The 2013 Yom HaShoah Commemoration was held on Sunday, April 7 at Temple Solel.  Nearly 80 survivors walked into the social hall carrying yellow candles in front of 600 guests.


Elaine Hirsch (right) presenting Shofar Zachor Award to 2013 Winner Ruth Callahan, PhD


It is my distinct honor to present this year’s Shofar Zachor Award to Ruth Callahan. The Shofar has become a powerful symbol of Jewish spirituality. The sound of the shofar during Elul and Rosh HaShana is meant to wake something in us, to stir us to think about our actions and change our behaviors for the year to come. The Shofar blasts are a summons to action.  Zachor, the Hebrew word for remember, is a word which has been carried across the generations. Just six weeks ago, on the Shabbat before Purim, we observed Shabbat Zachor, when we recall the story of Amalek and we remember he set out to kill the Israelites after their Exodus from Egypt.  It is a reminder that in every generation there is an Amalek who seeks to destroy us, and serves as a reminder that evil and anti-Semitism still exits in our world. Ruth has dedicated a good portion of her teaching career to Zachor – to remembering the Holocaust. Like the summons of the Shofar to action, studying the Holocaust has been her calling for as long as she can remember.

Her interest in the Holocaust began as a young girl, after reading Exodus by Leon Uris. As a young woman she visited Dachau, ironically on the same day that Black September murdered 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics.

Encouraged by the late rabbi Albert Plotkin, of blessed memory, Ruth wrote her PhD dissertation on Franz Kafka and Jewish mysticism.

For the past 20 years she has been an instructor at Glendale Community College. She has been a participant in workshops at Yad Vashem and an international conference at Auschwitz. In recent years, Ruth has escorted students to Eastern Europe where they were immersed in the history of the Holocaust and the lessons for today. She has also been a presenter at the BJE’s annual Educators’ Conference on the Holocaust.

This Yom HaShoah we remember the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. 70 years ago Pavel Frankel, one of the young leaders of the Uprising, addressed his fighters, “Comrades, we will die before our time, but we are not doomed. We will live as long as Jewish history continues to live.”

Ruth, you have enabled students to confront the past through active learning and an increased awareness of the great European Jewish civilization that was lost forever.  You deem it important to connect  Jewish life and history with the present. In doing so, your students will be able to build a better future.

Acceptance remarks by Dr. Ruth Callahan

When Kae Knight, President of PHSA, wrote to tell me that I was to be presented with this award, I was dumbstruck. It was very unsettling to learn that I would receive an award for teaching about an experience that no one who has not had could ever truly understand.

Researching the idea of the award has been a journey of discovery for me, and the more I learned, the more I see the responsibility this honor brings.

I had always known that the shofar was blown on solemn occasions and now I believe I understand why as well — as the shofar embodies what I understand to make Judaism possible: the call and the covenant.

Abram, we may presume, is apparently quite an ordinary person, until one day he receives a call from G_d, and his world is changed forever. G-d commands him, “Lech Lecha  —— Go” and he does.

Eventually G-d offers Abram the covenant of circumcision and with that comes a new understanding, a new people and a new commitment to the sacred.

As one literal translation of the word “shofar” is “a sense of incising,” it seems that the blowing of the shofar commemorates both of these holy moments — as our daily lives are suddenly pierced and we are laid open to the presence of the sacred.

It is in this way that I perceive this award. Your experiences as survivors, your hearts, have called to me to go on my own journey, to earn my own revelation.

Now it is my responsibility to bring your suffering, your wisdom, your generosity of spirit, your lives — and the lives of those no longer able to speak for themselves — to the students in my Holocaust Studies classes, both here and in Prague — to anyone who would hope to become righteous in the service of his fellow man.

As the horn, the shofar, may curve back on itself, back to G-d’s first call, so does it also finally straighten and send forth the call — and thus the covenant — to everlasting generations.

Once again, I would like to express my gratitude for the honor of your recognition of my small contributions to keeping the commandments to remember and to teach that same remembrance.

This is the obligation and the privilege inherent in tikkum olam — the rebuilding of the world and the beauty it requires.

Thank you.