Venture Fund Reception
A social media tweet up Monday night at Lebanese Taverna
Campaign and Women’s Philanthropy Chairs and Directors Breakfast
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key note
Innovations in Philanthropy
Durban, Darfur, and the Goldstone Report: Defending Israel and Advocating for Human Rights

More later. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

IFP Phoenix Names Houser Member of the Month

We were thrilled to receive the news that Stephanie is Independent Film Project's "Member of the Month!" See this great video with IFP Executive Director, Amanda Melby as she talks with Steph about An Unbroken Chain and our progress with Six Million for Six Million. Please take a minute to view and even better, share this story with your friends so that our Unbroken Chain continues.